Lyudmila Markovna Gurchenko (born November 12, 1935) is a popular Soviet and Russian actress, singer and entertainer.
Lyudmila was born in Kharkov, Ukraine. Part of her childhood were spent under German occupation of Ukraine. She moved to Moscow to attend the All-Union State Institute of Cinematography (VGIK) and achieved overnight fame and celebrity status at 21 after she starred in young Eldar Ryazanov`s 1956 directorial debut, musical "Carnival Night". The film was enormously popular and made Lyudmila famous overnight. Throughout the next two years she toured the entire country with her Carnival Night-inspired musical numbers, attracting crowds of fans.
The Soviet cultural establishment, however, deemed her style too western and too out of line with Soviet standards. She was accused on receiving compensation for her shows that was above State-set wages. She became the target of highly critical publications in several influential Soviet periodicals "Step dance to the left side", "Dosifey customs" and many others, devoted to her financial wrong-doing and her alleged lack of patriotism.
1958 saw the release of another musical with Lyudmila, "A Girl with a Guitar", shot mostly before these articles were published. The musical was not recommended for a wide distibution and was a box-office flop. This, in the eyes of the establishment, further justified branding Lyudmila as a one-hit wonder, not worthy of serious movie roles. According to the customs of the time, such branding effectively meant a ban Lyudmila`s involvement in cinema and theater for several years.
For the next two decades Lyudmila struggled to get leading roles in new movies, while making a living by travelling all over the country with her stand-up acts and musical numbers.
In the mid 1970s Gurchenko starred in several films, which, although moderately successful, helped showcase Lyudmila`s dramatic talent.
Finally, in 1979 she landed a role in director Andrei Konchalovsky`s "Siberiade" and in 1982 in "A Railway Station for Two", once again by Eldar Ryazanov, who by then had become one of USSR`s most popular and prolific directors. The role of the forty-something waitress Vera in this touching film became Gurchenko`s long-awaited comeback as a superstar of Soviet film.
She has since starred in several more movies and TV shows. Her multifaceted talent has been recognized on many occasions. She received the title of People`s Artist of the USSR, the highest honour that could be bestowed to a musical artist, in 1983.
In 2000, she was awarded the 4th Degree Order for the Service to the Motherland, one of the highest civil decorations in post-Soviet Russia (with 3rd and 2nd Degree Orders having been awarded to only very few extremely distinguished individuals, and the 1st Degree Order being nominally held by a serving President of Russia).
Today, at age 70, Lyudmila still acts in theater, and is frequently seen attending galas, appearing on TV talk shows, and performing at concerts. She maintains her iconic status, especially among the older generations, but is often a subject of jokes among younger audiences due to her over-the-top public persona and her deliberately "youthful" image.
Lyudmila has been married twice, including a short-lived marriage to legendary Soviet crooner Joseph Kobzon in 1969. She has one daughter, born in 1959 from her first marriage, and two grand-children.