Google celebrates famed luchador El Santo's would-be 99th birthday

The World
The Google Doodle honors el luchador.

Friday's Google Doodle was a tip of the hat to El Santo, the late professional wrestler who was known as the star of lucha libre in Mexico.

And even though he's been dead for over 30 years, El Santo remains an icon for many Mexicans. So here's what you need to know.

The name "El Santo" means "The Saint." For four decades he always wore a silver mask, and refused to reveal his identity. Legend has it he even wore the mask at home, and had a special one made so he could eat more comfortably.

El Santo's wrestling career was long — 50 years in the ring. He started in the 1930s, then attracted national attention in the '40s. 

His timing was impeccable. He started winning high-profile matches just as lucha libre began to be televised in Mexico.

But TV stardom was just the start.

El Santo soon became a comic book hero — his character always seeking justice for the poor and marginalized. Then in the 1950s, the hero in the silver mask made his movie debut.

All of El Santo's movies were Mexican kick flicks: short on dialogue and long on epic fight scenes set to campy music.

All the while, El Santo kept on wrestling, challenging opponents to unmask him if they could.

They never did.

El Santo retired, his identity still a mystery, in 1982. During an interview on Mexican TV in 1984, he did lift the mask to reveal his face. And eventually his real name also became known: Rodolfo Guzmán Huerta. 

Also in that interview, El Santo dismissed the toll wrestling took on his body over all those years.

"I thank God my body is in pretty good shape," he said, "except for my knees, my elbows, my ankles, all of my bones, and a fracture in my skull."

"I was lucky, I guess," he added.

Ten days after that interview, El Santo died from a heart attack, at age 66.

And he was buried wearing his mask.

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