They poisoned him, shot him, stabbed him and threw him, bound, into an icy river – still RASPUTIN, the mad monk of Russia, wouldn’t die! A hundred years after his demise, his origin and his supernatural control of the Tsar of Russia has been chronicled by dubious memoirs, sensational movies and the unrelenting legend of his perverse desires.
Born in small peasant town, after a childhood of brawling and lasciviousness, Grigori Rasputin claimed to have witnessed a vision of a Russian orthodox martyr which set him on the road to become a strannik, a wandering mystic. His piercing blue eyes suggested he was a master of mesmerism, and in 1904, he became acquainted with Russian Romanov ruler, Tsar Nicholas II and his wife Alexandria. Invited by the Tsarina to visit their son Alexi who suffered from hemophilia, Rasputin cured the boy by stopping doctors from administering aspirin – which caused further thinning of the blood. One of the peasant healer’s many enemies charged that Rasputin had actually caused Alexi’s blood-letting by dosing him with weird Tibetan drugs.
As Rasputin rose in power, his counsel to the Romanovs proved invaluable, but the Tsarina was deeply under his spell. Rumors of drug fueled orgies commanded by Rasputin with a docile Alexandria as his lap-dog were rumored in the streets of St. Petersburg. Many believed the lanky, long -haired wild man was an emissary of Satan himself. The Tsar and his wary advisors soon took steps were taken to rid themselves of the mad monk’s influence.
In 1914, a disguised beggar woman, Khionia Guesva, accosted Rasputin on the street, stabbing him with a dagger in the stomach. Covered in blood, Rasputin chased her down the street, brandishing a stick. After recuperating, the holy man changed. Openly carousing in public, he exposed himself to a gaggle of gypsy girls at a restaurant. These debauched exploits defamed him among the disillusioned populace now on the brink of open revolt. With Russia embroiled in World War One, Rasputin offered his other-worldly military counsel to Tsar Nicholas. But, on December 17, 1916, Rasputin’s enemies decided to be rid of the unholy manipulator once and for all.
According to court testimony by one of the conspirators, Prince Felix Yusupov, he lured Rasputin into a wine cellar below the palace and fed him wine and cakes laced with enough cyanide to kill two dozen men. When the poison failed to work, the Prince shot Rasputin at close range twice. Falling to the cold cellar floor, Rasputin initially appeared dead before rising to chase his would-be assassin through the catacombs. There in the dank labyrinth, three more assailants greeted Rasputin by stabbing and repeatedly shooting him.
Crawling on all fours, the seeming indestructible Rasputin made it onto the ice of the nearby Neva River where he was finally beaten to death with a leaden club and dumped into the icy waters. After his corpse was fished from the river, the medical examiner wrote that he had actually died from drowning – his lungs filled with water!
Soon after his death, the story of the mad monk inspired several motion pictures including a silent film featuring THE CABINET OF DR. CALIGARI star Conrad Veidt. In 1934, MGM mounted a lavish sound production starring John, Ethel and Lionel Barrymore in RASPUTIN AND THE EMPRESS with Lionel as the un-killable priest. Recognizing one of the characters as a thinly-veiled version of herself, Prince Yusupov’s wife Irina sued MGM for libel. Winning the case handily, it set legal precedent – forcing all films to have the famous disclaimer that no matter the scenario’s origins the film itself was fiction.
While Bela Lugosi might have been a perfectly cast Rasputin (he was rumored to do so in the 1934 film), Christopher Lee made a memorable turn in Hammer’s RASPUTIN, THE MAD MONK. But it was a perfectly cast Tom Baker in the epic NICHOLAS & ALEXANDRIA that forever sealed the un-killable mad monk in the annals of screen history.