Paulo Gustavo, a popular comedian whose character Dona Herminia dealt with everyday family and LGTBQ issues in some of Brazil's biggest hit movies and television shows, has died of COVID-19, sparking an outpouring of grief across a country polarized by the pandemic. He was 42. Gustavo died Tuesday in a Rio de Janeiro hospital, the AP reports, where fans outside were holding a vigil for him. Conservative President Jair Bolsonaro, who tends to shrug off COVID-19 deaths and has played down the disease, tweeted his regret at the death of Gustavo, "who with his talent and charisma conquered the affection of all Brazil." His leftist archrival, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, mourned Gustavo as "a great Brazilian, who celebrated our country with so much joy."
The Senate held a moment of silence in Gustavo's memory before resuming a hearing into the president’s handling of the pandemic, which has killed more than 400,000 Brazilians. The actor's character Dona Hermínia, inspired by his mother, was featured in movies and shows that sold 22 million tickets—making them among the most popular in Brazil's history. He played Dona Hermínia as a loud Rio suburban mother who humorously dealt with her gay son's sexuality in a way many considered helpful to positively presenting families with LGBTQ members. Gustavo recorded a video alluding to the disease at the end of last year, urging fans to take care. He said that while Brazilians have covered their smiles with masks, "we will not stop smiling or having hope."
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