Oleg Vidov (Juan Bastos/AP)

Oleg Vidov, a matinee idol in the Soviet Union who defected to the United States at the height of the Cold War and enjoyed a long film and TV career in Hollywood, died May 15 at his home near Los Angeles. He was 73.

His wife, Joan Borsten Vidov, said the cause was complications from cancer.

Starting in the 1960s, the blond, blue-eyed film star’s hero roles made Mr. Vidov a top box office draw in the Soviet Union. Russian audiences flocked to see him in fairy tales, romantic films and a 1972 cowboy movie called “The Headless Horseman,” which sold a reported 300 million tickets.

His work got attention from international filmmakers, but his efforts to work abroad were blocked by the communist state, which also thwarted a foray into directing. So in 1985, Mr. Vidov orchestrated an escape to the West through Yugoslavia. He was granted political asylum in the United States and landed in Southern California, where he was dubbed the “Soviet Robert Redford.”

He kicked off his Hollywood career with a small part in 1988’s “Red Heat” with Arnold Schwarzenegger after director Walter Hill determined Mr. Vidov was too handsome to play the film’s bad guy, a Soviet drug kingpin.

“ ‘The camera just doesn’t think you are bad,’ ” Hill told Mr. Vidov, his wife recalled this week. “But he loved working with Arnold.”

Mr. Vidov went on to appear in “Wild Orchid” (1989) with Mickey Rourke and “Love Affair” (1994), starring Warren Beatty and Annette Bening. Days before his death, Mr. Vidov and his family re-watched “Thirteen Days,” the 2000 political thriller starring Kevin Costner in which Mr. Vidov appeared as Valerian Zorin, the Soviet ambassador to the United Nations during the Cuban missile crisis.

Mr. Vidov’s TV roles included appearances on “Criminal Minds,” “Alias” and “The West Wing.”

His arrival in the United States made headlines in this country and got him blackballed in the Soviet Union. Soviet state-owned TV channels stopped playing his movies but eventually bowed to popular demand and broadcast them without using his name.

In late 1985, Mr. Vidov testified on Soviet cultural life at a U.S. congressional hearing, saying that Kremlin leader Mikhail Gorbachev was making sweeping changes that were fervently welcomed by the Soviet people.

Mr. Vidov’s star rose again after the fall of communism. He returned several times to his homeland, where his movies were the subject of film festivals.

In honor of his 70th birthday, Channel One Russia gave Mr. Vidov a prime-time birthday party that reportedly garnered 250 million viewers across Europe.

In addition to acting, Mr. Vidov started a production company that restored Russian animated films dating to the 1930s. In 2007, he co-founded Malibu Beach Recovery Center, a drug and alcohol treatment facility that has been featured on television shows such as A&E’s “Intervention.”

Besides his wife, survivors include two sons and a grandson.

Mr. Vidov, who became a U.S. citizen, told the Associated Press in 1985, “I cannot understand the oppression in the Soviet Union. In films, I make a bridge between East and West through films which show people many things. Film actors have one nationality, one language without any border.”

— Associated Press