Oleg Vidov, From Moscow to Malibu
As part of International Anti-Drug Day, established in 1987 by the United Nations General Assembly, Russia held events in every region of the country a few months ago. And rightfully so—Russia’s drug abuse problem is horrendous, especially when it comes to Krokodil, which I posted about in May.
Anyone familiar with Malibu Beach Reccovery Center knows that CEO Joan Borsten’s husband and partner, Oleg Vidov, is a well-known Russian movie star who defected to the U.S. 28 years ago. He’s still so popular that in June, Joan and Oleg were invited to Moscow by Russia’s main TV station, Channel 1, so that popular talk show host Andrei Malakhov could give him a primetime 70th birthday party seen by 250 million viewers in the former USSR. (Joan said that she sometimes thinks that Russian parents send their children to MBRC so that they [the parents] can meet Oleg at Family Weekend!)
Also, he was recently profiled in the Kommersant, the Russian equivalent of The Wall Street Journal. It’s in Russian, so most of you won’t be able to read it, but the photo is of Oleg wearing a mask and sitting on a horse, and the movie posters are from a Soviet cowboy movie Oleg made in Cuba and Azerbaijan 40 years ago called “The Headless Horseman.” It was based on a novel by Irish writer Mayne Reid, written in 1865 or 1866 and set in Texas. It was one of the most popular Soviet films ever made and still appears regularly on Russian TV.
Oleg has quite an interesting story, and it’s about time I interviewed him, don’t you think?
Q. I understand that besides your love of acting, you’ve had a lifelong penchant for helping people. How so?
A. I was raised by my mother and my aunt, a nurse who liked to direct amateur theater, mostly the plays of Russian playwright Alexander Ostrovsky. My great grandmother was involved in natural healing with grasses and the like. I remember my aunt using natural remedies to keep me healthy.
I loved cinema; it opened a whole world for me. From early childhood I especially liked love stories, adventures and fantasy movies. I was lucky to be cast in those kind of films when I became an actor. After I had starred in a few, fame came quickly. As a young man I dreamed about making movies for Mosfilm, the largest studio in the USSR and one of the largest in Europe. But someone in the business said I’d need connections. I didn’t have connections. So for several years I planned to become a doctor instead. Little did I know that despite enormous competition, I would soon be accepted into the acting department of the Soviet State Film School VGIK.
I decided to learn medicine from scratch, so I got a job as an orderly in an Emergency Room of a hospital, taking people who had been wounded, for example, to surgery. You had to be quick because it could be a matter of life and death. Patients were depending on me, and I felt the work was important. It was an awakening; I believe self-discovery has been an important part of my life.
Q. So starting MBRC with Joan was not a total departure from the past for you? In fact, it was a good fit?
A. Right. Very often young people who come to MBRC don’t have goals. Somewhere they’ve lost their drive to become somebody, or do something. When I chat with them and they talk about their past, one person might have wanted to become an engineer, for example. But his parents may have said, “Why do you want to be an engineer? You should be a banker.”
So that person never got a chance to achieve his dream. If the parent had let him try, he may have changed his mind in two days. Young people need the chance to try what they think they would like to do.
My parents were also helping people their whole lives, and my aunt in Kazakhstan helped refugees that were running from the Nazis. Times were difficult and she taught them how to survive. Because she had a wide knowledge of nature, she taught them to plant seeds and vegetables—even to make turtle soup and find the turtle eggs in the desert.
So when I came to the U.S, it was natural for me to try and help people. When Joan first talked about opening the clinic, I asked what the difference would be between ours and others. All I had to hear was that treatment would be based on science, and that we would build something new, and I knew that we should do it.
Q. What was your experience with alcoholism in Russia?
A. There had been turmoil and political stagnation in the country from the time of Peter the Great. He or another leader declared that drinking was happiness, yet if you had a problem with alcohol, the Soviet government sent you to clean the streets for 15 days. I had some moonshine on a ski trip when I was teenager and got sick afterwards, and that was enough for me. I couldn’t even smell vodka for 20 years.
It was the same with cigarettes. I lived for several years in Kazakhstan, a Soviet republic that bordered on China, in a beautiful town surrounded by mountains and apple trees. My aunt gave me three rubles, two for the cinema and one for ice cream. I was all of 12. I decided to be grown up, so I bought cigarettes instead. I smoked several and got sick.
Q. I also understand you’re into alternative medicine. Please talk about that.
A. Yes, I am. It goes back to my aunt. She kept an aloe plant on the window sill, and occasionally she’d cut some and eat it for healing, as you would vitamins. It cleanses the liver.
When they forced her husband into the Gulag, she gave away her apartment and followed him. She told the Gulag warden that she would organize an amateur theater there if he would just give her and her husband a little room so she could make her husband’s life easier. He agreed.
Q. Is there anything I’ve missed?
A. Yes, I’d like to talk about Joan. Years ago, after graduating UC Berkeley, she volunteered to work in the Panama jungle with the Peace Corps. When I traveled back there with her years later, the current American Peace Corps volunteers visited us and said, “We came to see her because whatever we do here, the people say, ‘Juanita did it better’.”
Some people have a vision. They look beyond what exists and make it even bigger. That’s Joan. Our program is successful, but our clients become really attached to Joan, and she gets attached to them.
Above:Oleg and TV host Andrei Malakhov on his Saturday prime time show “Today, Tonight”
Below: Oleg, 2013