All the presidents’ mien: Master mimic Willie Nep; 75
At first, he dreamed of becoming a singer or an actor. But unfortunately for him, he used to joke, everyone else during his time was good-looking.
He couldn’t be one of them. And so he became all of them.
Willie Nepomuceno, the veteran comic and satirist known for his uncanny and uproarious impressions of top celebrities and politicians, died on July 26, two days after sustaining a head injury from an accident at home. He was 75.
Fondly called “Willie Nep,” the television and stage performer made his mark in the industry by impersonating former Presidents Ferdinand Marcos Sr., Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada, Benigno Aquino III — and more recently to a lesser extent — Rodrigo Duterte and incumbent President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
Equally memorable and well-loved were his portrayals of celebrities like Dolphy, Fernando Poe Jr., and Freddie Aguilar; boxing icon Manny Pacquiao; and other politicians like Juan Ponce Enrile, Panfilo Lacson, Alfredo Lim, Mar Roxas, and Raul Roco.
‘Pesky insect bites’
More than his spot-on physical transformations and uncanny ability to mimic people’s speech, countenance and mannerisms, Nepomuceno is also known for harnessing the power of satire and injecting social commentary into his sketches and routines. His stage shows tackled a range of topics and issues from presidential elections (“Presidentiables Gut Talent,” “PanGulo ng Pilipinas”) to media killings (“Stop in the Name of Laugh: Media Aid for Life”).
Nepomuceno’s politics, however, were rarely expressed in an outright manner. After all, he once told Inquirer Entertainment, his shows weren’t meant to be lectures or fora. He had his own proclivities or opinions on certain subjects, but he wasn’t out to sway his audience into believing his.
That’s up for them to decide, he said. His jabs, therefore, were designed to work more like “pesky insect bites” — conspicuous and just mildly irritating but demanded attention all the same.
Nepomuceno was born on July 8, 1948, to Leonardo Nepomuceno, a policeman, and Paquita Nepomueno, a beautician. He took up Fine Arts at the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman in 1966. There he became a student activist, an elected councilor-at-large of the UP Student Council.
Artistically and musically inclined, he put his gift of gab and comedy to use in campus rallies. In his early days in show biz, Nepomuceno, who also worked as a project officer at the Development Academy of the Philippines, was bound for a major career break via a potential solo radio show on ABS-CBN — only to find the network closed, guarded by Marines during the onset of martial law in 1972.
He did make his way to television eventually. And through the decades, Nepomuceno appeared in variety and sketch comedy shows such as “Eat Bulaga!,” “Student Canteen,” “Telebong, Telebong,” “Ito ’Yun, Ang Galing!” and “Ispup.”
Later in his career, Nepomuceno shifted his focus to stage shows and private gigs, which he actively did until he suffered a stroke in 2016. One of his last performances — the cultural event “Singkwenta: Mga Kanta at Kwento Tungkol sa Martial Law” in 2022—had him impersonating Marcos Sr.
“He was still active, but not so much with shows. He hadn’t done a lot of them since having a stroke in August 2016. But he did private gigs from time to time,” his son Dr. Willie Wilsson Nepomuceno told Inquirer Entertainment.
In the morning of July 24, Nepomuceno fell off his bed and hit his head on the floor, Wilsson said. His family rushed him to Marikina Valley Medical Center in Marikina City where a CT scan revealed a subdural hematoma or the pooling of blood between the skull and the surface of the brain.
He underwent a craniotomy the same day to relieve pressure on his brain. But while his vital signs stabilized after the surgery, he became comatose. His condition worsened the following day. A second CT scan showed that the hematoma had recurred along with new sites of bleeding.
“He was presumed brain dead on Tuesday afternoon and was put on a respirator. His vitals dwindled that night. And by 6:17 a.m. the next morning, he sadly left us,” Wilsson told Inquirer Entertainment.
‘Loving father, lolo’
Nepomuceno had three other children with his wife, Anselma: Willian, Willien and Wilfrida or Frida, who’s also an impersonator.
“I will forever treasure our moments together—our shows, our sleepless nights, typing scripts, rehearsing. More than those things, you’re a great father to us. You’re very generous … a loving father and ‘lolo’ to your ‘apos,’” Frida wrote on Facebook. “I can’t believe you’re now gone. Sobrang sakit. ’Di ko matanggap (So painful. I couldn’t accept it). I felt like you were just asleep as I pressed your hands in the hospital.”
“Though it’s incredibly hard to say goodbye, I’m grateful for the time we had together. Your love, guidance and presence in my life shaped me into the person I am today. Thank you for your unwavering love and for being an incredible father,” Wilsson said. “Your legacy will forever be engraved in my heart.”