Domingos Montagner
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One of Brazil's most beloved television actors, Domingos Montagner, has drowned to death while filming scenes for the country's most popular soap opera.

The 54-year-old played a lead role in Velho Chico – a soap opera named after the river Sao Francisco, where he died on Thursday (15 September).

Montagner had gone for a swim with actress Camila Pitanga after a day of recording in the north-eastern state of Sergipe. She claimed he was dragged away by the river's strong currents and cried for help, but local people failed to act hastily enough – believing the drowning was a scene in the soap opera.

Despite this, authorities say there was little that anyone could have done to save the actor.

A local police chief said: "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."

Montagner played a farmer who often fought off local gunmen in Velho Chico. Ironically, he was shot multiple times and appeared to drown in the same river he drowned in in real life during one episode – but re-emerged a few weeks later.

Rescue teams recovered his body some 300 metres from where he drowned, approximately four hours later. On average, one person has drowned every year in the town since 2005, according to the BBC.

Montagner was born in the Sao Paulo neighbourhood of Tatuape to a family of Italian descent. He began his career in the circus when he joined a theatre as a clown. He became a television actor in 2008 and the soap was his 12th role on TV.