Five-decade career includes roles in 'Tsar,' 'Mirror'

Oleg Yankovsky, a charismatic and versatile actor who was one of Russia’s most beloved stage and screen stars, died May 20 in Moscow after a battle with cancer. He was 65.

Yankovsky’s film career spanned five decades and included leading roles in many movies that endure as icons for millions of across the former Soviet Union.

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.

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 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.

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