The Associated Press
MOSCOW (AP) - Sergei Mikhalkov, an author favored by Stalin who wrote the lyrics for the Soviet and Russian national anthems, persecuted dissident writers as part of the Soviet propaganda machine and fathered two noted film directors, has died at age 96.
Mikhalkov died in a Moscow hospital on Thursday, said Denis Baglai, a spokesman for his son, director Nikita Mikhalkov. Baglai said he had no further details immediately.
The death of a man whose life and achievements embodied most of Russia's Communist era was mourned by Russian leaders and received extensive coverage on state television.
"At all times, Sergei Vladimirovich lived up to the interests of his motherland, served it and believed in it," President Dmitry Medvedev said in a statement.
In 1943, Mikhalkov, a young author and war correspondent whose poems were favored by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, was commissioned to write lyrics for a new Soviet anthem designed to inspire Red Army soldiers in the midst of World War II.
Mikhalkov's lyrics, co-written with journalist El Registan and set to music by Alexander Alexandrov, lauded Stalin who "brought us up on loyalty to the people" and "inspired us to labor and to heroism."
The anthem propelled Mikhalkov into stardom that outlived Stalin and the system he created. After the dictator's death in 1953, the anthem was mostly performed without the lyrics, but Mikhalkov remained one of the most vocal and outspoken bards of Communism.
He received numerous state awards for his children's books, film scripts, plays and fiction. He churned out adaptations of Russian and European classics - including Mark Twain's "The Prince and the Pauper" - transforming them according to Politburo-prescribed ideological recipes.
Millions of Russians can recite lines from his other famous work - the 1935 children's poem "Uncle Styopa," about an unusually tall police officer - which is still taught in Russian kindergartens and primary schools.
His contributions to serious literature were more controversial.
As a functionary and later chairman of the government-regulated Soviet Writers' Union, Mikhalkov became an integral part of the propaganda machine designed to indoctrinate Soviet citizens and weed out dissidents. He was part of smear campaigns against "anti-Soviet" authors such as Nobel laureates Boris Pasternak and Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who was deported from the Soviet Union in 1974.
In 1977, the Politburo approved adjustments to the national anthem, where Mikhalkov replaced references to Stalin with phrases glorifying Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin, who "led us on to Communism's triumph."
After the 1991 Soviet collapse, the Russian government scrapped the anthem, replacing it with an instrumental piece by 19th-century Russian composer Mikhail Glinka.
But after Vladimir Putin became Russian president in 2000, he restored the old anthem. Mikhalkov adjusted the text again, replacing references to Lenin and the Soviets with a paean to Russia's "divinely protected" forests and meadows that span from "southern seas to the polar lands."
In 2005, Putin personally handed Mikhalkov a state award for "literary and social achievements."
Mikhalkov refuted claims that he was subservient to the Communist Party.
"I have never been influenced by politics," he told the Kommersant newspaper in 2003. "I always served the state."
His line glorifying Stalin in the original anthem was restored just this week to the vestibule of the lavish Kurskaya metro station in Moscow. The line, written in large letters, had been removed during the "de-Stalinization" of the late 1950s. Its restoration reflects Russians' growing nostalgia about the Stalinist period.
Mikhalkov's death drew warm words from many of the country's cultural figures.
"He's an entire epoch that is now lost," actor Mikhail Boyarsky told the ITAR-Tass news agency. "But his anthem will stay with us forever."
Mikhalkov's son Nikita won an Academy Award for the 1994 film "Burnt by the Sun," about a family during the Stalinist purges of the 1930s. His other son, Andrei Konchalovsky, has made a career as a Hollywood director, whose films include the Oscar-nominated "Runaway Train."
His survivors also include his physicist wife Yulia Subbotina, ten grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.