Once upon a time, not as long ago as it seems, there were only two television channels in Spain, and they aired in black and white. Back then, schoolkids spent their recess playing soccer, exchanging collectible cards and talking about los payasos de la tele ("the TV clowns"). It is complicated to explain to a child today what El gran circo de TVE (TVE's great circus) meant for the thousands of boys and girls who watched the shows between 1973 and 1983, when children's programs were few and far between and the country was transitioning from Franco's dictatorship into a fledgling democracy.
It was this show that made Emilio arch-famous in Spain. Entire generations grew up singing his popular songs Hola, don Pepito, Susanita tiene un ratón, Mi barba tiene tres pelos or El auto feo, which he sang onstage with his brothers Alfonso (Fofó the clown) and Gabriel (Gaby the clown). El gran circo de TVE was filled with sketches and performances which seemed prodigious back in the day.
The condolences began pouring in on Sunday, when relatives disclosed that Emilio Aragón, better known to the world as Miliki the clown, had passed away at age 83 in Madrid. He was the last of the clown brothers to go, following the death of Fofó in 1976 and Gaby in 1995.
In a press release, the family expressed its "profound sadness" and said that they have lost "a wonderful husband and father" but that they find "consolation in the fact that he departs this world surrounded by the affection of many children who grew up singing, laughing and having a good time with him."
He was the last of the clown brothers to go, after the deaths of Fofó and Gaby
Miliki was born into a family of performers that began with his father Emilio Aragón Foureaux and his uncles José María and Teodoro Aragón Foureaux. These three created a group called Pompoff, Thedy y Emig, and their children all soon followed in their footsteps.
Following the classic tradition, Gaby, Fofó and Miliki adopted the roles of white face (the serious clown), auguste (the clumsy clown) and counter-auguste (the mediator between both) for the TVE show. That is why Miliki, who played the auguste, was the most beloved of the three clowns: he was the klutz who got to destroy the sets with his helpers, and symbolized a breath of fresh air in the rigid society of 1970s Spain.
Miliki was born in Carmona (near Seville) in 1929, and when his eldest brother Gaby began a solo career in 1934, he was still too young to be on a stage. It wasn't until 1939 that he began performing at Madrid's Circo Price with his two brothers, under the artistic name of Gaby, Fofó y Emilín; later, Emilio changed his stage name to Miliki. Sometimes they were joined onstage by their sister Rocío, who was a flamenco dancer.
In the 2010 movie Pájaros de papel (or, Paper birds), directed by his own son (also named Emilio, and known onstage as Milikito), one sees how tough the Civil War (1936-1939) was on artists, and how the postwar era put an end to vaudeville and to an entire generation's joie de vivre. Although it was not exactly a biographical story, the director told EL PAÍS that his father was the original inspiration, along with the actors he met on the set of the popular television series Médico de familia.
"I used to listen to the veterans' stories, and I began to find inspiration in them," says the younger Emilio, now 53 and who is a fixture in a variety of popular shows on Spanish television, but no longer as Milikito the clown.
"Also in my father's own stories. I've had breakfast and dinner listening to thousands of his adventures. It [the movie] is a love song to the forgotten generation which my father belongs to, a generation that did variety shows. And I am talking about those who stayed and those who left as well: my father left in 1945 for the Americas."
In fact, he himself was born in Havana after Miliki, Gaby and Fofó moved to Cuba, where they took their first steps in television in 1949. Their success there opened the doors to more TV performances in Argentina, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Venezuela and even the United States. All this experience helped them launch their own program in Argentina in 1970, which also marked the debut of Fofó's son, Fofito. At this point, the family returned to Spain to prepare a new program from the state-owned TVE.
The first episode aired on July 19, 1973 and it met with instant and extraordinary success. The death of Fofó in 1976 did not hurt audience ratings, and in 1977 Milikito joined the troupe as a mute clown who communicated with a cow bell.
Emilio senior retired from the show before it was axed in 1983, and began focusing on music and on launching the professional career of his eldest daughter, Rita Irasema. In 1996 Emilio Aragón published his memoirs, Recuerdos (Memories), and several children's books, as well as a couple of novels for adult readers. His forte, however, was always music, for which he won two Latin Grammy awards.
"My father devoted his entire life to his two great passions, his work and his family, and I sincerely believe that he was triumphant in both," said his son Emilio. "I believe that his legacy will endure for generations to come."