“Soviet Sinatra” Iosif Kobzon dead at 80

The baritone singer enjoyed a lengthy career performing for both Stalin and Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin with Iosif Kobzon in July.

Famed baritone singer Iosif Kobzon – often referred to as the “Soviet Sinatra” – has died at the age of 80.

The crooner turned parliamentarian enjoyed more than half a century of success in his home country, performing for the likes of Joseph Stalin to Vladimir Putin.

Outside of his regular features on Russian variety shows and New Year concerts, Kobzon also played an important role in the State Duma. He represented Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party and later became an outspoken supporter of Crimea’s annexation.

His death on Thursday has caused national mourning with the foreign ministry spokeswoman calling Kobzon a “human continent”.

Kobzon saw success from a young age. His boyhood singing talent saw him win numerous regional competitions – even performing at national finals twice in front of Soviet leader Stalin.

The National Artist of Russia titleholder later joined a military choir and went on to study music. It was not long before Kobzon hit the stage and become a firm favourite with national audiences.

His popularity peaked in the 1970s and 80s, but Kobzon remained in the public eye and performed for troop deployments on numerous occasions throughout his lifetime. Soviet troops in Afghanistan and Russian soldiers in Syria all received Kobzon performances.

But perhaps the singer’s greatest impact came later in life as part of parliament. Kobzon was politically active from the late 1980s and served for many years in the United Russia party. He won a landslide election into the State Duma and became a parliamentarian in 1997.

Kobzon has been actively involved in some of modern Russia’s most important moments, from helping to negotiate the release of hostages during the Nord Ost theatre siege in 2002 to becoming an outspoken supporter of Crimean annexation. The support of Russian involvement in internationally-recognized Ukraine earned Kobzon a travel ban in the European Union – a decision which later became problematic as he attempted to receive cancer treatment.

Throughout his singing and political career, questions have loomed over Kobzon’s suspected mafia and criminal underworld connections. This lead to an expected travel ban in the United States of America in the 1990s, however Kobzon strongly denied all ties to criminal activity.

The singer’s death this week has sparked an outpouring of emotion from the nation.

Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the Russian president “is grieving”, adding that “the president has sent a telegram in which he expresses deep, sincere condolences to the relatives and loved ones of the singer,” he said.

Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin on Twitter called Kobzon the “main voice of the country and several generations”.

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