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Oleg Popov
Oleg Popov performing with the Russian State Circus, Worms, Germany, 28 March 2009
Born Oleg Konstantinovich Popov
(1930-07-31)31 July 1930
Vyrubovo, Moscow Oblast, RSFSR, USSR
Died 2 November 2016(2016-11-02) (aged 86)
Rostov-on-Don, Russia
Cause of death Cardiac arrest
Occupation Clown, mime, circus artist
Years active 1951–2016
Known for "The Sunshine Clown"
Home town Moscow, Russia
Spouse(s) Alexandra Popova (1952-90; her death); 1 child
Gabriela Popova (m. 1991–2016); his death
Children 1
Awards People's Artist of the USSR (1969)

Oleg Konstantinovich Popov (Russian: Олег Константинович Попoв, 31 July 1930 – 2 November 2016) was a Soviet and Russian clown and circus artist. People's Artist of the USSR (1969).

Early life

Popov was born on 31 July 1930, the son of a clock-repairman. At age 12, he began working as an apprentice typographer for the newspaper Pravda, and he later joined Pravda's Athletic Club. There, in 1945, someone suggested that he apply for Moscow's State College of Circus and Variety Arts (better known as the "Moscow Circus School"). He was accepted and studied acrobatics, juggling, and other circus skills there, graduating in 1949. He made his debut at the Tbilisi Circus in the Georgian SSR.[1] Afterwards, he continued his career at the Moscow Circus on Tsvetnoy Boulevard (today Circus Nikulin).

In 1955, Popov performed abroad for the first time, in Warsaw, and the following year, he toured with the Moscow Circus in France, Belgium, and England, and was immediately noticed by the press, which made him a circus star. The Soviet regime quickly built on his success abroad and transformed him into a goodwill ambassador for the Soviet Union. He appeared in 1958 at the Brussels World Fair, and in 1957, he was broadcast from Moscow on American television. He toured the United States in 1963 and 1972 with the Moscow Circus. In 1969, Popov was honored with the title of People's Artist of the USSR. He toured extensively around the world in subsequent years with the Moscow Circus. In Australia, he was named King of Moomba (1971).[2]


Oleg Popov in Amsterdam in 1979

Popov performed as a clown, combining his talents as a mime, a tightrope walker, and a juggler. At the 8th International Circus Festival of Monte-Carlo in 1981, he received the coveted Gold Clown award as a tribute to his stellar career.[3] His clown character followed the tradition of the Russian folk character "Ivanushka," who fools other people and who is teased himself.[3]

In the early 1990s, at the fall of the Soviet Union, he began touring for a few years with a unit of the Moscow Circus in Germany, where he eventually resettled. He later performed extensively in Germany, in circus shows, on television, or with his own touring show. He married Gabriela Lehmann, a German circus performer, in 1991, she is 32 years younger than her husband. In 2006, Popov was invited to perform at the 30th anniversary of the International Circus Festival of Monte Carlo. Aged 75 years of age, he received a standing ovation.[3]

In 2015, he returned for the first time to Russia after 28 years of living in Germany; it was at the First "Master" gala event (the Russian circus equivalent of the Oscars ceremony) at the State Circus of Sochi, where he was greeted with a long standing ovation. The Russian Minister of Culture, Vladimir Medinsky read a welcoming message from President Vladimir Putin.[3] In December 2015 he was back to Russia again – now to become one of the judges at the final show of “The Blue Bird” contest – a young talent competition on Russia 1 TV channel. He also teamed up with Artem Shilo – a young pianist and one of the contestants – to support him in the competition.[3]

Popov appeared in four films, Арена Смелых (Ring of the Braves, 1953), Ma-ma (1977), The Blue Bird (1976) and Ritzar bez bronya (Poland, 1966). He published a book of memoirs in 1967, which has been widely translated into numerous languages including English (as "Russian Clown", 1970). From a first marriage with a violinist, Alexandra, Oleg Popov had a daughter, Olga (b. 1953).

Popov died on 2 November 2016, from a cardiac arrest while on tour, at a hotel in Rostov-on-Don at the age of 86.[4]


  • Honored Artist of the RSFSR (1956)[5]
  • People's Artist of the RSFSR (1958)[6]
  • People's Artist of the USSR (1969)
  • Order of Lenin (1980)
  • Three Order of the Red Banner of Labour
  • Honorary prize Clown d'or of the International Circus Festival in Monte Carlo (1981)
  • Order of Friendship (1994) - for services to the people associated with the development of the Russian statehood, achievements in work, science, culture, arts, strengthening of friendship and cooperation between the peoples[7]
  • Honorary Diploma of the President of the Russian Federation (2010) - for his merits in the development of circus art and many years of creative work[8]


External links

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