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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Zhzhyonov, Actor Who Survived Gulag, Dies

Itar-TassGeorgy Zhzhyonov
Georgy Zhzhyonov, a film and theater actor who survived torture and years of hard labor in the gulag on trumped-up charges of spying for the United States, died Thursday, according to his theater troupe. He was 90.

Zhzhyonov died in a Moscow hospital where he was staying after breaking his hip last month, said Tatyana Gorina, a spokeswoman for the Mossoviet Theater.

Zhzhyonov first starred in a movie in 1932, when he was 17, quickly shooting to prominence, but his film career came to an abrupt halt in 1938 when he was arrested by the NKVD secret police, a KGB predecessor, and sentenced to five years in prison camps on charges of spying for the United States.

Zhzhyonov said in interviews with Russian media that his arrest followed a chance meeting with a U.S. naval attache on a Trans-Siberian train.

"They kept me standing for seven days during the interrogations," he recalled in a newspaper interview published earlier this year. "When I would fall, they would lift me by the hair and force me to keep standing. That was how they got the answers they needed."

He recalled telling his wife, also an actress, during their last meeting in prison before he was sent to the gulag: "Don't wait for me; it's 90 percent probable that I'm going to die."

He said that after returning from serving his original five-year sentence and two more years added on later, he and his wife separated.

In 1949, Zhzhyonov was arrested again and sentenced to internal exile in Siberia. He was allowed to return from exile only after his rehabilitation in 1955 and came back to work in film.

Zhzhyonov starred in numerous movies, in roles ranging from that of a Western spy to a KGB general. It was the role of a Western spy who repents and turns over to the Soviet side that brought Zhzhyonov nationwide acclaim and kudos from his former tormentors in the KGB. He said that when he visited the KGB to receive a prize for the role, he asked the agency officials: "Will you at least give me a sunny cell when you come to arrest me again?" Officials did not appreciate the joke, he said.

Zhzhyonov received the highest Soviet award for actors, the title of the People's Artist of the Soviet Union, in 1980.

President Vladimir Putin met with Zhzhyonov when he turned 90 in March and lavished him with praise.

Zhzhyonov is survived by a daughter. Funeral arrangements were under way.