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In this Feb. 15, 2015 photo, comedian and actor Paulo Gustavo participates in the Carnival parade at the Sambadrome in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The popular comedian died in a Rio hospital from complications related to COVID-19. He was 42.Bruna Prado/The Associated Press

He was best known for portraying the character Dona Herminia, a cantankerous but loving middle-aged mother whose sharp tongue and misadventures left Brazilians doubled over in laughter.

The role, which he played onstage and later in films, made actor and writer Paulo Gustavo Amaral Monteiro de Barros, known professionally as Paulo Gustavo, one of the most acclaimed Brazilian artists of his generation. Fans came to love him for the tact with which he lampooned the traits of dysfunctional families.

Mr. de Barros died May 4, of complications of COVID-19 at a Rio de Janeiro hospital, where he had been treated for the disease since March 13, according to a statement by the medical team that oversaw his care. He was 42.

In a nation beleaguered by a pandemic that has killed more than 414,000 people, Mr. de Barros’ death sparked a rare widespread outpouring of grief.

In Niteroi, his hometown in Rio de Janeiro state, tearful residents gathered along the bay the night of May 5, to give him one last standing ovation. There were similar gestures of admiration in several other parts of the country.

Renan Quinalha, a law professor and human rights activist, credited Mr. de Barros, a champion of LGBTQ rights, with easing intolerant views in a nation that has long been deeply sexist and homophobic.

“Through screens, he entered the homes of homophobic people who were touched and challenged by his characters,” Mr. Quinalha wrote in a tribute in the newspaper Folha. “He used his life and his art as tools to broaden moral horizons and to challenge deeply entrenched biases.”

Condolence statements came in a torrent, including one from President Jair Bolsonaro, who has played down the threat of COVID-19 and disparaged gay people. “His talent and charisma earned the affection of all Brazilians,” Mr. Bolsonaro wrote.

Mr. de Barros leaves his husband, Thales Bretas, a dermatologist whom he married in 2015. He also leaves his parents, Dea Lucia Vieira Amaral, a retired schoolteacher, and Julio Marcio Monteiro de Barros; and two children, Gael and Romeu, both one year old, born to surrogate mothers in the United States.

Mr. de Barros was born in Niteroi on Oct. 30, 1978. After studying acting at Casa das Artes de Laranjeiras in Rio de Janeiro, he made his debut as Dona Herminia in a play he wrote, “My Mother Is a Character.” It was a hit, drawing more than 100,000 theatregoers in 2006 and 2007.

In the play, and in the film adaptation, which he produced and wrote, Dona Herminia, an overbearing mother whose husband abandons her for a younger woman, leaves home abruptly, leaving her children perplexed. She seeks refuge at the home of a beloved aunt, with whom she shares her sorrows and frustrations.

The movie was also a hit, and was followed by two sequels.

Late last year, during one of his final television appearances, Mr. de Barros urged Brazilians to take care of themselves during the pandemic and to find solace in the arts.

“Laughter is an act of resistance,” he said. “We’re needing these annoying masks now to protect our face from this virus, and unfortunately these masks hide something very precious for us Brazilians: our smile.”

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