Merlin Santana (March 14, 1976 - November 9, 2002), was a Dominican American television and film actor best known for his role as teenager Romeo on The Steve Harvey Show. He also played Rudy's boyfriend Stanley on The Cosby Show.
Merlin Santana was born in Washington Heights, Manhattan, New York, United States to parents from the Dominican Republic. He attended Acenscion Catholic School in New York. His career in show business began with a push from his mother, who recognized her son's talent and wanted to keep him off the tough streets of New York. He began his career at the age of three as an advertising model for a fast food chain. His first screen appearance was as an extra in the Woody Allen film The Purple Rose of Cairo.
He later landed the recurring role of Stanley, the faithful admirer of young Rudy Huxtable (and romantic rival of Rudy's friend Kenny), on the hit comedy series "The Cosby Show." Santana was then cast as a sharp-tongued 15-year-old in the comedy series Getting By, starring Cindy Williams and Telma Hopkins. His brother was portrayed by Deon Richmond, who played Kenny on The Cosby Show.
He chose to keep his last name of Santana to represent his Afro-Latino heritage. One episode of The Steve Harvey Show marked the first time when Afro-Latinos communicated in Spanish on a commercial network. The episode was about Romeo being taken out of school by his father.
He played Romeo Santana on The Steve Harvey Show for the WB. This is probably around the same time that he got a tattoo on his chest. He proudly represented the small number of Latino actors in the television industry.
He appeared in the VH1 movie Play'd with Toni Braxton and Rashaan Nall as a rapper and had a role in Eddie Murphy's Showtime. His last television acting role was on Half & Half as a singer.
His last film role was Carlos in The Blues with his former television brother, Deon Richmond. It was filmed months before his death.
On November 9, 2002, Santana died after being shot in the head while sitting in the passenger seat of a friend’s car. He was 26 years old.
At 2:30 AM that day, Merlin was sitting in a parked car and a person approached the car and shot him (six times, according to one source). He died before any help could arrive. The public did not find out about the shooting until Monday morning. A woman was arrested early on Monday for possible connections to the murder. She was later charged. He was buried on November 18, 2002, and left behind a now 11 year old daughter.
Damien Andre Gates was convicted of the first-degree murder of Santana and the attempted murder of another man in the car, and was sentenced to three consecutive life sentences plus 70 years in prison. Brandon Douglas Bynes received 23 years' imprisonment after pleading guilty to voluntary manslaughter and assault with a deadly weapon. An officer involved in the case testified that Monique King, reportedly the girlfriend of Gates and aged 15 at the time of Santana's death, falsely claimed that Santana had tried to rape her, which prompted Gates and Bynes to attack the car. King received eight years in juvenile custody.