By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
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He spent the next two years in Spain writing a novel, Don't Tell Anyone, a thinly veiled account of his life growing up gay and abused by his father. When the main character, Joaquín Camino, discovers his bisexuality, his upper-crust family and chauvinist father deny it; they even hire a hooker for him. But Joaquín drops out of school, tries cocaine, becomes a journalist, and eventually moves to Miami.
Don't Tell Anyone is still widely considered Bayly's best novel. It's a bawdy but angry book that reveals a racist, homophobic, and status-obsessed family threatened by a son's homosexuality just as Peru was shaken by popular unrest. It's also a window into Bayly's extreme loneliness and me-versus-the-world mentality. When his family members learned of the book, they pleaded with him not to publish it.
"That was the breaking point," he says. "Nobody was friendly or supportive. They were totally against me and at war with me."
After two years in Madrid with the novel still unpublished, Bayly ran out of money. He returned to TV in Lima, where he met a pretty, blond Peruvian-American woman named Sandra Masías at a nightclub. They moved to Washington, D.C., together and, with Masías pregnant and Bayly's tourist visa expiring, soon married. But the domestic tranquility existed only on paper. Bayly insisted on seeing other women... and men.
"She tried to make me a straight man," Bayly recalls of Masías. "But human nature, or my nature, is being in love with somebody but also allowing yourself the freedom to have sex with someone else if that is what is good for you. I've never believed in monogamy."
Still, his family provided newfound stability to Bayly's life. Don't Tell Anyone was finally published in 1994 and quickly became a bestseller in Spain, Peru, and much of Latin America. Of course, the tales of infidelity, incest, and drug abuse didn't sit well with Bayly's family members. Many still don't speak to him, even though emergency liver surgery in 2009 nearly killed him.
Standing in the plush lobby of Hotel Portón in Bogotá, Felipe Muñoz doesn't look like the head of the Colombian secret police. Instead, with dark, close-cut hair and chubby cheeks, the 40-plus-year-old looks like any one of the thousands of crisply suited bankers strolling the city's bustling streets. But Muñoz flashes his badge at Bayly and in hushed tones says he has a personal message from President Álvaro Uribe. "We believe that Hugo Chávez has hired hit men to kill you," Muñoz warns Bayly, referring to the bombastic Venezuelan president whom Bayly has lambasted incessantly since 1998. "For your protection, I advise you to leave Colombia at once."
"I'm dying in six months," Bayly replies, citing his liver problems. "So if Chávez kills me before then, he'll be doing me a great service. He'll save me some money on physicians."
It was early 2010, and Bayly was covering the Colombian presidential elections for Bogotá-based station NTN. He had jokingly dedicated his first episode in Colombia to Chávez, and he didn't buy the threat.
"I sensed that he was lying to me," Bayly says. "I was supporting the opposition candidate... So that was the reason the chief of the secret police tried to scare me."
Whether or not the plot to kill Bayly was real, it marked a turning point. The talk-show host had transformed from a flippant provocateur into a serious political player. The road there started in 1996, when he secured a job as an anchor for 24-hour news network CBS Telenoticias. Hundreds of thousands of people across the hemisphere began to recognize his handsome face.
Then in 2000, when Fujimori resigned in disgrace after scandals involving human rights abuses and bribery, Bayly left CBS and returned to Peru. It was an important moment for journalism as the country shook off a decade of censorship. And Bayly once more took full advantage. He started a new show on network Frecuencia Latina called El Francotirador ("The Sniper"). On it, he ridiculed the various candidates poised to succeed Fujimori. He also pushed the envelope of good taste, accusing front-runner Alejandro Toledo of refusing to recognize an illegitimate daughter. When he began to advocate policies including gay marriage and legalization of drugs, his tirades took on the character of stump speeches.
During the presidential election of 2001, Bayly ran a high-profile campaign urging voters to cast blank, protest votes. "The result was terrible," says Peruvian TV critic Patricia Salinas. "People were throwing eggs at him in the street." Even worse, only 3 percent of Peruvians cast a protest vote in the decisive second round. Toledo won comfortably.
"Bayly has always been very popular here but never loved," Salinas adds. "He achieves what he wants to — grabs people's attention, makes himself known — but he doesn't win over people. The proof is that for years, he never convinced people to support a single initiative of his."
Soon, Bayly grew tired of working in the Peruvian TV industry. From 2003 to 2005, he focused on writing, cranking out several more sex- and scandal-filled novels. Then in 2006, he began a three-year stint on Mega TV in Miami. The show, Bayly, drew steady ratings, but serious health problems and an on-air fight with the station's vice president led Bayly to quit in 2009. After recovering at his friend Shakira's house in Uruguay, Bayly moved back to Lima and announced he would run for president.