Iosif Kobzon, Crooner Known as the Soviet Union's Answer to Frank Sinatra, Dies at 80

Iosif Kobzon attends an opening ceremony of the 38th Moscow International Film Festival - Getty-H 2018
Kristina Nikishina/Epsilon/Getty Images

The staunch supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin was banned from entering the U.S. in 1995 because of alleged mafia ties he vehemently denied.

Iosif Kobzon, a Russian singer and entertainer who was often referred to as the Soviet Union's answer to Frank Sinatra, died Thursday at 80. He had been battling prostrate cancer for the past 13 years.

Kobzon, who acted and sang in a number of Russian films during the past half-century, was a staunch supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin and vocal advocate of the 2014 annexation into Russian territory of Ukraine's Crimea region, which earned him an EU travel ban and sanction for "undermining or threatening the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine."

Since 1997, he had been a member of the Russian parliament for the country's ruling party, United Russia. Kobzon was controversially banned from entering the U.S. in 1995 after his visa was revoked because of alleged criminal links that he vehemently denied.

A later attempt to travel to the U.S. in 2012 was also frustrated when he was denied a visa, again on the grounds of alleged links to criminal activity and drug trafficking, Radio Free Europe reported.

Born in what was then Soviet Ukraine in September 1937, Kobon was a member of a song-and-dance troupe during his time serving in the army and later studied at Moscow's prestigious Genssin music academy.

He gained a wide following for performing the theme songs to the hugely popular classic 1973 Soviet TV spy series 17 Moments of Spring.

He held a number of high Soviet artistic honors, including "People's Artist of the USSR." In June, Putin presented him with a medal of distinction, calling him a "true legend we all sincerely love."

Putin expressed his condolences in an official note posted on the Kremlin's website Thursday that stated that Kobzon was "a person of enormous inner strength, courage and dignity" who "loved Russia with all his heart" and had "won the hearts of millions with his talent, artistic generosity and remarkable songs that will remain forever."