25 June 1980
Vladimir Semyonovich Vysotsky, a Soviet singer, songwriter, poet and actor, died
Vysotsky's parents were divorced soon after his birth, and he lived mostly with his mother (a technical translator), first in Buzuluk and then, from 1945, in Moscow. He attended the Institute of Civil Engineering for a year (1955-56) but quit to join the Nemirovich-Danchenko Studio School of the Moscow Art Theatre, graduating in 1960 and then becoming a professional actor, first at the Moscow Pushkin Dramatic Theatre and then at the Theatre of Miniatures (i.e., "Playlets"). From 1964 he was a member of the Moscow Theatre of Drama and Comedy on the Taganka, starring in such roles as Hamlet and Don Juan; he was also featured in 26 motion pictures.
His great popularity as an actor was perhaps even exceeded by his popularity as a poet and songwriter; he wrote several hundred songs and poems, as well as incidental music for plays and films. Soviet officialdom permitted few of his songs to be sung on television or in films or to be recorded. His lyrical fame spread from appearances in clubs, factories, and universities and through the mass distribution of homemade (and illegal) tape recordings (magnitizdat) and publications (samizdat). He sang of such themes as Soviet prison life ("Only the final judgment could be worse"), Soviet official hypocrisy ("I grieve that honour has been put to rout, that backbiting has been deified"), and generally about ordinary Russian daily life (crowded living quarters, long food lines, unfair privileges of the elite). He died at 42 of a heart attack, brought on, it was said, by his well-known carousing, hard-drinking life-style. In the late 1980s the Soviet government began allowing the publication of his poetry and song lyrics.