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 Yuri Nikulin

Born:   18 December 1921
Deceased:   21 August 1997

Great Russian Clown


Yuri Nikulin (1921-1997) goes down in history as a most popular Russian cinema and circus actor, one of the best clowns of the 20th century, and the head of the Tsvetnoi Boulevard circus, which has been named after him. Recently numerous disciples and admirers of Yuri Nikulin have celebrated the 85th anniversary since his birthday.

Yuri Vladimirovich Nikulin was born on December 18, 1921, in Demidov town, Smolensk Region. In 1925 the Nikulins moved to Moscow, where the head of the family, Vladimir Andreyevich, turned to writing for variety shows and circus. Later he worked in newspapers and conducted a drama circle at school his son went to.

Shortly after Yuri Nikulin finished school he was drafted to the army, to serve in flak forces. As a soldier he participated in the Finnish war and the Great Patriotic War, including the defense of Leningrad and thus he served from 1939 to 1946.


Yuri Nikulin Upon demobilization in 1946 Nikulin attempted to enter VGIK (the All-Union State Institute of Cinema), GITIS (Russian Academy of the Theatre Arts), Shchepkin Drama School, other drama art schools and colleges, but to no effect. Finally he found himself at the clownery school attached to the Moscow Circus on Tsvetnoi Boulevard. In this circus he worked after graduating, and many years later became its principal stage director. At first Yuri Nikulin worked under the famed clown Karandash and then started performing with his own original turns accompanied by his constant stage partner Mikhail Shuidin. Later on this clown duet gained success and fame all over the world.

Nikulin made his debut in cinema with the role of an ill-starred fireworker in the film Devushka s gitaroy (A Girl with Guitar) (1958), which attracted to him attention of huge audience. The first success was followed by the role of Klyachkin in the comedy Nepoddayushchiyesya (The Unamenables) (1959).


Yuri Nikulin However, Nikulin’s comedian gift was properly unfolded by the prominent film director Leonid Gaidai, who created the unforgettable trio of Balbes (“Booby”, played by Nikulin), Trus (“Coward”, played by Vitsyn) and Byvaly (“Stager”, played by Morgunov) in his short-length films Pyos Barbos I Neobychnyi Cross (Dog Barbos and Unusual Race) (1960) and Samogonshchiki (Bootleggers) (1961), and later used these characters in the splendid full-length comedies Operatsiya Y i drugiye priklyucheniya Shurika (Operation Y and Other Shurik's Adventures) (1965), and Kavkazskaya plennitsa (Kidnapping Caucassian Style) (1966).

No one could probably expect at that time that Yuri Nikulin would play one of his best roles in a drama film. Nevertheless, the film director Lev Kulidzhanov invited the comedian to star in the profoundly psychological drama Kogda derevya byli bolshimi (When the Trees Were Tall) (1961). In 1964 Nikulin starred in another “serious” film Ko mne, Mukhtar! (Come Here, Mukhtar!) directed by Semyon Tumanov after Izrail Metter’s book.


Yuri Nikulin One of the best Soviet comedies is indisputably Brilliantovaya ruka (The Diamond Arm) (1968), which substantially owes its immense popularity to the naive and childly spontaneous character Semyon-Semyonych Gorbunkov played by Yuri Nikulin.

Among the actor’s other achievements in cinema one should mention his brilliant role of the military journalist Lopatin in the talented film Dvadtsat dney bez voyny (Twenty Days Without War) (1976) by Aleksei German. After all, Yuri Nikulin acted in films by such renowned directors as Rolan Bykov, Eldar Ryazanov, Andrei Tarkovsky, Sergei Bondarchuk, etc. The fact speaks for itself.

All his life Yuri Nikulin was fond of funny stories, which he started collecting while serving the army; the hobby later resulted in the TV show “White Parrot Club” and jest-books “From Nikulin”.


Yuri Nikulin Yuri Vladimirovich Nikulin died of complications after a heart operation, on August 21, 1997.

He said: “It is very important to be able to laugh and cry, to rejoice over one’s own and others’ victories, not to feel angry, not to envy. I dream there will once appear a formation of kind and wise people on the Earth. Live in peace and accord and remember that every second of laughter adds a minute of life.”

The great person and the great artiste Yuri Nikulin is destined to live long in the memory if people.




Vera Ivanova and Mikhail Manykin


Tags: Russian cinema Russian actors    

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