17 Sep 2016

Brazil TV star drowns on set of soap opera

8:45 am on 17 September 2016

Brazilian TV star Domingos Montagner has drowned during a break from filming a riverside scene for the country's most popular soap opera.

Onlookers failed to act initially as Montagner was swept away by the river's strong currents because they thought the drowning was a scene in the show.

He will be buried in his native city of Sao Paulo on Saturday following his tragic death.

Picture taken on November 2, 2015 in Sao Paulo, Brazil of Brazilian actor Domingos Montagner. Montagner drowned on September 15, 2016 whilst bathing in the Sao Francisco River in Caninde de Sao Francisco, Sergipe, northeastern Brazil.

Brazilian actor Domingos Montagner. Photo: AFP

Montagner played the leading role in Velho Chico, a soap opera named after the Sao Francisco river where he died.

And as part of a storyline in a previous episode the actor's character had drowned in the same river.

The 54-year-old had gone for a swim with an actress after a day of shooting in the north-eastern state of Sergipe.

She said he had been dragged away by the river's strong currents.

The actress, Camila Pitanga, cried for help but local people failed to act initially as they believed the drowning was a scene in the soap opera.

Authorities said there was little that anyone could have done.

In the soap opera, Montagner played a farmer who often fought off local gunmen. In one of those clashes, he was shot multiple times and appeared to drown in the same Sao Francisco river, but reappeared weeks later.

'Dangerous area'

"They thought they had chosen a safe spot to swim but that is one of the most dangerous areas in the town of Caninde and usually avoided by locals," police chief Antonio Francisco Filho told O Globo.

One person, on average, has drowned every year in the town since 2005, reports say.

Four hours after the incident, rescue teams found Montagner's body underwater, some 300m from where he was last seen.

Forensic experts in Sergipe state confirmed he had died by drowning.

Scriptwriter Benedito Ruy Barbosa said he will write a tribute for Montagner in the final episodes of Velho Chico.

"I'd never had such a big shock in my life," he said.

"We can't forget the soap opera, which goes one, but we must pay tribute to the great person Domingos was."

'Life imitates art'

Montagner was born in Sao Paulo and had a career in the circus before becoming a television actor, in 2008.

This was his 12th role on TV. His first significant soap opera role was in 2011, and he had his film debut in 2012.

Montagner had been married for 14 years to actress Luciana Lima, with whom he had three children.

The news of his death has caused commotion in Brazil, where fellow actors and social media users have paid tributes to the actor.

The football team he supported, Corinthians, praised him also for his success as a handball player for the club's affiliate in the 1980s.

His latest film, Um Namorado Para Minha Mulher (A Boyfriend For My Wife), was released two weeks ago.