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Palito Ortega, 75 years old

Palito (September 4, 1934 – April 12, 2010) was a veteran Filipino slapstick comedian and actor who was at the height of his career in the nineteen seventies and eighties. He was well-known for his unusually light and thin anatomy, thus earning him the self-deprecating screenname Palito, which is Spanish for stick, understood in Filipino as matchstick or toothpick.

Born as Reynaldo Alfredo R. Hipolito, Sr., Palito was born in Calamba, Laguna, near the house of Dr. Jose Rizal or the Rizal Shrine. As a teenager in the 1950s, he took job as a dishwasher in a restaurant called Alex Soda Fountain, located beside the Cine Odeon in Calle Azcarraga (now C.M. Recto). With the restaurant being a hangout of movie-stars, he would be discovered by Lauro Santiago of Santiago Productions.

He was only 21 when he first discovered the world of stage acting. A student of Arellano University in Manila, he decided to choose acting over his studies around 1959. Palito started as an “extra” in the 1960 Prinsipe Amante movie, starring the then superstar Rogelio dela Rosa. One of his early movies was Pitong Zapata in 1965. His first non-extra role was that as a sidekick of Jun Aristorenas in the late 60s film Bingbong at Dodong. At first, he was cast in straight action films. But because of his thinness, he was groomed as a comedian. With moneymaking films, he would then join the cast of films with Fernando Poe Jr., Dolphy, Chiquito, Panchito, Pugo at Togo, Pugak at Tugak, Ramon Revilla, and many other big names in Philippine cinema.

In the late 1970s, the decline of Philippine movies and emergence of “Bomba” films hurt Palito’s career. The action and comedy films which Palito made were not being made as they used to. Those were the times when Palito lost many of his investments.

Palito’s career had a brief resurgence then later peaked in the 1980s. He starred in several comedy movies parodying American action films, such as Rambuto,a Rambo spoof, the title being a pun of the Tagalog word buto which means “bone”, again to capitalize on his being “thin-boned”, and a James Bond spoof, James Bone, where he plays an emaciated version of the secret agent. Other popular movies of his were No Blood, Kumander Kalansalay, Walang Matigas na Buto sa Gutom na Aso, and Rambo Tango.

He would also been known as a star in a lot of kitsch Pinoy horror films as a zombie/corpse. His sunken hollow eyes and reed-thin body, while not aesthetically-pleasing in the popular sense, fit the corpse-like demeanor that local filmmakers love to utilize.

Palito laid low from Philippine cinema in the 90′s, only occasionally playing bit parts, like in the 1992 film by contemporary comedian/actor Dolphy, Home Along The River, a send-up of the popular American Home Alone franchise.

On June 17, 2004, burgeoning comedy actor Vhong Navarro portrayed the veteran comedian in a TV real-life drama series, Maala-ala Mo Kaya (Will You Ever Remember), focusing on his life story as a survivor of the Japanese occupation during World War II and his heyday as a slapstick comedian during the 1970s and 1980s.

Palito starred in an independent film, Enterpool: Senior Citizen in Action, released 24 August 2005, in the midst of the decline of Philippine cinema. While it was received well by nostalgic movie-goers and local movie critics, it failed to take the general public’s notice due to lack of promotion and marketing. His last movie was M.O.N.A.Y. in 2007.

Palito’s family, the Hipolitos, sold their house in Pacita Complex in San Pedro, Laguna in 2004 and moved to Imus, Cavite for a smaller place in a low-cost housing subdivision in Cavite.

Once voted as one of the top ten Filipino comedians of all-time, Palito engaged in small stage shows to make a living in his last years. He had a low-paying job performing a live music show Tuesday evenings in a small casino in Sta. Cruz, Manila.

In the first quarter of 2010, Palito, a known smoker, was being confined at a hospital for a month due to lung problems. After coming home from work on 6 April 2010, he was rushed to the Imus Family Hospital due to complaints of serious stomach pain. He was later transferred to the ward section of Philippine General Hospital on the same night.

Mark Escueta, drummer of the band Rivermaya who worked with Palito for the music video of their single “Ambotsa,” was the first to break the news of Palito’s illness via Facebook. Several young celebrities called for donations through respective Twitter accounts while help was extended from showbiz colleagues. Among visitors was former Philippine president Joseph Estrada.

Palito was declared dead at 7:05 a.m. on April 12, 2010 in the Philippine General Hospital from a lung complication.

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