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Lyudmila Markovna Gurchenko (Russian: Людмила Марковна Гурченко, Ukrainian: Людмила Марківна Гурченко Lyudmyla Markivna Hurchenko, informal – Lyusia, 12 November 1935 – 30 March 2011) was a popular Soviet and Russian actress, singer and entertainer.
Lyudmila was born in Kharkiv, Ukrainian SSR in 1935 to Mark Gavrilovich Gurchenko (1898–1973) and Yelena Aleksandrovna Simonova-Gurchenko (1917–1999). Before World War II they lived in a single room apartment on the ground floor at Mordvynivsky Lane #17. At that time, her parents worked at the Kharkiv Philharmonic Society. Mark Gurchenko was known to play the bayan (Russian accordion). Lyudmila spent a part of her childhood with her mom during the time of the German occupation of Ukraine in her native city, while her father joined the army and, together with his concert brigade, survived the war. After the liberation of Kharkiv, Lyudmila auditioned for the local Beethoven Music School, where she performed the song About Vitya Cherevichkin with gestures, after which she was accepted as an acting student.
She moved to Moscow, enrolling in the Gerasimov Institute of Cinematography. At age 21, after starring in Eldar Ryazanov's 1956 directorial debut, the musical Carnival Night, Gurchenko overnight achieved fame as well as celebrity status. Throughout the next two years she toured the entire country with her Carnival Night-inspired musical numbers, attracting crowds of fans.
The Soviet cultural establishment, however, deemed her style too western and too out of line with Soviet standards. She was accused of receiving wages above State-set levels as compensation for her shows. She became the target of highly critical articles in several influential Soviet periodicals, including Tap Dance to the Left (Чечетка налево, Komsomolskaya Pravda, 1957, ) and Dositheos Morals (Досифеевские нравы, Ogonyok, 1958, , devoted to her financial wrongdoing and her alleged lack of patriotism. The year of 1958 saw the release of another musical with Lyudmila, Girl with a Guitar, shot mostly before these articles were published. The musical was not recommended for wide distribution and was a box-office flop.
This branded Gurchenko as a one-hit wonder, not worthy of serious movie roles. According to the customs of the time, such branding effectively meant banning her involvement in cinema and theater for several years. For the next two decades, she struggled to get leading roles in new movies, making a living instead travelling all over the country with her stand-up acts and musical numbers.
In the mid 1970s, Gurchenko starred in several films, which, although only moderately successful, helped showcase her dramatic talent. In 1979 she landed a role in director Andrei Konchalovsky's Siberiade and in 1982 in Station for Two, once again by Eldar Ryazanov, who by then had become one of the USSR's most popular and prolific directors. The role of forty-something waitress Vera in this touching film became her long-awaited comeback as a superstar of Soviet film. Subsequently, she starred in Vladimir Menshov's Love and Doves, among many other movies and TV shows. Her multifaceted talent was recognized on many occasions. She received the title of People's Artist of the USSR, the highest honour that could be bestowed to a musical artist, in 1983.. She carried a leading role in The Burn (Ожог - 1988) with Director Genady Glagoliev and Director of Photography Igor Chepusov http://www.kinopoisk.ru/film/42863/.
In 2010, she was awarded an Order of Merit for the Fatherland, 2nd Class (she received the 4th Class of the same Order in 2000 and the 3d Class in 2005), one of the highest civil decorations in post-Soviet Russia (with 3rd and 2nd Degree Orders having been awarded to very few extremely distinguished individuals, and the 1st Degree Order being nominally held by a serving President of Russia). At the age of 70, she still performed, and was frequently seen attending galas.
Gurchenko was married five times, including a short-lived marriage to Iosif Kobzon in 1969. She had one daughter, Maria (born 1959) from her first marriage, and two grandchildren as well as one great-granddaughter.
On February 14, 2011, Gurchenko fell near her house and broke her hip. She was taken to the hospital and underwent an operation the following day. On March 30, her condition worsened – either due to the operation or a heart failure – and she died that evening. She was buried at the Novodevichy Cemetery (Moscow) after a civil funeral a few days later.