Russian theatre titan Oleg Tabakov dies

Oleg Tabakov was artistic director at the legendary Moscow Art Theatre

One of Russia's most beloved actors who had dominated Moscow's theatrical life since the Soviet era, Oleg Tabakov, passed away in hospital on Monday, his theatre said.

Tabakov was 82 and artistic director of the legendary Moscow Art Theatre, which he had steered since 2000 and where he trained generations of actors.

"The Moscow Art Theatre announces with regret that Oleg Tabakov, a great Russian artist, teacher and director ... has passed away after a long illness," the theatre said in a statement on its website.

Born to a family of doctors in provincial Saratov on the Volga river, Tabakov skyrocketed to fame as a young actor in the 1960s after graduating from the Moscow Art Theatre's studio school.

His best-known roles include that of Nikolai Rostov in Sergei Bondarchuk's film War and Peace that won the Oscar in 1969 and Nazi foreign intelligence chief Walter Schellenberg in the 1973 black-and-white classic spy series 17 Moments of Spring.

He is also known to foreign audiences for playing the lead role in a 1980 film based on Ivan Goncharov's classic novel "Oblomov" about a slothful Russian nobleman.

Arguably his most lasting legacy was in Russian theatre, however, including as a teacher of the Stanislavsky system of method acting both in Russia and the United States, where he founded a summer school.

Tabakov founded Moscow's Sovremennik theatre in 1957.

In 1977, he converted a basement being used as a coal cellar into one of the city's most visionary studios although his desire to experiment clashed with Soviet censorship.

He headed the Oleg Tabakov Theatre, which now has much more spacious premises, until his death, along with the Moscow Art Theatre.

As a theatre chief, he helped bring a younger generation of directors to fame, including award-winning Kirill Serebrennikov, who is currently under house arrest over controversial charges of money laundering.

Although politically a vocal supporter of Vladimir Putin, Tabakov had recently voiced concern over attempts by conservative forces to clamp down on artistic freedoms.

In 2015 Orthodox activists planted a pig's head outside his theatre's door to protest against a staging of the Oscar Wilde play "An Ideal Husband."

The Moscow Art Theatre announced that it has cancelled all its stagings until Wednesday as a mark of respect, Interfax news agency reported.

Putin expressed condolences to his relatives and fans, the Kremlin website said, describing him as a "Master."