Yuri Nikulin

Yuri Vladimirovich Nikulin (Russian: Юрий Владимирович Никулин; 18 December 1921 – 21 August 1997) was a well-known Soviet and Russian actor and clown who starred in many popular films. He is best known for his roles in Leonid Gaidai's comedies, such as The Diamond Arm and Kidnapping Caucassian Style, although he occasionally starred in dramatic roles and performed in Moscow Circus.

Yuri Nikulin
Юрий Никулин
Юрий Никулин1.jpg
Yuri Nikulin
Born(1921-12-18)18 December 1921
Died21 August 1997(1997-08-21) (aged 75)[1]
Resting placeNovodevichy Cemetery, Moscow
OccupationActor, clown, ringmaster
TitleHero of Socialist Labour (1990) People's Artist of the USSR (1973)

He was awarded the title of People's Artist of the USSR in 1973 and Hero of Socialist Labour in 1990. He also received a number of state awards, including the prestigious Order of Lenin, which he received twice in his lifetime.[2]

Early life and battleEdit

Nikulin was born just after the end of the Russian civil war, in Smolensk in Western Russia. His mother was a garage supervisor and his father a writer of satirical plays – "a profession which may have influenced [Nikulin's] future career".[2]

Nikulin fought in the Red Army in the Winter War with Finland and the World War II with Germany. He reportedly had a comparably "long period of military service, from 1939-46, preparing to be demobilised just when the German invasion of the Soviet Union began in 1941."[2]


Nikulin's style and precise delivery, as well as his mastery of timing and his hilarious masks made him an outstanding comedian.[3]

In the ring, Nikulin presented a phlegmatic temperament, slow and unsmiling, and to many in the West his personality was reminiscent of the great silent film comedian Buster Keaton. Rich in mimicry, doleful of expression, Nikulin was hailed as “a brainy clown” outside Russia.

Nikulin, affectionately called "Uncle Yura" by Russian children, relied mainly upon his wits to earn his place in history as one of the best clowns of the 20th century.[4][5]


Nikulin first took up clowning in 1944 when a political officer in his battalion, impressed by his repertoire of jokes, ordered him to organize entertainment for the division, which he did with resounding success. Encouraged, once the war ended, Nikulin reportedly "tried unsuccessfully to enter drama college before answering a newspaper advertisement recruiting trainees for the Clown Studio at Moscow's Tsvetnoy Boulevard Circus."[2]

Several acting schools and theatres rejected Nikulin allegedly due to "lacking artistic talent". However, he did find initial success at the Circus and qualified as a fully trained clown in 1950, and never abandoned his links with the circus. He met his wife, Tatyana, there, and in 1982 became the director of the Moscow Circus, a post he held until his death. His son, Maxim, is now a circus administrator.[2]

His screen debut came in 1958 with the film The Girl with the Guitar. He appeared in almost a dozen major features, mainly in the 1960s and 1970s, "but his ascent to star status was assured by a handful of short films directed by Leonid Gaidai."[2]

The first two of these, Dog Barbos and Unusual Cross and later Bootleggers (Russian: Samogonchiki or The Moonshine Makers, 1961), were also where Nikulin was featured as a character named Fool in The Three Stooges-like trio, along with Georgy Vitsyn as Coward and Yevgeny Morgunov as Experienced. In former Soviet republics he is particularly well known for his role in popular film series about the criminal trio. The series included such films as Operation Y and Other Shurik's Adventures and Kidnapping Caucassian Style.

His most popular films include comedies The Diamond Arm, The Twelve Chairs, Grandads-Robbers. He was also acclaimed for his roles in Andrey Tarkovsky's Andrei Rublev and several films on World War II themes (Sergei Bondarchuk's They Fought for Their Country, Aleksei German’s Twenty Days Without War).[citation needed]

Nikulin's "comic timing never faltered" even in old age and "he had no enemies and mixed with politicians from both the Soviet and post -Soviet eras". He reportedly was close to Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov and supported Boris Yeltsin's re-election campaign."[2]

As mentioned, Nikulin was succeeded in his office at the Moscow Circus on Tsvetnoy Boulevard by his son. There is a bronze monument to him in front of the circus, which now bears his name. He is buried in Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow.[6]


Year English title Original title Role Notes
1958 A Girl with a Guitar Девушка с гитарой fireworker
1959 The Unamenables Неподдающиеся Vasily Klyachkin
1960 Yasha Toporkov Prosha
Dead Souls Мёртвые души Waiter Uncredited
1961 My Friend, Kolka! Друг мой, Колька! Vasia the driver
Nowhere Man Человек ниоткуда policeman
Dog Barbos and Unusual Cross Пёс Барбос и необычный кросс Fool Short; a part of almanac Absolutely Seriously
1962 Bootleggers Самогонщики Fool Short
When the Trees Were Tall Когда деревья были большими Kuzma Kuzmich Iordanov
Molodo-zeleno Молодо-зелено Nikolay, chauffeur
1963 Bez strakha i upryoka
Strictly Business Деловые люди burglar (segment "Makes the Whole World Kin")
1964 Big Fitil Большой фитиль Petya-Petushok the burglar
1965 Come Here, Mukhtar! Ко мне, Мухтар! police lieutenant Glazychev
Give me a complaints book Дайте жалобную книгу salesman
Operation Y and Other Shurik's Adventures Операция «Ы» и другие приключения Шурика The Booby (segment "Operatsiya Y")
1966 Kidnapping, Caucasian Style Кавказская пленница, или Новые приключения Шурика Fool Short
Andrei Rublev Андрей Рублёв Patrikei
Little Fugitive Маленький беглец Clown Nikulin
1967 Seven Old Men and a Girl Семь стариков и одна девушка Fool
1969 Newbie Новенькая Yevgeniy Ivanovich
The Diamond Arm Бриллиантовая рука Semyon Semyonovich Gorbunkov
1970 Deniska's Tales Денискины рассказы
1971 The Twelve Chairs 12 стульев Tikhon the janitor
1972 Grandads-Robbers Старики-разбойники Nikolay Myachikov
Telegram Телеграмма Fedor Fedorovich
Point, Point, Comma... Точка, точка, запятая… Zhiltsov's father
1975 They Fought for Their Country Они сражались за Родину Nekrasov
1976 Travka's Adventures Приключения Травки
1977 Twenty Days Without War Двадцать дней без войны Major Lopatin
Bobik Visiting Barbos Бобик в гостях у Барбоса Bobik / grandfather Short, Voice
1983 I Don't Want To Be Adult Не хочу быть взрослым Kloun
Yeralash № 38 Ералаш uncle Yura
1984 Scarecrow Чучело Nikolai Bessoltsev, grandfather
1991 Captain Crocus Капитан Крокус author (introduction; final film role)

Honours and awardsEdit

Russian postage stamps with the monument of Yuriy Nikulin


  1. ^ D.Nevil (22 August 1997). "Obituary: Yuri Nikulin". The Independent. Retrieved 26 July 2020.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g OBITUARY: YURI NIKULIN: HOW TO GRIN AND BEAR IT. James Meek. The Guardian (London). THE GUARDIAN FEATURES PAGE; Pg. 16. August 22, 1997.
  3. ^ Татьяна Никулина ушла из жизни на 85-м году жизни, mk.ru; accessed 10 February 2018.(in Russian)
  4. ^ Кошмарные сны Максима Никулина о телевидении — Интервью с намёком, zapiski-rep.ucoz.ru; accessed 10 February 2018.(in Russian)
  5. ^ Российское Генеалогическое Древо Archived 25 February 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ Yeltsin's Last Meeting with the People, Kommersant Moscow, kommersant.com; accessed 10 February 2018.

External linksEdit