SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO (AP) - Famed astrologer Walter Mercado, who emerged weeks ago from a near-death experience, announced Tuesday that he will create a charitable foundation in Puerto Rico to help children and teenagers.
The flamboyant psychic said he will auction hundreds of ornate capes he wore during his lengthy TV career that attracted a cult-like following across Latin America to raise money for the Shanti Ananda Foundation.
"The Walter of capes is over," he said. "The public wants me like this, of flesh and bone."
The organization will target children with spina bifida and pregnant teenagers, as well as young adults who need help or guidance, he said.
Mercado, who now calls himself Shanti Ananda, remained vague when pressed for details about the organization or what kind of help it would provide.
"The type of help cannot be limited to one word," he said, adding that the center would provide counseling and meditation.
He has not yet decided where to build the center or how many people it would target, but is confident he can raise enough money for the project. He has more than 2,000 capes sitting in an air-conditioned room in Miami, where he used to live. Each one costs at least $1,000, with many embroidered by hand, he said.
Mercado said he is shedding the elaborate capes that defined his TV persona after nearly dying from pneumonia and a heart attack in January.
"When you go through this kind of process, you change," he said. "You value things that you didn’t value before."
Mercado made the announcement at his home near the capital of San Juan, where he sat nestled by embroidered pillows and bright scarves in a red-and-gold themed room. Instead of a cape, he wore a bright red shirt, an even brighter red tie and a velvet burgundy jacket topped with a bejeweled butterfly brooch.
Mercado said he nearly died after he was hospitalized for pneumonia while in his native Puerto Rico to celebrate the holidays. He then was transferred to a hospital in Ohio after his health condition worsened. His publicist later revealed that Mercado also had suffered a heart attack.
During his hospitalization, hundreds of fans called, wrote letters and posted encouraging messages on Facebook. Among those praying for him was Lilli Acevedo, a 56-year-old Puerto Rican who has followed Mercado since his early days.
"I loved him, and I loved his capes and his rings," she said.
When Mercado became sick, Acevedo said she feared the end of his daily horoscopes.
"That affected me a lot," she said. "That is like my cup of coffee every morning."
Mercado no longer does TV, but he write horoscopes for El Nuevo Herald in Miami, as well as several newspapers in Latin America and one in Puerto Rico, where he moved nearly two years ago from Miami.
While in South Florida, Mercado got into trouble for endorsing alleged health and beauty products. He was named in a class-action lawsuit that accused him of misleading people into buying beads with supposed special powers. The president of the jewelry company, Unique Gems International Corp., was later sentenced to 14 years in prison for scamming 16,000 people in a $90 million scam.
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