Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, enjoyed an unusual second act as an international pop culture icon, appearing in television advertisements for western brands.
The most famous of these was a 1998 Pizza Hut ad in which the former president of the USSR walked alongside his granddaughter across Red Square and into a franchise of the American chain.
In the ad, two men at a nearby table are engaged in a fierce debate over Gorbachev’s legacy, but quickly find common ground in their love for American pizza.
“Thanks to him, we have Pizza Hut!” the thankful restaurant visitors cheer in the closing shots of the ad, a move meant to show Russia’s path towards modernisation unleashed by Gorbachev.
Gorbachev went on to feature in a series of different ads, including one promoting Austrian railways, as he was looking for ways to raise money for his newly formed foundations.
In the process, he emerged as a much-cherished figure in the west, and caricatures of him appeared in shows such as The Simpsons and Spitting Image. Gorbachev even received a Grammy, alongside the former US president Bill Clinton and actor Sophia Loren, for a retelling of the Russian folk tale Peter and the Wolf.
There will, likely for ever, remain a cloak of mystery over one of Gorbachev’s later ads.
In 2007, Gorbachev became the unlikely face of Louis Vuitton, following in the rather more graceful footsteps of actor Uma Thurman.
In the advert, photographed by the portrait photographer Annie Leibovitz, Gorbachev is sitting in the back of a limousine as it drives past what remains of the Berlin Wall – a reminder of his historic role in dismantling it. On the seat beside him is a classic brown Louis Vuitton bag.
The ad, innocent at first, raised eyebrows after attentive viewers discovered that tucked into the top of the bag was a magazine cover that read “Litvinenko’s murder: They wanted to give up the suspect for $7,000.”
The reference was taken to be to Andrei Lugovoi, the chief suspect for the murder of Alexander Litvinenko, the former KGB spy who died the year before after being poisoned in London. On his deathbed, Litvinenko accused Vladimir Putin of orchestrating his murder; a UK public inquiry later concluded that the murder was probably carried out with the approval of president.
With Gorbachev’s passing, questions will linger about whether the shoot was a random coincidence or a subversive message to the Kremlin.