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Alexander Godunov
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Alexander Borisovich Godunov

(1949-11-28)November 28, 1949
Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, Sakhalin, Russian SFSR, USSR
Died c. May 18, 1995(1995-05-18) (aged 45)
  • Soviet (1949–1982; def.)
  • United States (1987–1995)
  • Ballet dancer
  • actor
  • ballet coach
Years active 1958–1995
Lyudmila Vlasova
(m. 1971; div. 1982)
Partner(s) Jacqueline Bisset

Alexander Borisovich Godunov (Russian: Александр Борисович Годунов; November 28, 1949 – c. May 18, 1995) was a Russian-American ballet dancer and film actor. A member of the Bolshoi Ballet, he became the troupe's Premier danseur. In 1979, he defected to the United States. While continuing to dance, he also began working as a supporting actor in Hollywood films. He had prominent roles in films such as Witness and Die Hard.

Early life and dance career

Godunov was born in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk (Sakhalin, Russian SFSR, USSR) in the Russian Far East. He began his ballet studies at the age of nine in Riga in 1958 in the same class as Mikhail Baryshnikov. He said his mother put him in ballet to prevent him from becoming "a hooligan". He and Baryshnikov 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.

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

Defection from the USSR

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. The incident was dramatized in a 1986 movie, Flight 222. 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. The couple divorced in 1982.

Later career

Godunov joined 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 American Ballet Theatre stated a change in the troupe's repertoire did not provide Godunov with sufficient roles. Following his release, he traveled with his own troupe and danced as a guest artist around the world with a number of prominent ballet troupes.

Godunov also began working in Hollywood as a film actor. His acting roles included an Amish farmer in Witness (1985), a comically narcissistic symphony conductor in The Money Pit (1986) and one of the thieves in Die Hard (1988). He declined roles which typecast him as a dancer or as an action villain, as in Die Hard. In the mid-1990s he appeared in Canadian television commercials for Labatt Ice Beer.

Personal life

Godunov married Lyudmila Vlasova, a soloist with the Bolshoi Ballet, in 1971. The couple had no children and divorced in 1982 after a long separation.

In 1981, Godunov began dating actress Jacqueline Bisset after meeting her at a party in New York City. They broke up in 1988.

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


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. He had been dead for several days. Godunov's death was determined to be due to complications from hepatitis.

Godunov was cremated and his ashes 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 June 31 Lemisson, the Royal Musician
1980 A 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

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Aleksandr Godunov para niños

  • List of dancers
  • List of Russian ballet dancers
  • List of Eastern Bloc defectors
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