On this day in 1949, world renowned ballet star Alexander Godunov was born in Sakhalin, Russia, then part of the USSR. Godunov started dancing in Riga, Latvia at the age of 9 where he met and became friends with future ballet star Mikhail Baryshnikov. Over the years Godunov continued to move upwards in the ballet world eventually ending up in 1971 with the Bolshoi Ballet, the oldest ballet troupe in the world. He was named “premier danseur” shortly after joining.
Because of his dashing good looks, he became a Soviet film star acting in movies by acting in The Thirty-first of June by J. B. Priestley and as Vronsky in Anna Karenina. But he was disillusioned with Soviet life despite living a coddled life. At the height of Cold War tensions in 1979 while on tour with the Bolshoi in New York City he defected which caused a major international diplomatic row.
As soon as the KGB learned of his defection they took Godunov’s wife, Lyudmila Vlasova into custody and put her on a plane heading to Moscow. The flight was blocked form leaving as U.S. diplomats demanded that they be allowed to ask Vlasova if she was leaving under her own free will. Leonid Brezhnev and U.S. President Jimmy Carter then got involved in the incident. The State Department had prepared a U.S. passport for Vlasova but she declined the offer and she left for home three days after getting on the plane. She divorced Godunov in 1982.
Godunov joined the American Ballet Theater under old friend Mikhail Baryshnikov as the principle dancer. He and Baryshnikov has a falling-out in 1982 and he was fired. From here Godunov traveled the world as a guest dancer until he decided to try his hand again at acting in Hollywood.
His roles were varied, from the Amish farmer in Witness to the evil German Karl in Die Hard to a narcissist piano maestro in The Money Pit. He met Jacqueline Bisset whom he stayed with until 1988. Godunov became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1987.
Tragically, Alexander Godunov died in 1995 at the age of 45 supposedly of complications of alcohol abuse and hepatitis.