RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) – Paulo Gustavo, a popular comedian whose character Dona Herminia dealt with everyday family and LGTBQ troubles in some of Brazil’s biggest cinema films and television shows, died of COVID-19, sparking a deluge of grief over a country polarized by the pandemic. He was 42.
Gustavo died in a hospital in Rio de Janeiro on Tuesday evening after spending nearly a month in intensive care. Fans had started a vigil for him outside the hospital.
Conservative President Jair Bolsonaro, who has a tendency to shake off COVID-19 deaths and downplayed the disease, tweeted his regret over the death of Gustavo, “who with his talent and charisma captured the affection of all of Brazil.”
His left-wing arch-rival, former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, mourned Gustavo as “a great Brazilian, who celebrated our country with such joy.”
The Brazilian Senate held a moment of silence on Wednesday in memory of Gustavo before resuming the hearing on how the president handled the pandemic, which killed more than 400,000 Brazilians. Officials now say a more contagious variant of the virus is spreading across the South American country.
Gustavo’s death at the age of 42 highlighted how the disease is increasingly affecting younger Brazilians. The country is bitterly divided between those pushing for more intensive vaccination campaigns and lockdown measures and Bolsonaro’s supporters, who has denounced such restrictions.
Look at reality. Stop denying the seriousness of this virus, ”wrote Hellen Calixto, a Brazilian Twitter user, in response to Gustavo’s death. “I think many, like me, have not treated the virus seriously because it did not reach their families through the grace of God. But let’s get serious, folks. “
The character of the actor Dona Hermínia, inspired by his mother, has appeared in films and shows that sold 22 million tickets, making them among the most popular in Brazil’s history. He played Dona Hermínia as a boisterous Rio suburban mother who humorously dealt with her gay son’s sexuality in a way that many found helpful in positively presenting families with LGBT members.
Gustavo, who had more than 16 million followers on Instagram, represented a vision of a stable LGTBQ family that is still controversial in some conservative sectors of Brazilian society.
He is survived by his husband, Dr. Thales Bretas, and two 1-year-old children, Romeu and Galel, who were born surrogate mothers in the United States.
Gustavo was hospitalized in mid-March after contracting COVID-19, was intubated a week later for breathing difficulties, and eventually needed an artificial lung.
He recorded a video at the end of last year alluding to the disease and urging his fans to watch out. He said that although Brazilians have masked their smiles because of the pandemic, “we will not stop smiling or have hope.”
The famous Brazilian singer Caetano Veloso shared a photo of him hugging Gustavo on his social networks.
“The Brazilian people are in mourning,” he wrote. “And they must respond to those responsible for our vulnerability in the face of the pandemic that has taken this beloved person from us.”