ST. PETERSBURG, Russia (AP) — Eduard Khil was a beloved Soviet crooner who won sudden international stardom two years ago when a 1976 video of him singing "trololo" instead of the song's censored words became a global Internet hit.
Khil, best known as Mr. Trololo, died Monday at age 77.
He had been hospitalized in St. Petersburg since a stroke in early April that left him with severe brain damage. The stroke was the cause of his death, said Tatyana Mamedova of Petersburg-Kontsert, which organized Khil's concerts.
Khil was a top Soviet performer during the 1960s and the 1970s, but his star faded in the 1980s as musical tastes changed and the Soviet Union opened up to the West.
In 2010, a video of him performing "I Am Glad, 'Cause I'm Finally Returning Back Home" in 1976 was uploaded onto YouTube and quickly got more than 2 million hits.
The music was written by well-known Soviet composer Arkady Ostrovsky, but the original lyrics were about a cowboy riding across a prairie while his sweetheart knitted stockings for him, a sentimental view of America that didn't sit well with Soviet censors during the Cold War.
Khil said in an interview that he was told to change the words if he wanted to perform the song, so he sang a vocalized version that came out sounding like "trololo." It was an original approach that did not seem to attract much attention at the time or inspire others to follow his example.
The crooner recalled that it was his grandson who first told him about his new international fame: "Grandad, your song has become a hit again, I saw it on the Internet!"
After Khil won over YouTube viewers with his rich baritone, eccentric delivery and radiant smile, his new international fans petitioned to get him on a world tour. Khil never pursued the idea and said that although he was flattered by the attention, he was puzzled that his song had become popular three decades after it had been released.
Mikhail Sadchikov, a St. Petersburg journalist and musical critic who knew Khil personally, said the singer reacted to his sudden fame with irony.
"From his grandson he learned that T-shirts and mugs with his image had become available in the West, and he joked that he never earned a kopeck from them," Sadchikov said Monday. "He was also very optimistic, positive and ironic at the same time."
Khil himself said he was amused by the parodies that others did of his song, once saying that he liked Oscar-winning Austrian actor Christof Waltz's performance most.
The international fame also helped raise his profile in Russia during the final years of his life, lifting him from virtual oblivion to a series of TV appearances, interviews and concerts.
Khil's name, in Russian and English, was trending worldwide on Twitter on Monday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his condolences to Khil's wife and son.
He will be buried at the Smolenkskoye cemetery in St. Petersburg. The time of the burial has not been set.
Varya Kudryavtseva contributed to this report from Moscow.