The wrestler and actor, whose real name was Rodolfo Guzmán Huerta, died on February 5, 1984.
“Today we’re celebrating what would have been the 99th birthday of the man credited with popularizing wrestling in Mexico, the one and only Rodolfo Guzmán Huerta. More commonly known as “El Santo” (The Saint), this legendary, silver-masked luchador wrestled for nearly five decades and is remembered as one of the greatest sports figures in Mexican history. Through his appearance in film and as the subject of many comic books, he became a cultural icon, representing justice and the fight against evil,” Google says. “Legend has it that El Santo never removed his silver mask even at home and had a special mask for eating. He went to great lengths to protect his identity, particularly when traveling.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. He Grew Up in Mexico City, Where He Was an Athlete, Practicing Ju-Jitsu, Baseball & Football
Rodolfo Guzmán Huerta was born September 23, 1917, in Tulancigo, Hidalgo, Mexico, and moved with his family to Mexico City, where he grew up, according to TodayIFoundOut.com, which wrote a biography of him.
He was the fifth of seven children.
As a child, Guzman was an athlete, practicing Ju-Jitsu and playing baseball and American football.
2. He Began Wrestling in the 1930s & Retired in 1982 at the Age of 65
El Santo began his wrestling career in the mid-1930s, either 1934 or 1935, according to Tulcancingo.com.
His first match was either at the Arena Peralvillo Cozumel on June 28, 1934, or Deportivo Islas in the Guerrero colony of Mexico City a year later.
He used several names, including Rudy Guzman, El Hombre Rojo, El Demonio NEgro and El Murcielago II, which was deemed to be a rip-off of El Murcielago, a wrestler whose real name was Jesus Velazquez. He was not able to use that name, and then settled on El Santo.
He started out as a rudo, which is similar to the American professional wrestling heel, the character hated by the fans. But he eventually put on an iconic silver mask, becoming a fan favorite with his high-flying acrobatic style and heroic character.
“Throughout the 1940s, El Santo fame’s steadily grew and he quickly adapted a persona as an honest, working-man’s hero who fought against corruption and evil, which inevitably endeared him to the Mexican populace,” TodayIFoundOut.com writes. “El Santo’s fame was only bolstered by the increasing availability of televisions throughout the late 1940s and early 1950s. During this period, El Santo claimed a number of famous victories over older, established wrestlers including El Murcielago, the same wrestler he’d once tried to emulate in his initial foray into the sport.”
His biggest match includes a 1952 tag-team bout in which he unmatched a wrestler named the Black Shadow, starting a long feud with the Black Shadow’s partner, Blue Demon, that lasted for several years, and also spilled over into movies.
El Santo’s legend is well known throughout the world of wrestling.
“He totally transcended wrestling,” Dave Meltzer, editor of the Wrestling Observer newsletter, told Slam Wrestling in 2000. “He was much bigger than just a wrestling star. I think there have been wresters as big as him and as popular as him but none for 40 years where everybody in the country knows him. Santo was more than just a wrestler. Nobody had the enduring popularity he had.”
“He was a such a phenomenon because he touched so many people,” Mike Tenay, a wrestling broadcaster and noted Lucha Libre expert. “There were so many people that identified with Santo and I think’s that one of the things that made him the cultural icon he was.”
“He was among the first to take the persona of the masked wrestler and to really gain an identity with it,” Tenay said. “He was among the first wave of the masked wrestlers. He was the first that really made it big.”
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, as he entered into his 60s, he began to slow down his wrestling career. He went on a farewell tour in 1982 and then retired after a final match on September 12, 1982.
3. He Was Also an Actor, Appearing in Nearly 60 Films
El Santo was also an actor and appeared as a character in a comic book series that ran until 1987.
According to IMDB.com, he starred nearly 60 films.
He made his debut as an actor in 1950 in Santo Against Brain Mal and Santo vs. the Infernal Men.
“Santo the luchador was one of the most prolific monster fighters in cinema history. In addition to solving crimes and wooing bikini-clad babes, Santo found the time to wrestle the Wolfman, Martians, mummies, and the Bermuda Triangle,” Gizmodo’s Cyriaque Lamar wrote in a 2010 tribute to El Santo. “Much of his fame came from his gonzo movie career. Santo starred in 54 films, and in these Z-grade masterpieces, Santo would be called upon to dispatch such supernatural threats as Dracula and Frankenstein. Often Santo would be forced to best his enemies in the wrestling ring. Because, y’know, he was Santo. He was a damn legend. Denying him a wrestling match would be like denying Batman a fistfight.”
4. He Was Married & Had 10 Children, Including a Son Who Followed His Footsteps Into the Wrestling Ring
El Santo married María de los Ángeles Rodríguez Montaño in the early 1940s and had 10 children, including a son, Jorge, who would follow in his father’s footsteps and wrestle under the name El Hijo del Santo (the Son of the Saint), according to his son’s Facebook page.
El Hijo del Santo retired from wrestling in 2014 after suffering a back injury. One of his sons has also started wrestling, using the name El Santo Jr. in Japan.
5. He Died of a Heart Attack in 1984, Just 10 Days After He Was Publicly Unmasked for the First Time
El Santo was known to never take off his mask, but he removed it for the first time after his retirement on a show called Contrapunto, on which he suddenly took off the iconic silver mask to reveal his face to his fans as a final goodbye. You can watch that moment below:
Sadly, Guzman suffered a heart attack and died just 10 days after that TV appearance, according to his son’s Facebook page.
His son says several tributes will be paid to El Santo on his 99th birthday and again next year, on what would have been his 100th birthday.