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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Actor Smoktunovsky Dies at 69

The Russian theater world mourned on Thursday the passing of Innokenty Smoktunovsky, an actor widely credited with reshaping 20th-century Russian theater.


Smoktunovsky died of heart failure on Wednesday at a sanatarium near Moscow. He was 69.


"He was a theater in himself, with all the qualities that theater possesses -- its beauty, its compassion, its egoism. All that theater is, he was," said Kama Ginkas, a director at Moscow's Teatr Yunovo Zritelya. "This is a real loss."


Smoktunovsky's late-1950s performance as Prince Myshkin in "The Idiot" so revolutionized the Soviet stage hero that theater-lovers made pilgrimages across the continent to see him.


In his early roles, Smoktunovsky built his reputation as one of Russia's most important actors, a status he maintained over 80 films, 50 television parts and countless stage roles, until his final appearance in the Moscow Art Theater's "The Possible Meeting" in 1992.


"Russia is rich with good actors," Ginkas said. "But Smoktunovsky stood out even among geniuses. He was beyond categories."


Smoktunovsky is best remembered for his performance as Hamlet in Grigory Kozintsev's film, which won him the grand prize in the All-Russian Film Festival in 1964. His other famous roles included Detuchkin in "Beware of Automobiles" (1966), Tchaikovsky in "Tchaikovsky" (1970) and Porfiry Petrovich in "Crime and Punishment" (1971).


Smoktunovsky grew up in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, and came to the stage relatively late. During army service in World War II, he was captured and spent several months in a German prison camp.


He began studying theater while working as a laborer on Krasnoyarsk's docks, and then remained in the provinces for several years before moving to Moscow and Leningrad. He aroused little enthusiasm among prestigious theaters until his appearance as Myshkin which, critics say, replaced the typical Soviet worker-hero with a more vulnerable, ambivalent figure. In 1974 Smoktunovsky was named a Soviet People's Artist, and from 1976 he worked at the Moscow Art Theater.


In a review of "The Possible Meeting," which was staged at the Chekhov Art Theater in December 1992, The Moscow Times theater critic John Freedman wrote the following: "Innokenty Smoktunovsky is an actor of sublime grace. His understated grace, his softly nervous gestures, his penetrating eyes and his disarming smile have made him the most celebrated Russian actor of the second half of the 20th century."


Smoktunovsky's funeral will take place on Aug. 6 at Novodevichy Cemetery.