MOSCOW (AP) — Oleg Yankovsky, a charismatic and versatile actor
who was one of Russia's most beloved stage and screen stars, died Wednesday after an illness. He was 65.
Yankovsky died in a Moscow hospital after a battle with cancer, said Yulia Kosareva, spokeswoman for Lenkom, the Moscow theater where the actor worked for decades.
career spanned five decades and included leading roles in many movies that endure as icons for millions of across the former Soviet Union.
He was little-known in the West, but one of his last roles was as a religious leader and foe of Ivan the Terrible in Russian director Pavel Lungin's film "Tsar," screened this month at the Cannes Film Festival.
He also played leading roles in films of the brooding Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky, including "Mirror" and "Nostalgia."
Yankovsky's association with Lenkom, whose artistic director Mark Zakharov also directed Yankovsky in some of his most successful films, helped make the theater one of the most popular in the Moscow.
"Oleg Yankovsky was a unique phenomenon — an unbelievably strong and talented actor," the ITAR-Tass news agency quoted Zakharov as saying.
Yankovsky was among the most popular of a generation of actors who became household names in the Soviet Union, and his death led morning news programs on all Russia's major television networks.
A Lenkom administrator who initially confirmed his death to The Associated Press sobbed as she spoke.
Yankovsky vaulted to popularity with his film debut as a Nazi officer who switches sides to work for the Soviet Union in the 1968 spy film "Shield and Sword" — a movie longtime KGB officer Vladimir Putin, now Russia's prime minister, has said inspired him to join the Soviet intelligence agency.
Yankovsky also starred in comic dramas that turned to the past to give Soviet moviegoers a break from drab daily life and futuristic fantasies that veiled careful criticism of the Communist system. He played a magician in "Everyday Miracle," the dragon in "Slaying the Dragon" and a comrade in "Two Comrades Served."
He was honored as a People's Artist of the U.S.S.R. and has been decorated with three Russian Order of Service to the Fatherland medals since the Soviet collapse in 1991.
Yankovsky had roots in the Polish aristocracy that was oppressed by the Soviet government. He was born in 1944 in Kazakhstan, where his father was exiled and later died in the Gulag labor-camp system.
Yankovsky will be buried Friday at Novodevichy Cemetery, Russia's most prestigious, state-run RIA-Novosti quoted Lenkom deputy director Sergei Volter as saying.
Many leading Russian and Soviet artists and politicians are interred at the Moscow cemetery including Anton Chekhov, composer Sergei Prokofiev, Dmitry Shostakovich, Mstislav Rostropovich, Nikita Khrushchev and Boris Yeltsin.
Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press