Death of Brazilian Comedian Paulo Gustavo Unites Rivals Jair Bolsonaro, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in Mourning

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, his political archrival, were united in mourning the death of Brazilian comedian and actor Paulo Gustavo, 42, who succumbed to COVID-19 Tuesday evening, the Associated Press reported.

The conservative Bolsonaro, who has minimized the coronavirus's threat in his country, tweeted his sadness over Gustavo's death by writing that "with his talent and charisma [he] conquered the affection of all Brazil." Da Silva, who is leftist, said Gustavo was "a great Brazilian who celebrated our country with so much joy."

"Look at reality. Stop denying the seriousness of this virus," Brazilian Twitter user Hellen Calixto wrote in reaction to the comedian's death. "I think that many, like me, did not treat the virus seriously because by the mercy of God it did not reach their family. But let's get serious, people."

On Wednesday, a moment of silence was held in Brazil's Senate for Gustavo, who was well known for the character Dona Hermínia, whom he played in widely popular Brazilian movies and television shows. The character often dealt with family and LGBTQ issues, and the movies and shows sold 22 million tickets.

The Senate paused in memory of Gustavo during a hearing on how Bolsonaro has handled the health crisis in the country, where more than 400,000 citizens have died from COVID-19.

Gustavo was hospitalized in March and spent over a month in intensive care before he died.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Comedian Paulo Gustavo
Paulo Gustavo attends the GQ Brazil Men of the Year Awards on November 27, 2018, in Rio de Janeiro. He died on Tuesday from COVID-19. Raphael Dias/Getty Images

Gustavo's death sparked an outpouring of grief across a country polarized by the pandemic. Fans had begun a vigil for him outside the hospital where he died.

Officials now say a more contagious variant of the virus is spreading across the South American nation. Gustavo's death at 42 highlighted how the disease is increasingly affecting younger Brazilians. The country is bitterly split between those urging stepped-up vaccination campaigns and lockdown measures and followers of Bolsonaro, who has denounced such restrictions.

Dona Hermínia was inspired by Gustavo's mother, and the movies and shows the character was featured in were among the most popular in Brazil's history. He played her 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 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 in the United States to surrogate mothers.

Gustavo was intubated a week after contracting COVID-19 for breathing difficulties and eventually needed an artificial lung. He recorded a video alluding to the disease at the end of last year, urging his fans to take care. He said that while Brazilians have covered their smiles with masks due to the pandemic, "we will not stop smiling or having hope."

Famed Brazilian singer Caetano Veloso shared a photo of himself hugging Gustavo on his social networks.

"The Brazilian people are in mourning," he wrote. "And they must react against those responsible for our vulnerability in the face of the pandemic that took this beloved person from us."

Paulo Gustavo During Carnival Parade
Paulo Gustavo participates in the Carnival parade at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro on February 15, 2015. Bruna Prado/AP Photo