From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin (January 22 1869 - December 29 1916) was a Russian mystic who is perceived as having influenced the later days of the Russian Tsar Nicholas II and his family. He is variously sensationalized as a playboy, mystical healer, debauched religious charlatan and political demiurge.
Common belief has it that Rasputin helped to discredit the tsarist government, leading to the fall of the Romanov dynasty, in 1917. Historians may find both to be true, but there is much uncertainty, for accounts of his life have often been based on dubious memoirs, hearsay, and legend, such as the story of his penis.
When he was around the age of eighteen, he spent three months in the Verkhoturye Monastery, possibly a penance for theft. His experience there, combined with a reported vision of the Mother of God on his return, turned him towards the life of a religious mystic and wanderer. It also looks like he came into contact with the banned Christian sect known as the khlysty (flagellants), whose impassioned services, ending in physical exhaustion, led to rumours that religious and sexual ecstasy were combined in these rituals. Suspicions (which have not generally been accepted by historians) that Rasputin was one of the Khlysts -- how else, it has been asked, to explain the notorious sexual life of this "holy man"? -- threatened his reputation right to the end of his life. Indeed, Alexander Guchkov charged him with being a member of this illegal and orgiastic sect. The Tsar perceived the very-real threat of a scandal and ordered his own investigations, but he did not, in the end, remove Rasputin from his position of influence; quite the contrary, he sacked his minister of interior for a "lack of control over the press" (censorship being a top priority for Nicholas then). He pronounced the affair to be private and one closed to debate.
The legends recounting the death of Rasputin are perhaps even more bizarre than his strange life. According to Greg King's 1996 book The Man Who Killed Rasputin, a previous attempt on Rasputin's life had been made and had failed: Rasputin was visiting his wife and children in his hometown, Pokrovskoye, along the Tura River, in Siberia. On June 29, 1914, he had either just received a telegram or was just exiting church, when he was attacked suddenly by Khionia Guseva, a former prostitute who had become a disciple of the monk Iliodor, once a friend of Rasputin's but now absolutely disgusted with his behaviour and disrespectful talk about the royal family. Iliodor had appealed to women who had been harmed by Rasputin, and together they formed a survivors' support group.
After intensive surgery, however, Rasputin recovered. It was said of his survival that "the soul of this cursed muzhik was sewn on his body." His daughter, Maria, pointed out in her memoirs that he was never the same man after that: he seemed to tire more easily and frequently took opium for pain.
The murder of Rasputin has become legend, some of it invented by the very men who killed him, which is why it becomes difficult to discern exactly what happened. It is, however, generally agreed that, on December 16, 1916, having decided that Rasputin's influence over the Tsaritsa had made him a far-too-dangerous threat to the empire, a group of nobles, led by Prince Felix Yusupov and the Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich (one of the few Romanov family members to escape the annihilation of the family during the Red Terror), apparently lured Rasputin to the Yusupovs' Moika Palace, where they served him cakes and red wine laced with a massive amount of cyanide. According to legend, Rasputin was unaffected, although Vasily Maklakov had supplied enough poison to kill five men. Conversely, Maria's account asserts that, if her father did eat or drink poison, it was not in the cakes or wine, because, after the attack by Guseva, he had hyperacidity, and avoided anything with sugar. In fact, she expressed doubt that he was poisoned at all.
Determined to finish the job, Yusupov became anxious about the possibility that Rasputin might live until the morning, which would leave the conspirators with no time to conceal his body. Yusupov ran upstairs to consult the others and then came back down to shoot Rasputin through the back with a revolver. Rasputin fell, and the company left the palace for a while. Yusupov, who had left without a coat, decided to return to grab one, and, while at the palace, he went to check up on the body. Suddenly, Rasputin opened his eyes and lunged at Prince Yusupov. When he grabbed Prince Yusupov he ominously whispered in Yusupovs ear "you bad boy" and attempted to strangle him. As he made his bid to kill Yusupov, however, the other conspirators arrived and fired at him. After being hit three times in the back, Rasputin fell once more. As they neared his body, the party found that, remarkably, he was still alive, struggling to get up. They clubbed him into submission and, after wrapping his body in a sheet, threw him into an icy river, and he finally met his end there — as had both his siblings before him.
Three days later, the body of Rasputin, poisoned, shot four times and badly beaten, was recovered from the Neva River. An autopsy established that the cause of death was drowning, due to the presence of water in his lungs. His arms were found in an upright position, as if he had tried to claw his way out from under the ice. In the autopsy, it was found that he had indeed been poisoned, and that the poison alone should have been enough to kill him. Yet another report, also supporting the idea that he was still alive after submerging through the ice into the Neva River, is that after his body was pulled from the river, water was found in the lungs, showing that he didn't die until he was submerged.
Subsequently, the Empress Alexandra buried Rasputin's body in the grounds of Tsarskoye Selo, but, after the February Revolution, a group of workers from Saint Petersburg uncovered the remains, carried them into a nearby wood and burnt them. As the body of Rasputin was being burned, he appeared to sit up in the fire. After being poisoned, shot, beaten, drowned, and officially verified as dead, he thoroughly horrified bystanders in his apparent attempts to move and get up. This legend is attributed to improper cremation. Since his body was in inexperienced hands, his tendons were probably not cut before burning. Consequently, when his body was heated, the tendons shrunk, forcing his legs to bend, and his body to bend at the waist, resulting in it appearing to sit up. This final happenstance only poured fuel on the fire of legends and mysteries surrounding Rasputin, which would continue to live on, long after he had truly passed away.
In popular culture
- The music group Boney M (with Frank Farian, Reyam and Fred Jay) released a song about Rasputin, "Rasputin" in 1978.
- In 2007, Type O Negative featured a photo of Rasputin on the cover of their latest album, Dead Again.
- The Rasputin Music stores, a chain in California, is named for Rasputin, and its advertising even contains photographic images and other altered images of Rasputin. The store's logo on its website features the classic image of Rasputin as a DJ mixing the tunes.
Rasputin's story has been fictionalized in a number of films since the 1920s. The first film made about him, Rasputin, the Black Monk, premiered in October 1917, but all copies have been lost.
In 1932, Rasputin was portrayed by Lionel Barrymore in Rasputin and the Empress, from MGM studios. The Czarina was portrayed by Ethel Barrymore and Prince Paul Chegodieff by John Barrymore. In 1938, a French film about his life called La Tragédie impériale (a.k.a. Rasputin), starring Harry Baur was based on a novel by Alfred Neumann and directed by Marcel L'Herbier.
An extremely fictionalized Rasputin portrayed by Christopher Lloyd and Jim Cummings (providing his singing voice) stars as the primary antagonist in the 1997 animated film Anastasia. Along with a litany of other historical inaccuracies regarding the Romanov Dynasty and Russian Revolution, Rasputin is portrayed as a former confidante to Tzar Nicholas who is banished as a traitor after being revealed as a charlatan.
In the 2004 film Hellboy, Rasputin, portrayed by Karel Roden, is depicted as having survived his homicide, and is seen working with the Nazis, demonstrating great occult abilities linked with the underworld. Rasputin is depicted as being nearly immortal; every time he dies, he is resurrected with a part of his god within his body.