Russia in dramatic farewell to Soviet film queen

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Thousands of Russians on Saturday queued up to pay a final farewell to the grande dame of Soviet cinema whose death this week robbed millions of one of their best-loved links to the past.

Lyudmila Gurchenko, who died on Wednesday aged 75, starred in a sequence of hit Soviet films that are watched to this day, winning hearts with her radiant voice and sweet girl-next-door looks.

In a dramatic final act to her life, thousands of Russians braved the late winter cold and long queues to file past her coffin in the Central House of Literature in Central Moscow, television pictures showed.

Meanwhile, her estranged daughter Maria, who reportedly had not spoken to her mother for years and only found out about her death from the media, made an unexpected appearance to lay flowers at the coffin.

"An unbelievable number of people have come to say goodbye. She earned it. She always said that she worked for the people," said legendary Soviet and Russian film star Sergei Yursky, quoted by RIA Novosti.

"A golden era has ended," added writer Mikhail Zhvanetsky. "This is her last full house."

Weekend commuters on the Moscow metro, meanwhile, were serenaded by recordings of Gurchenko singing in some of her best loved films.

She was due to be buried later Saturday in Moscow's famed Novodevichye cemetery, which is also the last resting place for many of Russia's cultural elite from the last century including writer Anton Chekhov.

Born in Kharkiv in today's Ukraine, Gurchenko began her acting career in the 1950s.

She danced and sung her way to stardom in Eldar Ryazanov's comedy "Carnival Night" in 1956 about the New Year's festivities at a USSR Economics Institute, instantly winning the hearts of millions of Soviets with the show-stopping song "Five Minutes".

These films are still remembered fondly in Russia, especially by the older generation who associate Soviet movies with their youth and remain nostalgic for the 1960s and 70s.

But she found a new wave of fame in the 1970s with subtle performances in films by directors including Nikita Mikhalkov and Andrei Konchalovsky.

Vivacious and sharp-tongued in interviews, she never retired and reinvented herself again in 2005 by performing duets with Russia's only openly gay pop star, Boris Moiseyev.

© 2011 AFP

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