Actor and TV host Rolando Barral dies
BY RENATO PEREZ AND ELAINE DE VALLE
Rolando Barral, a tireless actor and veteran television host with more than half a century on the radio and small screen, died Monday at Kendall Medical Center, where he was admitted last week for surgery after a ruptured aneurysm in the brain. He was 62.
``He was a man who breathed and lived and ate the public and I think the public responded accordingly,'' said his daughter Marietta Barral Zacker. ``The most amazing thing about my father was watching him light up a room of people that didn't know him personally. And I know he was thankful for that gift.''
Barral began his career in show business at the age of 9 in his native Havana on the CMQ radio program Street Angels. Until his hospitalization, he was host of Fiesta at Five Minutes till Seven, a variety show on Miami's TVC cable station.
The son of writer and TV director Mario Barral, Rolando Barral was practically raised in TV studios. Many of his fellow Cubans remember him as a teenage co-host of Partying with the Heartthrobs, a song-poetry-and-dance program on CMQ-TV in Havana that premiered in 1957 and ran for four years.
Barral was already a household name when he left Cuba in 1962. He began a long sojourn through Spain, Panama, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and El Salvador, playing romantic roles in television soap operas.
Settling in Miami in 1977, he gave up daytime drama, but only briefly. After years of playing romantic leads and at the ripe old age of 37, ``I didn't want to be cast as the leading lady's father. I'd rather shoot myself!'' he joked years later.
He went on to appear in dozens of telenovelas -- Spanish soap operas -- at least 20 of which he taped in Puerto Rico.
In 1978, he made his debut on WLTV-Channel 23, then an affiliate of the Spanish International Network (SIN), with El Show de Rolando Barral. In June 1985, the program moved to the fledgling WSCV-Channel 51, owned by John Blair & Co., a New York conglomerate.
Channel 23 lured him back five months later.
In May 1986, he became co-host of Sábado Gigante, a hugely popular variety program brought to Channel 23 from Chile by its creator, Mario Kreutzberger, aka Don Francisco. Barral stayed only seven months, when he abruptly joined Super Sábado on Channel 51, by then a Telemundo affiliate.
Barral returned to Channel 23 in September 1987 with Mondays and Fridays with Barral, in which he interviewed English-speaking and Spanish-speaking personalities.
Long known in the industry as ``the Latin Johnny Carson'' for his breezy interview style, Barral said he'd rather be compared to ABC's Ted Koppel.
Univision canceled the talk show on Jan. 22, 1988, after Barral was arrested by Coral Gables police on cocaine possession and driving while intoxicated charges. He was fined $964 for the DWI conviction and given a one-year probation for the drug conviction.
Support from fans and industry associates through what he called ``my bad telenovela'' was unwavering.
In March 1988, Barral was back on the airwaves, this time on WSUA-Radio Suave, with a radio version of El Show. And he kept his hand at live theater, appearing in comedies at Little Havana's Teatro Martí.
``I was born to work and be active,'' he said at the time.
Active he was, returning to television in June 1989 with TV with Barral, on Hit TV, an independent cable station with studios in New York City. He also taped Spanish soap operas for Puerto Rican TV stations and acted in an independently made movie comedy.
Like many Cuban exiles, Barral hoped to return some day to a post-Castro Cuba.
``I won't give up Cuba,'' he said two years ago. ``I want to go back to CMQ and walk into the studio and go on television -- even as an extra.''
Barral is survived by his wife of nearly 40 years, Mellie; daughters Yolanda Barral Acosta and Marietta Barral Zacker; his mother Odelia Barral and three grandchildren.
Viewing is at 5 p.m. today at Caballero Rivero Woodlawn Funeral Home, 3344 SW Eighth St. There will be a graveside service Wednesday.