ballet dancer, actor
November 28, 1949 - May 18, 1995
Alexander Godunov was a Russian-American ballet dancer and film actor, whose defection to America caused a diplomatic incident that would become the basis of a Hollywood movie.
Alexander Godunov - The Tragic Hero
Alexander Borisovich Godunov (nicknamed simply "Sasha") was born in Sakhalin, the Russian Far East. Godunov began his ballet training in Riga in the same class as another famous Russian-American ballet dancer, Mikhail Baryshnikov. The two became close friends for years to come.
After the graduation, Godunov had a promising future in ballet before him. In 1971 he joined the Bolshoi Ballet and quickly rose in rank to become the premier dancer. And in 1973, he won a gold medal at the Moscow International Ballet Competition. Moreover, he had another promising career - in cinema: he played prominent roles in The Thirty-first of June, Anna Karenina, and several other popular Soviet movies of the late 70s.
But all this would prove to be only a facade, built up for authorities and to hide Alexander's growing discontent...
On August 21, 1979, while on a tour with the Bolshoi Ballet in New York City, Godunov slipped from his KGB watchers' field of view and contacted American authorities, asking for political asylum. The watchers, having discovered the absence of their most prominent charge, immediately put his wife, Ludmilla Vlasova, a soloist with the company, on a plane back to Moscow. The security officials, however, stopped the flight from leaving American soil until the circumstances of Vlasova's suspected abduction could be cleared...
...A three-day diplomatic row ensued, involving President Jimmy Carter himself, who was in contact with the Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. After the American authorities had made sure Vlasova really chose to leave on her own and free will, the U.S. State Department allowed the plane to fly away. This incident became the basis for the story of the 1986 Hollywood movie Flight 222.
Later Vlasova said that her husband had always loved American culture, but she herself was "too Russian" (or Soviet) to live in the United States. They officially divorced in 1982.
Godunov joined the American Ballet Theatre and danced as a principal dancer until 1982, the time when he had a falling-out with his long-time friend and director of the company, another famous defector - Mikhail Baryshnikov. There is no information on what actually happened, but Alexander was dismissed from ABT and went on to perform with other troupes.
During that time he revived his movie career, to a certain success: he played prominent roles in many films, from a good-natured Amish farmer or an inspired orchestra conductor, to a stereotypical blonde terrorist in the cult movie Die Hard. But the career faltered because he would categorically decline any roles in which he was typecast as a dancer or a villain...
Perhaps, all this proved too much for Godunov, who started drinking, which, consequently, cut short his rich but hard life.
On May 18, 1995, his friends became concerned when he had not picked up the phone for many days; a nurse came to check on him and discovered his body in his apartment in Shoreham Towers, West Hollywood, California. The cause of death, as the coroner reported, was complications due to chronic alcoholism.
Bratersky, Alexander (June 24, 1995). "A Whirlwind's Wife Looks Back". themoscowtimes.com.
Haithman, Diane (September 8, 1991). "Lost in America : Alexander Godunov wanted to make it in the movies without drawing on his fame in ballet; now he's another struggling actor". latimes