For millions across the former Soviet Union, New Year’s means champagne, Olivier salad and rewatching ‘The Irony of Fate’. The irreverent comedy made Andrey Myagkov, the film’s male lead, one of Russia’s most beloved actors.
On Thursday, local media reported that Myagkov had passed away at his home in Moscow at the age of 82. Other local outlets reported that he had died from heart failure.
In a statement posted to their website, the Moscow Art Theatre, where he had performed for more than twenty years, confirmed that “Andrei Vasilyevich [Myagkov]is dead.” They paid tribute to his talent for acting, which they say came from his “compassion for people, understanding of the cruelty of life and his humor, with its ability to reconcile man with the world.”
Born in Leningrad, as St. Petersburg was known in the Soviet era, he showed a passion for theater and drama clubs from a young age. However, like many growing up in Joseph Stalin’s USSR, he gained a solid technical education and graduated in 1961 as a chemical engineer, carving out a niche as an amateur actor alongside his studies.
One of his performances was seen by chance, by a teacher at the Moscow Art Theatre School, who sent him an invitation to take part in its entrance exams. Training there, and through a series of spells at Russian theaters, he honed his craft alongside some of the best-known dramatists of the time, such as Yevgeny Yevstigneyev and Valentin Gaft. His foray into comedy, however, came with a lead role in the 1965 satire, ‘Adventures of a Dentist’, in which the tragic main character is drummed out of the profession for his rare power of painlessly pulling teeth from patients.
With ‘The Irony of Fate’ in 1976, Myagkov cemented his role as a Soviet cinema legend, portraying an awkward, alcoholic bridegroom who falls in love with an unlikely romantic interest after they are thrown together by chance on New Year’s Eve.
The film’s prime time listing gave the young actor a colossal following with an entire generation of people across the eastern bloc. Fedor Razzakov, author of a book on the history of the Soviet film industry, said that “virtually the entire country watched the show,” broadcast in two parts on New Year’s Day. Around 100 million viewers were estimated to have tuned in.
With reruns shown each New Year, millions still tune in to watch the film as an annual tradition, somewhat equivalent to the American classic ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’.
However, despite a number of other successes on screen, Myagkov never shook off the association with ‘The Irony of Fate’, and came to feel more antipathetic about the sensational success of his leading role. Stepping back from the stage and refusing contact with journalists, he told the Vesti news channel that, when it came to questions about the classic, he was “frankly speaking, bored as hell.”
“I just can’t hear about it anymore,” he said. “For a period of time, maybe about 40 years, I would stop showing ‘The Irony of Fate.’”
Over the course of a three-decades long career, Myagkov played over 50 roles on television and film, as well as his distinguished run on Moscow’s stages.
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