Prince Vasili Romanov; Nephew of Russian Czar

Times Staff Writer

Prince Vasili Romanov, nephew of the last Russian czar, has died at age 81 of natural causes at his home in Woodside, Calif.

He was one of the last of the Russian-born Romanov princes and a nephew of Czar Nicholas II, the last reigning monarch before the 1917 revolution toppled the 300-year-old Romanov dynasty and led to the death or exile of the imperial family.

Romanov, born in the 1,000-room Gatchina Palace, was 10 years old at the time of the Bolshevik Revolution. In 1919, he and many relatives--including his grandmother, the Dowager Empress Marie--were rescued from the Crimea by a British battleship.

"My saddest memory is the last time they played the Russian Imperial Anthem for us before we left sight of Russian soil for the last time," he told a Times reporter several years ago. "There was my grandmother, standing alone. What must her feelings and thoughts have been?"

From then on, Romanov's life took on a humbler touch.

He took to sea as a cabin boy. At various times he was a shipyard worker, a stockbroker in San Francisco and a chauffeur in Denmark for a couple who "never knew who I was." He briefly ran a beauty parlor in Cincinnati and worked for the Sikorsky helicopter firm. He also sold wine for Almaden and was a chicken farmer in Sonoma.

"In my colorful career, I think I enjoyed the chicken farm most," Romanov said in a recent interview.

He met his wife, Princess Natasha of the Russian family of Galitzine, in New York where she was working in the theater. She died three months ago at age 82 at the Woodside home where they had lived for 25 years.

Vasili Romanov was the youngest of seven children of Grand Duchess Xenia, one of Nicholas II's sisters, and Grand Duke Alexander, founder of the imperial air force. His great-grandfather was Alexander II, the "czar liberator" who freed Russia's millions of serfs. His grandfather was Czar Alexander III and his grandmother the Danish-born Marie, sister to Queen Alexandra of England. Romanov's great-uncles sat on the thrones of England, Greece and Denmark.

Romanov and his brothers were "princes of the blood," who jokingly called themselves "bloody princes," he told The Times.

Romanov's only sister, Princess Irina, married Prince Felix Yussupov, one of the assassins of Rasputin. Rasputin was a bizarre monk-satyr figure whose power over the czar's wife through his supposed faith-healing of the czar's hemophiliac son and heir helped bring the dynasty to ruin.

In California, Romanov was honorary curator of the Imperial Russian Collection at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. In his home, where one desk drawer was labeled "taxes," another was filled with his manuscripts and letters of the imperial family.

Although he remained a vigorous critic of Bolshevism, the reforms of Mikhail Gorbachev left him "amazed and excited" and "very hopeful," his daughter said.

Services are set for July 7, which would have been his 82nd birthday. His daughter, Marina Beadleston, and four grandchildren survive.

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