Famed director, founder of Tagana Theater dies at 97

MOSCOW — Soviet and Russian actor and director Yuri Lyubimov, founder of Moscow’s renowned Taganka Theater, which he led for more than four decades, has died at age 97.

During the 1980s, Lyubimov was exiled for several years after criticizing cultural restrictions in the Soviet Union in an interview with a British newspaper.

Lyubimov’s death Sunday in a Moscow hospital led Russian television and radio news broadcasts. President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman expressed Putin’s condolences, noting that “it would be difficult to overestimate the role of Yuri Lyubimov in the development of modern Russian theater.”

His wife, Katalin Lyubimova, told the Tass news agency that he died peacefully in his sleep Sunday morning, three days after he was hospitalized.

Lyubimov founded the Taganka Theater in 1964. Among those he brought to his new theater was Vladimir Vysotsky, an actor and singer-songwriter who became one of the cultural icons of the Soviet period.

The theater began to come under pressure following Vysotsky’s death in 1980. The public outpouring of grief and the huge crowds that turned out for his funeral, which Lyubimov helped to organize, alarmed the Kremlin.

Plays at Lyubimov’s theater were banned, including a production dedicated to Vysotsky. After giving the critical interview to The Times while in London in 1984, Lyubimov was stripped of his Soviet citizenship and barred from returning.

While in exile, he directed plays and operas at some of the leading theaters in the United States and Europe.

Lyubimov was allowed to return to the Soviet Union in 1988 and his citizenship was restored the following year. He regained his position at the theater, leaving only in 2011 after a dispute with the actors.

Despite his age, he continued to work and in 2013 he staged the opera “Prince Igor” at the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow.

His funeral is scheduled for Wednesday at the Vakhtangov Theater in Moscow, where Lyubimov worked as an actor and director early in his career.

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