Armando Roblán, Cuban actor who impersonated Castro, dies at 81

Cuban actor Armando Roblán died of lymphoma early Wednesday in his home in Coral Gables. He was 81.

Known for his extensive work in theater, radio and television in Cuba and in Miami, Roblán was best known for his extraordinary impersonation of Fidel Castro. One of his successes was to keep the comedy En los 90 Fidel revienta (“In the 90s, Fidel Will Explode”) running at a local theater for more than a decade.

Roblán began to impersonate Castro in Cuba after he came to power in 1959. He even did his impersonation of Castro at a world convention of the American Society of Travel Agents held in Havana — apparently without Castro’s permission..

He was often mistaken for the Castro in his tours throughout Cuba and people who saw him would present him with petitions.

Later, the Cuban government made political demands from him that he could not meet and he decided to leave Cuba.

In Miami, the actor began to play the role of Castro in several plays while creating other characters such as Ñañito, El Indio and El Chino, among other performances that he made popular on Univision’s Sábado Gigante.

“He kept telling jokes until the end, saying that you had to take life with a sense of humor,” said his daughter Priscilla Marrero, after revealing that a week ago, shortly before falling into a coma, the actor wrote the word “Adiós” in a self-portrait caricature he drew.

Armando Roblán was born on Feb. 4, 1931, in the town of Bejucal, in the center of Havana province. His real name was Francisco Armando Rodríguez Blanco, and he combined his work as an actor with his art as a painter trained in the San Alejandro Academy.

Roblán’s daughter added that in his daily life her father was a homebody. His interests including the changes of nature and she said that during her childhood he would tell both her and her younger brother that they could never be bored.

“He would share with us anecdotes of the town of Bejucal, and of the times he was commissioned to paint posters at the early age of 8,” she said. “He would also talk to us about the times he was sent to events impersonating Fidel Castro.”

Roblán started his career in the early days of Cuban television drawing cartoons and performing impersonations in an amateur program presented by the TV tycoon Gaspar Pumarejo.

He also perfected the impersonations of other figures and characters in the world of show business such as Maurice Chevalier, Nat King Cole, Bola de Nieve, Liberace and Cuban poetry performer Luis Carbonell, among others. Roblán also worked on television in Panama and Puerto Rico.

In Miami he produced, acted and wrote numerous Cuban vernacular plays at the Martí Theater and Trail Theater on Calle Ocho.

As a television actor writer Delia Fiallo trusted him with the role of Calvo in the telenovela Morelia (1995) filmed in Miami and one of the top Univision hits.

In 1963, Roblán was part of the cast of La esquina del infierno (“The Corner of Hell”), considered the first Panamanian telenovela.

In films he left his imprint in the movies Freedom Flight (2005), in which he played Fidel Castro, as he also did in The Disciples (2000), Havana Connection (1994) and The Chamaleon: An Assassination Attempt on Castro (1992). He was also in the comedy A mí qué me importa que explote Miami (“What Do I Care If Miami Blows Up”), in which he acted with Cuban comedian Guillermo Alvarez Guedes, and also in the Mexican film El tesoro de Morgan (“Morgan’s Treasure”) (1971).

Off the stage he stood out as a caricaturist, something he did without the knowledge of the person he was sketching and which prompted his presence in various editions of the event Cuba Nostalgia.

Marrero said that she never heard her father badmouth anybody and that he was very generous with his time and talent. Regarding a possible return to Cuba, she said though her father was very Cuban and celebrated Cuba from here, he was always quite aware that returning to his country would be very difficult.

Besides Marrero, Roblán is survived by his wife Gloria Lau Rodríguez, children Orlando Rodríguez and Armando Rodríguez and five grandchildren.

A service is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday at Epiphany Catholic Church, 8235 SW 57th Ave. The family asked that instead of sending flowers, friends make donations in Roblán’s name to St. Jude Children’s Hospital.

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