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Russians Remember Late Dissident Poet Vysotsky

  • RFE/RL

Vladimir Vysotsky (right) as he appeared in the play "Ten Days That Shook the World" at the Taganka Theater in Moscow in April 1965.

Vladimir Vysotsky (right) as he appeared in the play "Ten Days That Shook the World" at the Taganka Theater in Moscow in April 1965.

Russians are remembering celebrated dissident singer, poet, and actor Vladimir Vysotsky.

Crowds were expected to flock to his grave in Moscow and concerts and memorial events were planned across the world on January 25 to mark what would have been his 75th birthday.

Vysotsky was not just a talented artist. He was also an outspoken critic of the Soviet regime, and his bold and satirical prose expressed the feelings of an entire generation frustrated by Soviet restrictions.

More than 30 years after his death, the gravel-voiced singer remains an idol in Russia.

Most Russians, including the younger generation, still know his songs and poems by heart.

WATCH & LISTEN: Remembering Vladimir Vysotsky

Testifying to his enduring appeal, a film about his life released in 2011 drew huge crowds and earned a record $21 million in its first 10 days at the box office, despite mixed reviews. The film was written by his son, Nikita, and co-produced by Russia's main state-run television station, Channel One.

Despite the relative freedom of expression that his stardom allowed him, Vysotsky was branded subversive under Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev. As a result, none of his works were published in book form during his lifetime.

His songs were nonetheless widely available through bootleg recordings and samizdat, or underground publications.

Vysotsky was also a popular actor and starred in dozens of plays and films. His performance of William Shakespeare's Hamlet, in particular, won huge critical acclaim.

Some mystery still surrounds his death in July 1980 at the age of 42. Vysotsky is believed to have died of a heart attack likely brought on by years of alcohol and drug abuse -- an issue highlighted in several of his songs.

WATCH: Vysotsky performs one of his most iconic songs, "Koni Priveredlivye" (Mercurial Horses), in a 1983 broadcast:

Soviet authorities posthumously rehabilitated Vysotsky shortly after Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in 1985, releasing some of his songs and poems.

In popular culture abroad, Vysotsky's song "Koni Priveredlivye" (Mercurial Horses) fueled an emotionally packed scene in the 1985 Mikhail Baryshnikov vehicle "White Knights," a film about a Soviet ballet dancer who defects to the West.

One of the motives for this rehabilitation may have been the overwhelming reaction to his death.

Although his death was not officially announced by authorities, large crowds stood for several days near his home and outside Moscow's Taganka Theater, where he performed for many years.

Tens of thousands of heartbroken fans lined the streets of Moscow to catch a glimpse of his coffin on the day he was buried, causing a significant drop in attendance at the Olympic Games that were taking place at the time in the Soviet capital.

To honor Vysotsky's memory, a gala concert featuring prominent Russian singers and actors was to be broadcast on national television on January 25.

Dozens of other memorial events are scheduled across in Russia and beyond, including a poetic evening at the Taganka Theater featuring some of Vysotsky's friends and colleagues.

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