Eduard Khil, known to most Western audiences as Internet star “Mr. Trololo,” died early Monday in St. Petersburg after suffering a stroke in April. He was 77.
Khil, a baritone who was popular in the 1960s and ‘70s in what was then the Soviet Union, received a number of awards during his career, including the People’s Artist of Russia honor, but it wasn’t until a 1976 TV performance surfaced online in late 2009 and hit big in early 2010 that he enjoyed international fame.
“The death of the exceptional singer, Eduard Khil, is an irretrievable loss to Russian culture,” Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said Monday in a statement expressing his condolences. “He was truly a people’s artist. Several generations of people loved his songs not only in this country but also abroad.”
That notorious TV clip -- described by the Ministry in 2010 as “the high-speed freeway chase of music videos” -- was uploaded to YouTube in November 2009 and later renamed “Mr. Trololo original upload,” according to the Know Your Meme website. The original upload has notched almost 12.5 million views, with copycats racking up millions more.
The baritone learned of his newfound fame courtesy of his grandson, according to a St. Petersburg journalist who knew him personally.
“From his grandson he learned that T-shirts and mugs with his image had become available in the West, and he joked that he never earned a kopeck from them,” Mikhail Sadchikov told the Associated Press on Monday. “He was also very optimistic, positive and ironic at the same time.”
The kitschy (and oh-so-catchy) wordlessness of the Trololo song, more properly known in rough translation as “I Am So Happy That I’m Finally Coming Home,” interestingly had its roots in Cold War-era history. After the original lyrics about a cowboy riding his horse home in Kentucky didn’t fly with Soviet censors -- it’s unclear if the ban was official or unofficial -- the words were turned into vocalizations instead.
And decades later, a star was born.
A civil funeral will be held at a theater in Moscow, Khil’s son Dmitry told the Voice of Russia. He’ll be buried at Smolenskoye Cemetery in St. Petersburg -- while “Mr. Trololo” lives online in perpetuity.