Actress who was Piglet for Soviet children dies

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Actress Iya Savvina, the voice behind the Soviet era cartoon version of Piglet in A.A. Milne's classic "Winnie-the-Pooh" books, has died at the age of 75, Russian news agencies reported Sunday.

For generations of children hers was the high-pitched voice of Piglet in the much loved cartoons which are still regularly aired on television.

The three Soviet cartoons of Milne's books, released from 1969 to 1971, presented a very different vision to the Disney version, with deliberately clunky animation and a quirky tone appreciated by adults as well as children.

In an interview in Sobesednik magazine in February, Savvina said she based the voice of Piglet on that of her favourite poet, Bella Akhmadulina, simply speeding it up.

Akhmadulina was not offended, and called Savvina to thank her for a "lovely little piglet," she said.

She was also an acclaimed theatre and screen actress, notably starring in the feted film version of Chekhov's short story "The Lady With the Little Dog".

In Iosif Kheifits' atmospheric 1960 film, which won a special prize at the Cannes film festival, she played the title role of a bored young wife

Other notable cinema roles included the drab housewife Dolly in Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina," in which Tatyana Samoilova played the lead.

Russia's ruling tandem led tributes on Sunday after Savvina's death was announced, with the cause not immediately named.

"Her original dramatic talent, mastery and charm won the public's universal love," President Dmitry Medvedev said, while Prime Minister Vladimir Putin praised her "brilliant works."

Born in the provincial city of Voronezh, Savvina studied journalism at Moscow State University before becoming an actress and continued to write theatre reviews.

She started out at the Mossoviet Theatre and then joined the Moscow Art Theatre in 1977, never retiring before her death.

She was awarded the honorific title of People's Artist of the Soviet Union in 1990.

Unusually in the Soviet Union, Savvina brought up her son, Sergei Shestakov, who has Down's syndrome, herself rather than handing him to a state institution at birth as was then the norm.

The Moscow Art Theatre said in a statement that the time and place of her funeral would be announced later.

© 2011 AFP

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