Millions weep as Kremlin's crooner quits his own way

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The Independent Online
He said he was quitting because he didn't want to become a bore, but Iosif Kobzon, the Frank Sinatra of Russia, was anything but that.

Few would dispute that the career of the Kremlin's favourite crooner had its intriguingly murky moments. Last night, the celebrated baritone finally retired, ending a 40-year career in which he became the former Soviet Union's richest singer, and one of the more controversial figures in show business. Tens of millions of Russians were yesterday expected to tune into his final televised concert, held on his 60th birthday.

Boris Yeltsin marked the occasion by awarding him a medal for "service to Russia". The President, like most of his countrymen, was evidently unperturbed by the whiff of scandal that has surrounded Mr Kobzon, notably allegations that he has close ties with organised crime. Last year, suspicions surrounding the singer's off-stage activities found their way into the headlines when the US embassy abruptly revoked his American visa after the FBI concluded that he had links to the Russian Mob in the US.

None of this, however, has corroded Mr Kobzon's enormous popularity among Russians, who continued to flock en masse to his concerts to listen to a repertoire that, over the years, encompassed Soviet patriotic songs, folk songs and syrupy romances.