September 01, 1997

Mourning Russia's Clown Prince

At times, a journalist has to struggle to avoid cynicism... This is how I felt when I heard on August 5 that Russia’s greatest comic, Yuri Nikulin — dubbed by many the Russian Charlie Chaplin — had gone into the hospital for a heart operation. When doctors announced that Nikulin had experienced heart failure during the operation, I couldn’t help thinking he might not make it, that we ought to prepare a background profile on him for our readers. But I fought back the cynicism, thinking better of it — the doctors were doing their utmost to save Russia’s beloved clown and actor. We all felt kind of upbeat, thinking he can’t die, just like that. So, never mind the editorial plan, I said to myself, let’s not create a bad omen... we’ll run a story on him when he is out of hospital.

Alas, my human and journalistic presentiment didn’t fail me. No matter how hard the doctors tried, death proved stronger this time. On August 21, Yuri Nikulin’s heart stopped beating. He was 75 years old.

I solicited an interview with Nikulin in April of last year, but to no avail. Yuri Vladimirovich was busy preparing a new circus program (as head of the “old” circus downtown, on Tsvetnoy boulevard). And “last but not least,” he was being solicited by everyone. Not just journalists were lining to meet with the famous circus director. So loved by the strong of this world, Nikulin could break open closed doors and help people to solve their little problems. So, I had no hard feelings — after all, how could one have hard feelings with Yuri Nikulin?! His common Russian face, which many felt to be the image of a sort of typical Ivan Durak (“Ivan the Fool”), could make you feel at ease just by thinking of it.

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