His death, late Sunday, sparked widespread grief among fans.

Shimura, 70, one of Japan’s best-known comedians with a career dating back to the early 1970s, reportedly underwent lung cancer surgery in 2016. He developed fever and respiratory problems on March 19 and was hospitalized, said the media.

Dominating the television comedy scene in the 1970s and 1980s, one of his best known acts was a colorless feudal lord with a face painted white with thick black eyebrows.

Fans took to social media to mourn his death, and some said they should highlight the real threat of the coronavirus.

“So sad. It’s probably bad to say this, but I hope his death helps Japanese, who still can’t seem to take this virus seriously, to start changing their attitude, “one Twitter user wrote.

Chief government spokesman Cabinet Chief Yoshihide Suga echoed that.

“I am praying to repose his soul but want to say on top of that we are at a very critical time and need to make every effort to stop the spread of this disease,” he told a regular news conference.

Japan on Sunday confirmed 68 new cases in Tokyo alone, a record daily increase for the capital, taking the country’s overall count to more than 1,800 infections, with 55 deaths Sunday afternoon, excluding 712 cases and 10 death from a cruise ship that was moored near Tokyo last month, NHK said.