Legendary Russian clown Oleg Popov dies aged 86

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The celebrated performer Oleg Popov passed away in Russia’s Rostov-on-Don on Wednesday, according to the director of the Moscow State Circus Edgar Zapashny.

“Oleg Popov died in Rostov, he was there on tour. I got in touch with his producer — his wife was not able to talk — and said that we are ready to provide all possible assistance and to organize a farewell at the Moscow State Circus,” Zapashny told RIA Novosti.

Popov was born in Virubovo, Russia, on July 31, 1930. He was known the world over for his talents, and was nicknamed the “sunshine clown” by French journalist Jaqueline Cartier.

He toured internationally beginning in the 1950s, and was honored with the title of People’s Artist of the Soviet Union in 1969.

Popov performed as a clown, combining his talents as a mime, a tightrope walker, and a juggler. At the 8th International Circus Festival of Monte-Carlo in 1981, he received the coveted Gold Clown award as a tribute to his stellar career. His clown character follows the tradition of the Russian folk character “Ivanushka,” who fools other people and who is teased himself.

In the early 1990s, at the fall of the Soviet Union, he began touring for a few years with a unit of the Moscow Circus in Germany, where he eventually resettled. He has since performed extensively in Germany, in circus shows, on television, or with his own touring show. He married Gabriela Lehmann, a German circus performer, in 1991, she is 32 years younger than her husband. In 2006, Oleg Popov was invited to perform at the 30th anniversary of the International Circus Festival of Monte-Carlo; at 75 years of age, he still managed to inspire a standing ovation.

In 2015, he returned for the first time to Russia after 28 years of self-imposed exile in Germany; it was at the First “Master” gala event (the Russian circus equivalent of the Oscars ceremony) at the State Circus of Sochi, where he was greeted with a long standing ovation. The Russian Minister of Culture, Vladimir Medinsky read a welcoming message from President Vladimir Putin. It was, for Oleg Popov as well as for the Russian audience, a very emotional moment.

Popov died while on tour in Rostov-on-Don at the age of 86.