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Obituaries : 'Bob Hope of Russia' Targeted Bureaucrats : Soviet Comic Arkady Raikin Dies at 76

December 22, 1987|BURT A. FOLKART | Times Staff Writer

Arkady Raikin, whose eloquent, comic condemnation of the Soviet system over five decades amused his audiences and angered his targets, died in Moscow over the weekend.

Often referred to as the "Bob Hope of Russia," a spokeswoman for his theater told Reuters news agency on Monday that he was 76. He had been semi-retired because of a history of heart problems in recent years but still was considered the bane of the bureaucracy at his death.

Utilizing satire to shame and embarrass the inane and the corrupt among the Soviet leadership, Raikin's biting words found him constantly warding off charges of "slandering Soviet reality" from those he had shamed.

In a 1971 interview with Pravada, following the first of his heart attacks and marking his 60th birthday, Raikin interviewed himself.

Calling himself "Comrade Actor," Raikin said his career had brought him many devoted friends and "a devoted enemy."

"I don't know him by name," Raikin wrote. "He appears before me like a sinister shadow. The whole audience laughs but he frowns: 'Not funny.'

"To him laughter sounds like scoffing. Honest criticism sounds like fault-finding. Light music sounds like servility to the West. He considers Venus de Milo a naked tomboy whose appearance corrupts our remarkable youth."

Raikin's success and survival were considered even more amazing because he was a Jew.

His success began during the dark days of the Joseph Stalin regime and extended into the glasnost era of Mikhail S. Gorbachev.

Born in Latvia, Raikin studied acting in Leningrad in the early 1930s and in 1939 set up his "Variety and Miniatures Theatre," which continued performances in the city despite the World War II blockade by German forces.

Raikin's performances, in which he usually played several characters and incorporated elements of pantomime and dramatic monologue, were often attended by top Soviet leaders.

Nikita S. Khrushchev, Soviet leader from 1953 to 1964 and a staunch critic of bureaucrats, was a special fan. Despite those friends in high places, he was not made a People's Artist, the highest title awarded Soviet cultural figures, until 1968. He received the Red Banner of Labor in 1971 and was named a Hero of Socialist Labor, the nation's highest civilian award, in 1981.

In the early 1980s he moved his theater to Moscow, but in recent years his poor health had forced him to turn over much of the work on- and off-stage to his son Konstantin, also an actor.

In an interview in 1984, one of the last he granted, Raikin observed that "people hear me talk about something and they realize that this is something they can talk about themselves."

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