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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

MARQUEE: Curtain Falls On a Legend




Maly Theater actor Nikolai Annenkov, who died at the age of 100 years and 9 days on Sept. 30, was a monument of Russian theater. He was a contemporary of nearly every major figure of his century. However, Annenkov's one and only home in a professional career that lasted an extraordinary 77 years was the Maly Theater. During nearly eight decades, Annenkov performed a staggering number of roles - officially, over 300.


As an actor, Annenkov was insatiable. Actors are notorious for incessantly hungering for new parts, but the stories about Annenkov indicate he was in a class by himself. It is said that when directors began offering him fewer roles as he entered his late 90s, he pined terribly for work and willingly told anyone who would listen that he craved something new to do.


During the finale of the jubilee celebration of Annenkov's 100th birthday on Sept. 21, the actor stood up from his chair on stage and declared to a crowd of 1,000, all of whom had stood with him, "Today is the happiest day of my life. I am filled with your love." Annenkov then recited Pushkin's early poem "The Prophet." It begins, "I wandered in a gloomy desert / Wearied by spiritual thirst...."


Most everything about Annenkov was bigger than life - including the length of his career, which was actually longer than 77 years because he began acting as a student at the Maly before he officially joined the troupe. Even Annenkov's age was bigger than life. Persistent rumors suggest Annenkov was born in 1895 rather than 1899, which would have made him 104 at his death. It is said he may have lied about his age to the Maly Theater's examination committee in 1920.


I saw Annenkov perform one night in 1991 when he was not in top physical form. From time to time, he was steadied by his partners or gently aimed in the right direction to make his exits. But that night as Benvolio in Nedyailko Jordanov's "The Murder of Gonzago," he was the picture of wisdom and experience - a genuine formidable presence.


His every exit was accompanied by an ovation from the audience.


This is one of those rare occasions when a clich? is not a truism, but the truth: The death of Nikolai Annenkov marks the end of an era.


- John Freedman