For decades, rumors circulated in Russia that Joseph Stalin had a “twin” who replaced him during certain situations. Decades after Stalin’s death, the decoy finally decided to talk. Felix Dadaev, a former dancer and juggler, had been ordered to the Kremlin to work as Stalin’s body double. For more than half a century, Dadaev remained silent, fearing a death sentence should he dare to open his mouth. But in 2008, at the age of 88, and with the apparent approval of the Putin regime, he finally came forward to write his autobiography. It explains that he was one of four men employed to impersonate the supreme leader, taking his place in motorcades, at rallies, on newsreel footage etc.
Dadaev was born in the Caucasian highlands of Dagestan and when his family moved to Grozny, in Chechnya, he began taking ballet lessons. When the Second World War started, he was required to fight and was so badly injured during the Soviet liberation of Grozny in 1942 that his family was told he had been killed. He was one of seven casualties delivered to a hospital, but he and another man were still alive. Fortunately, he survived, though that “death” was the start of a strange double life. Soon his resemblance to 60-year-old Stalin (which got him teased in school) caught the eye of Soviet intelligence agents, who started using him to save the real Stalin from assassination plots and tedious public ceremonies.
Just into his 20s, Dadaev was a great deal younger than Stalin, but make-up and the strain of war meant that he could pass for the 60-year-old. “We had all experienced so much suffering that I looked much older than I was”, Dadaev said. Trained at the personal request of Stalin, Dadaev attended rallies and meetings across the Soviet Union wearing the leader’s trademark Red Army cap and heavy overcoat encrusted with medals. He watched movies and speeches of Stalin to perfect the mimicry of his movement and intonation. Some say that Dadaev, like other Stalin’s body doubles, was trained by Alexei Diky, an actor who played the role of Stalin in propaganda films.
In an age before media dominated, he didn’t have to mimic perfectly Stalin’s vocal inflections, just his look and mannerisms. He pulled it off so well even Stalin’s closest comrades couldn’t spot the imposter. “By the time my make-up and training were complete, I was like him in every way, except perhaps my ears. They were too small”.
- Another Stalin’s body double was a man identified only as “Rashid”. Rashid so closely resembled the dictator that when he joined the army he was dismissed almost immediately. Even his facial scars nearly matched the Soviet leader’s pockmarks from a bout with smallpox. He spent two years studying with Alexei Dikiy. Rashid claimed there were other Stalin lookalikes employed by the NKVD (predecessor of KGB), although he never met any. He claimed to have heard of another Stalin double who was hired to live in the dictator’s dacha outside of Moscow in the late 1940s and 1950s when Stalin was dying. After Stalin’s death in 1953, Rashid moved to a provincial city and shaved off his mustache and gradually became bald. Yet even then the resemblance proved so striking that he often received stares on the street.