November 29, 1949 – May 18, 1995
By Leslie Scott
Okay, so most people know that Alexander Godunov played “Karl,” the semi-psychopathic terrorist in Die Hard; and “Max,” the egoistical, self-absorbed ex-husband in The Money Pit; and “Daniel,” Kelly McGillis’ would-be suitor in Witness. What few people remember, though, is that when Godunov defected from The USSR, he not only left behind a wife who had apparently changed her mind about coming with him, but he also created a political situation between the Soviets and the US that was precarious, to say the least.
It was during the 1979 North American tour of the prestigious Russian Bolshoi.
A premier ballet star, it had long been suspected that Godunov had become Americanized and wanted to defect. On the night of August 23rd, his chance came when he stayed out longer than allowed. Knowing that he had broken curfew and would probably never get another chance, he contacted authorities and asked for political asylum. At 29 years old, he had only seventy five cents in his pocket.
After discovering his absence, the KGB had Godunov’s wife, Bolshoi soloist, Ludmila Vlasova, packed on a plane, heading back to Moscow.
The flight was stopped, though, and the ballerina ended up sitting in the plane for three days on the Kennedy tarmac as the State Department argued with the KGB.
Both US President, Jimmy Carter and Russian Premier, Leonid Brezhnev, got involved while it was decided whether Vlasova had chosen to leave, or perhaps the KGB had made up her mind for her.
Godunov begged to speak to her, knowing that he could talk her into staying with him. And though the Russians did present him the opportunity, if he did so on the plane, Alexander Godunov passed on the chance to get on a fully fueled airplane with the KGB.
After 73 hours, the State Department determined it was Vlasova’s choice to go. The plane was allowed to take off, returning Vlasova to her family Russia.
Godunov spent a year trying to get her back, but in the end, there was just no way to get her out of the soviet block. The two of them divorced in 1982.
Godunov got on with his life, dancing briefly with the American Ballet Theater,
travelling with his own troupe,
acting in Hollywood
and having a long-standing romance with actress, Jacqueline Bisset, which ended in 1988.
On May 18, 1995 his friends became concerned when he had been uncharacteristically quiet with his phone calls. Sending a nurse to his home in the Shoreham Towers, West Hollywood, Godunov was found dead at the age of forty-five of alcohol abuse with complications from hepatitis.
Here is the building.
He had been dead at least a couple days. In a statement issued shortly after his death, Godunov’s publicist, Evelyn Shriver said, “He did not have AIDS, or commit suicide … This was a very happy time of his life … “
Gates Kingsley and Gates Mortuary of Los Angeles were in charge of the memorial service where friends gathered amid classical music and flowers. Godunov’s ashes were released into the Pacific. His mother, brother, niece and nephew, who still live in Latvia, did not attend.
Trivia: Alexander’s liquor store is just to the right of the infamous Viper Room, on Sunset, where River Phoenix made his last appearance.
For more information about the Shoreham Towers, see the Diane Linkletter story.
17 thoughts on “Alexander Godunov”
I never realized hepatitis could cause sudden death, especially for someone in their mid-forties and not obese. I thought it usually would be preceded by hospitalization.
i think you make an mistake on his birthday and the year is 28 Nov 1949
His mother and brother, who still lived in Latvia, did not attend the service.
I guess for Alexander life wasn’t good enov.
Ok, I’ll see myself out but I can’t believe I’m the only one who thought of this!
Well played. Baadaa Boom!
Well, it is entirely plausiuble to me that Nobody embarrasses the Soviet Regime and his death might very well have been a political assassination.
With all of the recent Russian oligarch suicide/murders (six at last count, & not just the individuals; their entire families!) not entirely out of the realm of possibilities –
ASSHOLE REMOVE MY POST
Alex was one Hawt Russian!
You guys DO know there’s a bunch of other pages attributing his death too alcoholism…not everything is a James bond movie
Seriously? You really think the KGB had nothing to do with this?
Not long before his death, Alexander Godunov had a quarrel with his employees – manager Arlene Medan and press secretary Evelyn Shriver. The probable cause of the conflict is Alexander’s desire to transport his mother and brother’s family from Latvia to the USA. The second possible reason is the performance of manager Arlene Medan. If there are millions of accounts, real estate, stocks – there is always a place for crime …
I thought you had more to say about Godunov and the cause of his death. So his death was attributed to alcohol abuse? It’s really very sad. I watched him in “Witness” and thought he was quite good. Didn’t even know he’s dead – and for more than 25 years.
Until now, the cause of A. Godunov’s death is unknown. There was no autopsy. The hasty funeral of Alexander, the strange behavior of the press secretary and manager, failure to fulfill the main points of the will, failure to notify Godunov’s family about his death – suggests that the premature departure of a successful, healthy young man is not an accident and not alcohol. But someone wants to convince society that it is alcohol that is the cause of death.
Another really sad one. Noticed in my limited experience that those who grew up under brutal communist regimes never really got over it. Mental black clouds and alcoholism being quite common. How could it be otherwise in a society where no one owned anything “for the good of the people” and everyone, including family members, were potential, and often, spys for the state?
What I do remember was Jacqueline Bisset… in the ’70s Alexander and Jacqueline were an unbelievably glamorous couple. Brad & Jen (or whomever) at their most famous, couldn’t hold a candle to these two – Seriously can’t think of a subsequent celebrity paring even comming close. Also recall they were considerably more low key in their personal life in LA. Different era I know, no instant worldwide media, but when these two were spotted in public it was low key.
What wasn’t was Jacqueline. Even low key she was the center of attention everywhere she went. Not for her actions but because she was, literally, shockingly beautiful. In my youth felt the same way about her as I did for Mrs. Emma Peal in her black leather catsuit. Sexy, smart, capable – How’s that for once upon a time?
Until now, the cause of A. Godunov’s death is unknown. There was no autopsy. The hasty funeral of Alexander, the strange behavior of the press secretary and manager, failure to fulfill the main points of the will, failure to notify Godunov’s family about his death – suggests that the premature departure of a successful, healthy young man is not an accident and not alcohol. But someone wants to convince society that it is alcohol that is the cause of death.For fans of classical ballet – Alexander Godunov is the standard of a classical dancer and a talented film actor! unforgettable and unique! The brightest world ballet star!
Thank you for sharing this………
Read recently Jacqueline Bisset is Godmother to…. Angelina Jolie!
Can you imagine these two entering a room together & viewers reactions?