Notable deaths: Russian journalist, Spanish film star

April 8, 2013
Mikhail Beketov
Russian journalist

Mikhail Beketov, a Russian journalist who suffered brain damage and lost a leg after a brutal assault that followed his campaigns against a highway project outside Moscow, died Monday at a hospital, it was reported from Moscow. He was 55.

His attorney, Stalina Gurevitch, said Mr. Beketov died after choking on food.

Mr. Beketov was part of a group fighting against the construction of a highway through the Khimki forest near Moscow. Several people with high-profile political connections reportedly stood to profit from the highway’s construction, including Arkady Rotenberg, a billionaire who once taught President Vladimir Putin judo.

After the 2008 attack, Mr. Beketov was in a coma and spent more than two years in hospitals. The attackers were never identified.

The 2004 murder of Paul Klebnikov, the U.S. editor of Forbes’s Russian edition, and the 2006 killing of opposition journalist Anna Politkovskaya are among attacks on journalists in Russia that remain unsolved.

Sara Montiel
Spanish actress, singer

Sara Montiel, a voluptuous, Spanish-born actress and singer who enjoyed an international film career and appeared in such American movies as “Vera Cruz” (1954) and “Run of the Arrow” (1957), died Monday at her home in Madrid. She was 85.

Spanish news agencies reported the death but did not provide a cause.

Ms. Montiel was born Maria Antonia Abad in Campo de Criptana in the central region of La Mancha. As a teenager, she won beauty contests that brought her to the attention of Spanish and then Mexican movie studios in the 1940s. She was a full-fledged star in Mexico before making her biggest American splash as Gary Cooper’s love interest in “Vera Cruz.”

Her other work included the Mario Lanza musical “Serenade” (1956), directed by Anthony Mann, who became her first husband. She soon returned to her native Spain, where she had a massive Spanish-language success with the musical drama “El ultimo cuple” (“The Last Torch Song”) in 1957 and the drama “La violetera” (“The Violet Peddler”) the next year. The theme of the latter became one of Ms. Montiel’s trademark songs, and she soon became as known for her recordings as her films.

Ms. Montiel remained a leading star of Spanish films well into the 1970s, but she increasingly became known for her stage and television work. Off-stage, she was known for a boisterous personal life that filled two memoirs, “Life Is a Pleasure” and “Sara and Sex.”

Les Blank
Documentary filmmaker

Les Blank, an acclaimed documentary maker who focused his camera on cultural corners ranging from blues music to garlic lovers to shoe-eating artists, died Sunday at his home in Berkeley, Calif. He was 77.

A son, Harrod Blank, confirmed the death and said the cause was bladder cancer.

Mr. Blank’s 42 films earned him a lifetime achievement award from the American Film Institute.

The Florida-born Mr. Blank’s early documentaries focused on musicians, including 1965’s “Dizzy Gillespie” and “The Blues Accordin’ to Lightnin’ Hopkins,” a portrait of the Texas bluesman that won Mr. Blank his first wide renown.

He shifted to food with such documentaries as 1980’s “Garlic Is as Good as 10 Mothers,” and 2007’s “All in This Tea.”

Mr. Blank was known for following his curiosity anywhere. No topic was too strange — or too ordinary. His 1987 film “Gap-Toothed Women” was a series of interviews on the subject spurred by an old high school crush.

“If he was interested in gap-toothed women, he’s going to make a film about it. If he wants to make a film about garlic because he loves to eat garlic, he’s going to do it,” said Harrod Blank, who is also a filmmaker.

But the subject that led to Mr. Blank’s most memorable work was fellow filmmaker Werner Herzog.

In 1979’s “Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe,” Mr. Blank chronicled Herzog’s attempt to dine on his boot, the result of a lost bet.

And “Burden of Dreams,” Mr. Blank’s 1982 behind-the-scenes view of Herzog’s disastrous filming of “Fitzcarraldo” in the Peruvian jungle, became a classic chronicle of artistic obsession.

“If I abandon this project, I would be a man without dreams,” Mr. Blank filmed Herzog saying. “I don’t want to live like that.”

— from staff and wire services