Thousands attend funeral of Brazil soap star Montagner

image source, AFP
image captionMontagner had a long career in the circus and the theatre before he became a soap opera star

Thousands of people in Brazil have attended the funeral of soap opera star Domingos Montagner who died in tragic circumstances on Thursday.

Montagner drowned in the river where the crew had been recording scenes for Brazil's most popular soap opera.

His death has caused shock and consternation in the country, where millions watch TV soaps every evening.

The 54-year-old played the leading role in Velho Chico, which was named after the Sao Francisco river where he died.

He was swimming with fellow actress Camila Pitanga when he got dragged away by strong currents.

She cried for help but local residents in the north-eastern state of Sergipe initially believed the drowning was a scene in the soap opera.

But the authorities said there was nothing anyone could have done.

"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.

'Fiction and reality'

Montagner was buried in his native city of Sao Paulo.

"The show must go on and we will carry on for him," said Montagner's brother, Francisco.

Ms Pitanga and other Globo TV actors attended the funeral, which took place at a local theatre.

"I first thought it was a rumour. It looked like they had mixed up fiction and reality," actress Dira Paes told the G1 website.

image source, Instagram/@angelicaksy
image captionTV presenter Angelica Huck wrote on Instagram: "I can't believe it - an incredible actor and human being. May God give light and peace to his family"

"We also need to be there for Camila [Pitanga]," she added.

Ms Pitanga is said to be very distressed after watching Montagner drown next to her.

She said she held his hand twice as he struggled with the strong currents but could not save him.

Prayers and chants

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

His family asked fans to respect their privacy and stay away from the funeral.

But thousands prayed and sang outside the theatre where he was laid to rest.

They lined the streets to see the coffin as it was taken to a local cemetery.

Montagner 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.

As a soap opera actor, he became a household name in Brazil.

In 2012 Globo TV said one of its most successful soap operas was watched by 38 million people daily.

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