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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Writer and Filmmaker Durden-Smith Dies

Jo Durden-Smith, a former columnist for The Moscow Times, died in Britain earlier this month following a stroke. He was 65.

A filmmaker and writer, Durden-Smith was a witness to three very different periods and places in his life: Swinging London in the 1960s; the U.S. counterculture in the 1970s; and Russia in the 1980s and 1990s, before and after the breakup of the Soviet Union. He wrote a weekly column for The Moscow Times from 1994 to 1997.

He made his name in Britain in the 1960s as a producer of current affairs programs on British television. He produced The Stones in the Park, a film about the Rolling Stones concert in Hyde Park, as well as a film about Johnny Cash's 1969 concert in California's San Quentin State Prison.

He later moved to the United States, where he wrote for Vanity Fair and The New Yorker and became involved in radical politics. In 1976, he published his most critically acclaimed book, "Who Killed George Jackson: Fantasies, Paranoia and the Revolution," which looks at the life of the black American icon, a member of the Black Panthers.

In the late 1980s, Durden-Smith moved to Russia. One story goes that he became interested in Russia after going to interview Andrei Sakharov for a U.S. magazine. Sakharov greeted him with the words: "Come in! We are just discussing Jesus Christ," The Daily Telegraph reported.

Having arrived during perestroika, Durden-Smith saw Russia as a place similar to Britain in the 1960s: one full of hope. "Jo was a very romantic person, and I think for him Russia symbolized one of the few remaining places where idealism and all those impractical things meant something," said rock critic Artemy Troitsky, a friend of Durden-Smith who first met him in 1987.

The two men shared a passion for rock music, and Durden-Smith went on to make a documentary film, called "The Long Way Home," about rock star Boris Grebenshchikov's journey to the United States to make his first and only English-language album. He also made "The Iron and the Axe," a documentary about three Russian intelligentsia figures from different generations: literary historian Dmitry Likhachyov, poet Andrei Voznesensky and Troitsky.

"He was fond of Russian culture and liked Russian women," Troitsky said. "It was a humanistic and a creative attraction."

While making the Grebenshchikov film, Durden-Smith met Yelena Zagrevskaya, who became his second wife. He moved to Russia and set up home in a dacha in Nikolina Gora, just west of Moscow. The dacha was a regular feature in his column for The Moscow Times, called "Fate of a Land."

"God, how I love this place, its dreams and its passions. God, how I love its intensity of feeling," he wrote in his 1994 book "Russia: A Longshot Romance."

He eventually returned to Britain but continued to write and make films about Russia. In 2005 the BBC aired a trilogy he made about Russia's oligarchs.

Durden-Smith died on May 10 after a stroke. He is survived by his wife, Yelena, his daughter, Yekaterina, and his stepdaughter, Ksenia.