Alexander Godunov was a Russian-American ballet dancer and actor who was the Bolshoi Ballet's premier danseur until he defected to the United States in 1979. After that, he served as the principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre until 1982. He had a fallout with the company’s director and was dismissed. Later, he performed with the Asami Maki Ballet of Japan, the Israel Ballet and Maurice Bejart's Ballet of the Twentieth Century. Throughout his dancing career, he performed in lead roles in 'Giselle', 'Swan Lake', 'Raymonda', 'La Bayadere', 'Don Quixote', 'Carmen' and 'Moor's Pavane'. Godunov, who danced in films such as 'Anna Karenina' and '31 June' in the Soviet Union, later studied acting with Stella Adler and took voice lessons at the Juilliard School of Music to prepare himself for a career in Hollywood. Starting with an appearance in 'Witness' alongside Harrison Ford, he worked in several other films, including 'The Money Pit', 'Die Hard' and 'North'.
Rise to Stardom
Alexander Godunov, who began his dance training at the age of nine at the Riga State Ballet School in 1958, studied in the same class as the famous dancer and actor Mikhail Baryshnikov. Upon graduation, he began touring with Igor Moiseyev's company, Young Ballet. In 1971, he approached the Bolshoi Ballet director Yuri Grigorovich for entry into the troupe and soon after that, he became its premier danseur. His dance performance as Prince Siegfried, the male lead role of 'Swan Lake', earned him rave reviews. He went on to appear in lead roles in several other classics, including 'Giselle'. He also danced in contemporary ballets by Alberto Alonso, Roland Petit and Miss Plisetskaya. He was awarded a gold medal at the Moscow International Competition in 1973. Godunov later gained popularity as a film actor in the Soviet Union after playing Vronsky in the 1976 adaptation of 'Anna Karenina', and appearing as the Royal minstrel Lemisson in the 1978 film version of J. B. Priestley's '31 June'. He later danced with the American Ballet Theatre as its principal dancer until 1982. He was dismissed from the company after he had a fallout with the director, his old friend Mikhail Baryshnikov. Subsequently, he travelled with his own troupe before following his then-partner Jacqueline Bisset into an acting career in Hollywood.
You May Like
Continue Reading Below
Defection from the USSR
Following a tour to America in 1973, Alexander Godunov became very outspoken about his admiration of American culture. Therefore, he was considered a potential defector and was barred from leaving the Soviet Union after his return from another tour of the country with Miss Plisetskaya in 1974. He danced very little over the next few years. After he was allowed to travel to the United States, for a tour with the Bolshoi Ballet in New York City, he sought political asylum from authorities there on August 21, 1979. After realizing his absence, the KGB put his wife Lyudmila Vlasova, who was also on the tour as a soloist, on a plane to Moscow. However, the plane was stopped by the American authorities, and a diplomatic standoff ensued, which later served as the inspiration for the 1986 film 'Flight 222'. Three days later, following the involvement of President Jimmy Carter and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, the authorities were convinced that Vlasova was not returning to Russia under duress and allowed the plane to take off. Godunov finally became a naturalized citizen of the US in 1987.
Family & Personal Life
Alexander Borisovich Godunov was born on November 28, 1949, in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, a city in Sakhalin island, located in the Far East part of Russian SFSR, USSR. He grew up with a brother. According to him, his mother enrolled him at the Riga State Ballet School at the age of nine to prevent him from becoming "a hooligan".
After joining the Bolshoi Ballet in 1971, Godunov married Lyudmila Vlasova, a soloist with the company, in the same year. The marriage fell apart after he decided to stay in the US, while Vlasova returned to the Soviet Union in 1979. They finally got divorced in 1982. Vlasova later mentioned that while he was in love with American culture, she was "too Russian" to live in America. The couple was childless. He began a relationship with English actress Jacqueline Bisset, who he had met at a party in New York City in 1981. They remained together until 1988, but Bisset admitted after his death that he only loved his Russian wife his entire life.
Godunov was found dead in his home in the Shoreham Towers, West Hollywood, California on May 18, 1995. His body was discovered after his friends, concerned about his unusual silence, sent a nurse to check on him. It was declared that his death was due to complications arising from hepatitis secondary and chronic alcoholism. His ashes were released into the Pacific during a memorial service, which was not attended by his mother, brother, niece or nephew, living in Latvia. His last film "The Zone" was released posthumously.