Today would have been the ninety-ninth birthday of Mexican pop-culture icon El Santo, and the world is celebrating, from pro wrestling nerds to the Google Doodle.
Debuting in the mid-1930s, pro-wrestler Rodolfo Guzmán Huerta knew his in-ring exploits needed the sizzle to match the beefcake.
Upon joining a group of silver-clad wrestlers in 1942, donned a mask and underwent his transformation to El Santo, a honest, fair-minded and upstanding technico that stood face-to-face against the nefarious rudos.
Over the following five decades, El Santo would thrill Mexico’s working class and poor, with tales of derring-do that would transcend the ring: his wildly popular comic book ran throughout Mexico for 35 years, only ending four years after his passing, and he would star in a long-running series (52 in all) of B-movies that would come to define the genre known as Lucha Horror.
It might be strange for those of us looking from outside that spectrum of pop-culture tropes, but his pre-Internet ubiquity was such, and his good-guy character’s virtues so simple, that he was able to blur the lines between fact and fiction, and be held in regard to this day as a real-life superhero.
Perhaps even more impressive was his adherence to kayfabe, the unwritten rule of protection of pro-wrestling continuity.
From the day he donned the mask, until a week before his passing, Santo was never identified unmasked in public, usually travelling separately from the rest of his promotion, and waiting hours to revert to his civilian identity, so as not to arouse suspicion of being one of the troupe.
He would even wear a custom version of his mask, adapted for eating, when dining publicly.
Santo retired in September of 1982, a week shy of his 65th birthday, after winning his final match, a chaotic four-on-four brawl where he teamed up with lifelong tag-team partner Gory Guerrero, as well as fellow legends El Solitario and Huracán Ramirez.
January 1984 saw El Santo appear on Mexican talk show Contrapunto to discuss life after retirement, and without warning, unmasked, as if bidding goodbye to the public.
He passed away the following week of a heart attack while on-stage at a play, and his funeral was considered one of the largest in Mexican history.
He is succeeded today by ten kids, including his son, El Hijo del Santo, and his grandchildren, among whom are El Santo Jr. and El Nieto del Santo.