Vladimir Vysotsky played in sold-out halls and almost everyone knew at least a few of his more than 600 songs, even though they were never officially released in the Soviet Union. With his unique voice and his highly poetic lyrics casting a brutal and honest light on daily socialist life, this singer, songwriter and poet became for many the “Voice of Russia” and his marriage to French actress Marina Vlady finally gained him international cult status.
But Vysotsky was anything but a spiritually minded critic of the system. He lived a restless and wild life: racing through Moscow in his Mercedes, wearing hippie clothes, apparently smoking all the time, often drunk and taking drugs. His last performance was Hamlet in Moscow’s Taganka Theater on July 18, 1980. A few days later, on July 25, Vladimir Vysotsky died from heart failure aged only 42.
His artistic life seems rather schizophrenic at first glance. On the one hand, he was part of the underground resistance and thus no less than a public enemy–he lived under heavy KGB observation. And yet he was also a star, playing great performances traveling around the world with the Taganka Theater.