Alexander Godunov

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Alexander Godunov
Alexander Godunov.jpg
Alexander Borisevich Godunov

(1949-11-28)November 28, 1949
DiedMay 18, 1995(1995-05-18) (aged 45)
Cause of deathComplications from hepatitis due to chronic alcoholism
  • Soviet (1949–1982; def.)[1]
  • United States (1987–1995)
  • Ballet dancer
  • actor
  • ballet coach
Years active1958–1995
Lyudmila Vlasova
(m. 1971; div. 1982)
Partner(s)Jacqueline Bisset (1981–1988)

Alexander Borisovich Godunov (Russian: Александр Борисович Годунов; November 28, 1949 – May 18, 1995) was a Russian-American ballet dancer and film actor. He was a member of the Bolshoi Ballet and became the troupe's Premier danseur. In 1979, he defected to the United States. Soviet overseers for the troupe immediately put his wife on a flight back to the Soviet Union. Initially the United States did not allow the flight to leave, resulting in a diplomatic incident between the two nations.

Early life and dance career[edit]

Godunov was born in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk (Sakhalin, Russian SFSR, USSR), in the Russian Far East. Godunov began his ballet studies at the age of nine in Riga in 1958, in the same class as Mikhail Baryshnikov. He remarked his mother put him in ballet to prevent him from becoming "a hooligan".[2] The two became friends and helped each other throughout their years there. Godunov joined the Bolshoi Ballet in 1971 and rose to become Premier danseur. His teachers there included Aleksey Yermolayev.[3]

In 1973, he won a gold medal at the Moscow International Ballet Competition.[1] After playing Vronsky in 1976's Anna Karenina[1] and Lemisson, the Royal minstrel, in the 1978 film version of J. B. Priestley's 31 June, Godunov became well known in the Soviet Union as a movie actor.

Defection from the USSR[edit]

On August 21, 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 takeoff. After three days, with involvement by President Jimmy Carter and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, the U.S. State Department was satisfied that Vlasova had chosen to return to the Soviet Union of her own free will, and allowed the plane to depart.[4][5]

This incident was dramatised in a 1986 movie, Flight 222.[6] Vlasova later said that while Godunov loved American culture and had long desired to live in the United States, she felt she was "too Russian" to live in the United States.[7] The couple divorced in 1982.[8]

Later career[edit]

Godunov joined the American Ballet Theatre and danced as a principal dancer until 1982, when he had a falling-out with Mikhail Baryshnikov, the director of the company. A press release for the American Ballet Theatre stated a change in the troupe's repertoire did not provide him with sufficient roles. Following his release Godunov traveled with his own troupe, and danced as a guest artist around the world with a number of prominent ballet troupes. He also began working in Hollywood as a film actor.[9]

Godunov's acting roles were varied, including a good-natured Amish farmer in Witness (1985), a comically narcissistic symphony conductor in The Money Pit (1986), and an unforgettably violent German terrorist in Die Hard (1988).[10] He passed on roles which typecast him as a dancer or another heavy as in Die Hard.[9]

Personal life[edit]

Godunov married Lyudmila Vlasova, a soloist with the Bolshoi Ballet, in 1971.[1] The couple had no children. The two divorced in 1982.[11]

In 1981, Godunov met actress Jacqueline Bisset at a party in New York City. Six months later, the two began a relationship that lasted seven years.[9][12]

Godunov became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1987.[8]


Godunov drank alcohol to excess, and this became a problem as he got older. On May 18, 1995, Godunov's friends became concerned when he had been uncharacteristically quiet with his phone calls. A nurse who had not heard from him since May 8 went to his home in the Shoreham Towers, West Hollywood, California, where his body was discovered. Godunov's death was determined to be due to complications from hepatitis secondary to chronic alcoholism.[13][14]

Following his death Godunov's ashes were scattered into the Pacific Ocean. A memorial to him at Gates Mortuary in Los Angeles is engraved with the epitaph "His future remained in the past."


Year Title Role Notes
1970 Carmen-suite Jose
1971 Moskovskaya Fantaziya Young Dancer Uncredited
1975 Anna Karenina Alexei Vronsky
1978 31 iyunya Lemisson, the Royal Musician
1980 Portrait of Giselle Himself
1983 Godunov: The World To Dance In Himself
1985 Witness Daniel Hochleitner
1986 The Money Pit Max Beissart, the Maestro
1988 Die Hard Karl Vreski Main Cast
1990 The Runestone Sigvaldson, The Clockmaker
1992 Waxwork II: Lost in Time Scarabis
1994 North Amish Dad
1995 Dogfighters Lothar Krasna (final film role)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Gregory, John; Valance, Tom (May 20, 1995). "Obituary: Alexander Godunov". United Kingdom: The Independent. Retrieved December 26, 2012.
  2. ^ Dunning, Jennifer (May 19, 1995). "Alexander Godunov, Dancer And Film Actor, Dies at 45". p. 1.
  3. ^ Alexander Godunov and Aleksey Yermolayev. YouTube.
  4. ^ Rasskazova, Inessa (March 24, 2012). Легендарная балерина и хореограф Людмила Власова: "Саша меня не предавал!" [The legendary dancer and choreographer Ludmila Vlasova: "Sasha did not betray me!"]. Sovetsky Sport (in Russian).
  5. ^ "Bolshoi ballerina greeted with tears". The Miami News. Moscow. Associated Press. August 28, 1979. p. 4A. Retrieved December 26, 2012.
  6. ^ Schmemann, Serge (November 6, 1985). "Soviet Press Is Publicizing Defector's Return To Fold".
  7. ^ Bratersky, Alexander (June 24, 1995). "A Whirlwind's Wife Looks Back".
  8. ^ a b Dunning, Jennifer (May 19, 1995). "Alexander Godunov, Dancer And Film Actor, Dies at 45". p. 2.
  9. ^ a b c Levitt, Shelley (June 5, 1995). "Fallen from Grace".
  10. ^ Haithman, Diane (September 8, 1991). "Lost in America : Alexander Godunov wanted to make it in the movies without drawing on his fame in ballet; now he's another struggling actor". latimes. p. 2.
  11. ^ Folkart, Burt A. (May 19, 1995). "Bolshoi Dancer, Actor Alexander Godunov Dies".
  12. ^ Wallace, David (April 1, 1985). "Just Your Ordinary Couple". People. 23 (13).
  13. ^ Fonseca, Nicholas (May 19, 2000). "Fall from Grace".
  14. ^ "Godunov's death linked to alcoholism". Star-News. May 23, 1995. p. 5-!.

External links[edit]