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Alexander Borisovich Godunov
Born November 28, 1949(1949-11-28)
Sakhalin, Russian SFSR, USSR
Died May 18, 1995 (aged 45)
West Hollywood, California, United States
Occupation Ballet Dancer

Alexander Borisovich Godunov (Russian: Александр Борисович Годунов; November 28, 1949 — May 18, 1995) was a Russian ballet dancer and actor, whose defection caused a diplomatic incident between the USA and the USSR.

Godunov was born in Sakhalin, Russian SFSR, USSR. He joined the Bolshoi Ballet in 1971 and rose to become premier dancer before defecting to the USA in 1979.[1] After dancing with the American Ballet Theatre as a principal and with different ballet companies as a guest star, he gave up ballet and turned to film acting. Godunov's roles were varied, including a good-natured Amish farmer in Witness, a violent German terrorist in Die Hard, a comically narcissistic symphony conductor (referred to as "the maestro") in The Money Pit, and Vronsky in Anna Karenina in 1974. He became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1987.[1]

He died in West Hollywood, California, of alcoholism and complications of hepatitis at the age of 45.


Defection from USSR

After playing Lemisson, the Royal Musician in a 1978 Soviet adaptation of 31st of June by J. B. Priestley, Godunov became well known in the USSR as a movie actor. On August 23, 1979, while on a tour with the Bolshoi Ballet in New York City, Godunov contacted authorities and asked for political asylum. After discovering his absence, the KGB responded by putting his wife, Lyudmila Vlasova, a soloist with the company, on a plane to Moscow, but the flight was stopped before take-off while the State Department tried to determine whether she was leaving voluntarily.[1] The two divorced shortly after.

Then U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev became involved in the incident. Finally, after three days, the plane was allowed to take off, returning Vlasova to her family in Russia. Godunov spent a year trying to get her back, but to no avail. The two of them, known as the "Romeo and Juliet of the Cold War", were divorced in 1982.[1] Godunov's defection may have inspired another principal dancer couple from the Bolshoi, Leonid Kozlov and Valentina Kozlova, to defect to the United States a few weeks later.[2]

Godunov joined the American Ballet Theater and danced as a principal until 1982 when he had a falling-out with his long-time friend and director of the company Mikhail Baryshnikov. The official reason for his release from the company was that there would not be sufficient roles for him after a change in the repertory.[1] He traveled with his own troupes, danced as a guest artist with different ballet companies worldwide, turned to acting in Hollywood, and became involved in a long-standing romance with actress Jacqueline Bisset, which ended in 1988.


On May 18, 1995 his friends became concerned when he had been uncharacteristically quiet with his phone calls. Sending a nurse to his home in the Shoreham Towers, West Hollywood, Godunov was found dead at the age of forty-five of alcohol abuse with complications from hepatitis. It was not immediately clear how long he had been dead and a friend stated she had not heard from him since May 8.[1] In a statement issued shortly after his death, Godunov's publicist, Evelyn Shriver said "He did not have AIDS, or commit suicide ... This was a very happy time of his life ... "

His ashes were released into the Pacific Ocean; his memorial at Gates Mortuary in Los Angeles is engraved with the epitaph "His future remained in the past."


Year Title Role
1974 Anna Karenina Alexei Vronsky
1978 Carmen-suite Jose
1978 31 June Lemisson, the Royal Musician
1985 Witness Daniel Hochleitner
1986 The Money Pit Max Beissart, the Maestro
1988 Die Hard Karl
1990 The Runestone Sigvaldson, The Clockmaker
1992 Waxwork II: Lost in Time Scarabis
1994 North Amish Dad
1996 The Zone Lothar Krasna

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f Dunning, Jennifer (1995-05-19). "Alexander Godunov, Dancer And Film Actor, Dies at 45". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-02-09.  
  2. ^ Turmoil on the Tarmac. TIME Magazine, September 3, 1979 - accessed May 2, 2009

External links

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