Mr. Khil was a top Soviet performer during the 1960s and ’70s, but his star faded in the 1980s as musical tastes changed and the Soviet Union opened up to the West.
In 2010, a video of him performing “I Am Glad, ’Cause I’m Finally Returning Back Home” in 1976 was uploaded onto YouTube and quickly got millions of hits.
The music was written by well-known Soviet composer Arkady Ostrovsky, but the original lyrics were about a cowboy riding across a prairie while his sweetheart knitted stockings for him, a sentimental view of America that didn’t sit well with Soviet censors during the Cold War.
Mr. Khil said in an interview that he was told to change the words if he wanted to perform the song, so he sang a version that came out sounding like “trololo.” It was an original approach that did not seem to attract much attention at the time or inspire others to follow his example.
Mr. Khil recalled that it was his grandson who first told him about his international fame: “Granddad, your song has become a hit again. I saw it on the Internet!”
After Mr. Khil won over YouTube viewers with his rich baritone, eccentric delivery and radiant smile, he became known as “Mr. Trololo.” His new international fans petitioned to get him on a world tour, but he never pursued the idea. Although he was flattered by the attention, he was puzzled that his song had become popular three decades after it had been released.
Mikhail Sadchikov, a St. Petersburg journalist and musical critic who knew Mr. Khil, said the singer reacted to his sudden fame with irony.
“From his grandson, he learned that T-shirts and mugs with his image had become available in the West, and he joked that he never earned a kopeck from them,” Sadchikov said Monday. “He was also very optimistic, positive and ironic at the same time.”
Mr. Khil said he was amused by the parodies that others did of his song, once saying that he liked Oscar-winning Austrian actor Christoph Waltz’s performance most.
The international fame also helped raise his profile in Russia during his final years, lifting him from virtual oblivion to a series of TV appearances, interviews and concerts.
Eduard Anatolyevich Khil was born Sept. 4, 1934, in Smolensk, Russia, and was separated from his family during World War II. He studied at a Leningrad conservatory in the 1950s and had operatic roles before turning to pop music.
He was popular throughout the old Soviet Union and gave concerts in more than 80 countries.
Mr. Khil’s name, in Russian and English, was trending worldwide on Twitter on Monday.
Survivors include his wife, Zoya Pravdina, and a son.
— Associated Press