On Sunday, fans were shocked by the sudden death of 27-year-old actor Anton Yelchin, who was killed in what the Associated Press called a "freak accident," hit by his car in his own driveway. Yelchin was the child of refugees, something he had spoken candidly about with reporters before. His parents came to the U.S. for one clear reason — him.
Anton Yelchin's parents, Irina Korina and Viktor Yelchin, were accomplished and well known ice skaters in what was then the Soviet Union. They were "national celebrities," and spent 15 years as the stars of the Leningrad Ice Ballet, reported the Los Angeles Times in 1989.
But they were also Jewish, which meant that there was a limit to what they could achieve in the Soviet Union. In 1972 Korina and Viktor Yelchin were ranked third in the country in pair team skating, but, they told the Times, they were forbidden from going to the Olympics because of their religion.
It wasn't until September of 1989, when their only child, Anton, was 6 months old, that Korina and Yelchin left behind everything they had accomplished to come to the U.S. as refugees. When the Times reporter asked why they decided to come, and to start over, they answered in unison: "Anton."
Anton Yelchin was well aware of the sacrifice his parents made to raise him in the United States. "I have tremendous respect and admiration for my parents beyond anyone that I've met or will ever meet, simply because they're beautiful, strong people," he told Steve Cummins in 2012. He continued:
The amount of suffering that they went through in the Soviet Union and in the kind of moral, emotional, intellectual pressure and fear of coming to a place where you don't speak a word of the language but you just know you need to do it ... And a lot of the reason they did it is for themselves, but also, for me, y'know, because they had a little kid and they didn't want me growing up there — or a baby — and they didn't want me growing up there. And, eh, I can't even begin to imagine what that feeling is, that fear. I almost think it's like standing in front of an abyss and you're just like "okay I'm going to leap in."
It was Yelchin's parents decision to try to claim refugee status and flee to the U.S. — and to come to Los Angeles specifically — that paved the way for Yelchin's successful Hollywood career. Yelchin was beloved for his roles in blockbusters like the Star Trek series, but he had been acting since childhood, and had had starring roles in Charlie Bartlett and Alpha Dog.
As Korina told the Times in 1989, speaking about the city's particular fascination with celebrity, "A woman came up, saw Anton, and said, 'He's beautiful. He will be actor.'"