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Lyudmila Markovna Gurchenko (Russian: Людмила Марковна Гурченко, Ukrainian: Людмила Марківна Гурченко Lyudmyla Markivna Hurchenko, November 12, 1935 – March 30, 2011) was a popular Soviet and Russian actress, singer and entertainer.
Lyudmila was born in Kharkiv, Ukrainian SSR. Part of her childhood was spent under German occupation of Ukraine. She moved to Moscow to attend the All-Union State Institute of Cinematography (VGIK) and achieved overnight fame and celebrity status at 21 after she starred in young Eldar Ryazanov's 1956 directorial debut, musical Carnival Night. The film was enormously popular and made Lyudmila famous overnight. Throughout the next two years she toured the entire country with her Carnival Night-inspired musical numbers, attracting crowds of fans.
The Soviet cultural establishment, however, deemed her style too western and too out of line with Soviet standards. She was accused on receiving compensation for her shows that was above State-set wages. She became the target of highly critical publications in several influential Soviet periodicals Tap dance to the left (Чечетка налево, Komsomolskaya Pravda, 1957, ), Dositheos morals (Досифеевские нравы, Ogonyok, 1958, ) and many others, devoted to her financial wrong-doing and her alleged lack of patriotism. 1958 saw the release of another musical with Lyudmila, A Girl with a Guitar (Devushka s Gitaroi), shot mostly before these articles were published. The musical was not recommended for a wide distibution and was a box-office flop. This, in the eyes of the establishment, further justified branding Lyudmila as a one-hit wonder, not worthy of serious movie roles. According to the customs of the time, such branding effectively meant a ban Lyudmila's involvement in cinema and theater for several years.
For the next two decades Lyudmila struggled to get leading roles in new movies, while making a living by traveling all over the country with her stand-up acts and musical numbers.
In the mid 1970s Gurchenko starred in several films, which, although moderately successful, helped showcase Lyudmila's dramatic talent. Finally, in 1979 she landed a role in director Andrei Konchalovsky's Siberiade and in 1982 in Station for Two, once again by Eldar Ryazanov, who by then had become one of USSR's most popular and prolific directors. The role of the forty-something waitress Vera in this touching film became Gurchenko's long-awaited comeback as a superstar of Soviet film. She has since starred in several more movies and TV shows. Her multifaceted talent has been recognized on many occasions. She received the title of People's Artist of the USSR, the highest honour that could be bestowed to a musical artist, in 1983. In 2000, she was awarded the 4th Degree Order for the Service to the Motherland, one of the highest civil decorations in post-Soviet Russia (with 3rd and 2nd Degree Orders having been awarded to only very few extremely distinguished individuals, and the 1st Degree Order being nominally held by a serving President of Russia).At age 70, Lyudmila still acted in the theater, and was frequently seen attending galas, appearing on TV talk shows, and performing at concerts. She maintained her iconic status, especially among the older generations, but was often a subject of jokes among younger audiences due to her over-the-top public persona and her deliberately "youthful" image.
Lyudmila was married five times, including a short-lived marriage to legendary Soviet crooner Iosif Kobzon in 1969. She had one daughter, Maria, born in 1959 from her first marriage, and two grandchildren as well as one great-granddaughter.
On Feb 14, 2011, Gurchenko fell near her house and broke her hip. She was taken to the hospital and underwent an operation the following day. On March 30, her condition worsened – either due to the operation or a heart seizure – and she died that evening. She will be buried at the Novodevichy Cemetery.
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Mar 31, 2011 | Voice of Russia
A star of Soviet and Russian cinema, an idol of millions of viewers has left her fans forever. Famous Russian actress Lyudmila Gurchenko died in Moscow at the age of 75.
Parts in over 80 films and a dozen theatrical plays, film directing and song-writing, autobiographical books and recordings of songs performed in such a familiar voice for many – this is the result of Lyudmila Gurchenko’s artistic life.
Her personal life was not very easy. Like for all fellow-countrymen of her generation, Lyudmila Gurchenko’s early years were marred by the Second World War. She saw the war at close quarters in her native city of Kharkov occupied by the Nazis. Her memories tortured her all her life, but this was the reason why the actress was so convincing in war-time dramas, for example in Alexey German’s film “Twenty Days without War”. However, Lyudmila Gurchenko’s first breathtaking success turned out to be her curse. At the very beginning of her career she starred in Eldar Ryazanov’s musical comedy “Carnival Night” and for many years after that she was labelled as a superficial, music-hall-type actress, not worthy of serious dramatic parts.
As a person of bright talent and tremendous willpower, Lyudmila Gurchenko knew how to overcome and, as professionals put it, use to the best advantage all of life’s circumstances. This special professional skill helped her to become a real star. This is the opinion of Russian film director Nikita Mikhalkov who gave the actress the star role in one of his best films “Five Evenings”, a psychological drama:
“Gurchenko amazingly combined her acting with her personality. She could not act without adapting the part to some of the features of her character. When the connection clicked it was always a pleasure. I always enjoyed looking at her and working with her. She always got worked up by how people in the studio responded to her and then she took wing and soared. It was a marvellous sight.”
Lyudmila Gurchenko was a rare versatile actress. She possessed a wide range of masterly performance, from virtuosic musical clowning to strong dramatic qualities. She had no equals in this versatility, believes Russian film director Pyotr Todorovsky:
“The number one star of our culture - in cinema, theatre and variety art – has left us, - says Pyotr Todorovsky. – Everything was in her power. This great woman could win the hearts of any audience.”
“She was absolutely unrestrained, she was the embodiment of character on the set”, says famous film director Andrei Konchalovsky, who gave Lyudmila Gurchenko the main part in the “Siberiade” film epic. Lyudmila Gurchenko also stood out for her inexhaustible love of life and stubborn resistance to age. She kept changing her outfits and hair-styles for even more elegant ones, nurtured new artistic plans and worked until the last moment of her life. Last year saw the release of her film “Motley Twilight” in which Lyudmila Gurchenko was an actress, the author and performer of the songs, a co-script writer and a co-director.
“We must all learn from such actresses as Lyudmila Gurchenko, otherwise we will all drown in banality. We must remember and learn”. These words belong to her colleague, well-known actor Valentin Gaft. Indeed, Lyudmila Gurchenko will remain in the memory of many people as an example of sincerity and professionalism.
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