He was born on Sakhalin Island at the far eastern end of the former Soviet Union and began studying dance at age 9 in the Riga State Ballet School. He later said his mother put him there to prevent his becoming “a hooligan”. One of his classmates and friends at the school was Mikhail Baryshnikov. After graduating he toured with the Moscow Classical Ballet. He joined the Bolshoi in 1971; there he received rave reviews for the lead in “Swan Lake”, “Giselle” and other classical and contemporary works. In 1973 he won a gold medal at the Moscow International Competition. The same year he received more praise when the Bolshoi toured the United States. He was then marked as a potential defector and not allowed to tour for five years. In August 1979 he did defect. The story grew in importance when his ballerina wife returned to the USSR a few days later. He joined the American Ballet Theater and danced with it until 1982 when he and its director Baryshnikov had a falling out. He was by then a frequent companion of Jacqueline Bisset. His first movie role was as the Amish farmer Daniel in “Witness” (1985). The NY Times reviewer described him as the film’s “most riveting presence”. The same critic did not take so kindly to his role as Karl in “Die Hard” (1988) (“a sight gag in his terrorist costume”). When he became a US citizen in 1987 he said he planned to celebrate by eating a “hamburger stuffed with caviar”. He had been filming a movie in Budapest a few weeks before he was found dead in his West Hollywood home, of “natural causes” according to his physician.
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