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Famous People Who Studied Russian

Famous People Who Studied Russian

Saturday, November 19, 2016

by Letitia Rydjeski

Studying Russian and finding it a bit challenging? You are not alone. Check out our list of famous people who have studied Russian, and find some fellow-sufferers...

Our database is by no means comprehensive, but it is the most complete list we have seen anywhere, and we will be constantly supplementing and adding to it. Know of other students and former students who have made it big? Send us your additions and updates.

{Click on the individual's profession or avocation to read short bio.}


Stockard Channing ~ Actress
(1944 -- )Actress Stockard Channing, both a Tony and Emmy recipient and known for such roles as Betty Rizzo in the film Grease and the First Lady Abby Bartlett in The West Wing TV series, studied Russian literature at Radcliffe.

Diablo Cody ~ Screenwriter
(1978 -- ) Diablo Cody studied Russian as a minor at the University of Iowa. Cody is also the screen writer behind the movie Juno, for which she won an Oscar and a BAFTA. She is the author of numerous independent screen plays.

Jamie Hyneman ~ Special Effects Expert And Was The Co-Host Of The Television Series Mythbusters
(1956 -- ) Jamie Hyneman, one of the stars of the Mythbusters TV series, has an undergraduate degree in Russian linguistics from Indiana University.

Peter Krause ~ Actor
Peter Krause (1965 - ) is a television and film actor, with a SAG award and multiple Emmy nominations for the series "Six Feet Under." He studied Russian at Gustavus Adolphus College in Minnesota. [more info]

Dennis Prager ~ Talk show host
(1948 -- ) Dennis Prager, a conservative radio talk host, studied Russian at the Harriman Institute at Columbia University.

Montel Williams ~ Talk show host, actor
(1956 -- ) Montel Williams, a television and radio talk show host, was a 1983 graduate of the Russian Basic Course at the Defense Language Institute. 


Madeleine Albright ~ Politician and diplomat
(1937 -- ) Born in Prague, Madeleine Albright (Marie Jana Korbelova), the first female Secretary of State who served under President Bill Clinton, is a native Czech speaker. She is also fluent in Russian.

James Billington ~ LOC Librarian
(1929 -- ) James Billington was Librarian of Congress from 1987 to 2015, and prior to that, a scholar with particular interest in Russia. He studied under Russian philosopher Isaiah Berlin at Balliol College in Oxford. From 1973 to 1987 he directed the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, DC, and within the Center's framework, he founded the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies. He authored several books on Russia and wrote a PBS television series on Russia. He is a member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and a recipient of the Russian Order of Friendship, the highest honor that Russia awards foreigners.

Sherrod Brown ~ Senator From Ohio
(1952 -- ) Sherrod Brown, Democratic Senator from Ohio, was a Russian major at Yale.

Rene Bumb ~ Federal Judge
(1960 -- ) Rene Bumb, Federal Judge,  was appointed in 2006 to the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey.  While a university student she was a Russian major and President of the Russian Club.

James Douglas ~ Former Governor Of Vermont
(1951 -- ) James (Jim) Douglas, former governor of Vermont, was a Russian major at Middlebury College in the early 1970's.

Gina Haspel ~ Deputy Director, CIA
Joined the CIA in 1985 as a reports officer, specialising in Russia. [more info]

Condoleezza Rice ~ Academic, diplomat
(1954 -- ) Condoleeze Rice, former Secretary of State under President George W. Bush, studied Russian via a student exchange at Moscow State University in 1979.


Jill Dougherty ~ Cnn Foreign Affairs Correspondent Public Policy Scholar At The Kennan Institute
(1949 -- ) Jill Dougherty earned a BA in Russian in 1970 at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. She also studied at Leningrad University. She worked in the Russian broadcasting service at Voice of America. She is a former CNN Foreign Affairs Correspondent and Former Public Policy Scholar At The Kennan Institute. She is currently a Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

Laura Ingraham ~ Political Commentator And Talk Show Host
(1963 -- ) Laura Ingraham studied Russian while an undergraduate at Dartmouth College, and spent a semester on a student exchange in Russia itself.

Marvin Kalb ~ Journalist, Scholar, Commentator
(1930 -- ) Marvin Kalb worked as a journalist at CBS News for some 30 years, during which time he was Moscow Bureau Chief. He is a prominent commentator on Vladimir Putin's Russia.

David Remnick ~ Journalist
(1958 -- ) David Remnick, editor of the New Yorker Magazine, won the Pulitzer Prize for his account of life in Russia, Lenin's Tomb.

Hedrick Smith ~ Journalist
(1933 -) Hedrick worked as a reporter and editor for the New York Times and a producer and correspondent for the PBS show, Frontline. During 1971-1974 he was NYT correspondent in Moscow. His years in Moscow formed the basis for his best-selling book, The Russians, published in 1975. He was awarded two Pulitzer Prizes, one in 1971 for his reporting on the Pentagon Papers, and one in 1974 for his reporting on Russia and Eastern Europe.

Paul Sonne ~ Moscow Correspondent For The Wall St. Journal
Paul Sonne worked as the Moscow correspondent for the Wall St. Journal in recent years.

Strobe Talbot ~ Journalist, Scholar, Commentator
(1946 --) Strobe Talbott gained prominence as a young Rhodes scholar when he translated Nikita Khrushchev's memoirs from Russian into English. He has had a long career at the Brookings Institution, where he has promoted Russia-oriented scholarship. He was Deputy Secretary of State under President Bill Clinton.


John Green ~ Author
(1977 -- ) John Green, author of the bestselling novel "The Fault in Our Stars," studied Russian at Kenyon College with Professor Natalia Olshanskaya.

Norma Klein ~ author
(1938 -- 1989) Children's author Norma Klein studied Russian at Barnard College.  


Chris Baio ~ Bassist Of The Rock Group Vampire Weekend
(1984 -- ) Chris Baio, the bassist of the rock group Vampire Weekend, studied Russian at Columbia University in New York City.

Tierney Sutton ~ Jazz/Cabaret Singer
(1963 -- ) Tierney Sutton, a jazz/cabaret singer, studied Russian while at Wesleyan University.


Greg Popovich ~ Basketball coach
(1949 -- ) Of Serbian background, Greg Popovich, head coach of the San Antonio Spur's NBA team, majored in Soviet Studies at the USAF Academy, graduating there in 1970. In the late 1960's he toured the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe as a member of the US Armed Forces basketball team.

James Williams ~ Olympic Fencer
(1985 -- ) James Williams, an Olympic fencer who won a silver at Beijing in the team competition in 2008, earned a BA in US History and Russian Studies from Columbia University in 2007.


Zelda Fichandler ~ Stage Director And Founder Of Arena Stage Company
(1924 -- 2016) Zelda Fichandler, a stage director and founder of Arena Stage Company in Washington D.C., studied Russian at Cornell University.

This is a constantly updated database. If you have a correction, or addition, please send us a note.

Special thanks to Laura Kline for gathering much of the original data (with the help of SEELANGS subscribers) which seeded this list. The list has been vetted, edited and updated by Letitia Rydjeski.