The death of Rasputin has been the subject of debate for years, considering it was such a legendary, and long-lasting affair.
The man was poisoned, shot, and thrown into a freezing river, and it took all three to be sure he was dead. This was not an unfortunate Mr. Bill-a-like, or the prelude to a winding riddle: the subject of all this overkill was the death of Rasputin, known as the Mad Monk.
Born in 1869 to relative obscurity to a peasant family in Siberia, Grigori Rasputin didn’t show much inclination to the dizzying heights of religious zeal he’d achieve. He married, had children, and seemed ready to live out his life on his family farm, until he struck a deep vein of religiosity in himself after visiting a monastery at 23. Though he never took the holy orders (nor totally left his family), he rose to prominence as a religious official.
This is more or less all that is clear of a life swirling with rumors and innuendo. This farmboy-turned-holy-man’s career skyrocketed when he left Siberia for St. Petersburg–he charmed the satellite Romanov relatives, and eventually the royal family themselves.
“A few days ago I received a peasant from the Tobolsk district, Grigori Rasputin, who brought me an icon of St. Simon Verkhoturie,” wrote the Tsar “He made a remarkably strong impression both on Her Majesty and on myself, so that instead of five minutes our conversation went on for more than an hour.”
His influence over the royal family, particularly Tsarina Alexandra, grew as Rasputin convinced them that he could help manage the T
As thrilled as the royals were, not everyone in Russia was pleased with the association, helping foment the incipient Revolution.
Their closeness spurred rumors of inappropriate sexual relationships, between Rasputin and the Empress, and even Rasputin and the Grand Duchesses. When the Tsar took control as commander-in-chief of the Russian army during WWI, the Tsarina was effectively left ruling–but Russia wondered if Rasputin may be secretly leading their country.
When rumors persisted of Rasputin’s influence over the empress and of his debauchery, Prince Felix Yusupov (married to the Tsar’s niece, Irina) and a gang of followers decided to rid Russia of the man. Like Billy the Kid, Rasputin’s death is chronicled chiefly by his killer.
In his autobiography, Lost Splendor, Yusopov details how he planned the death of Rasputin on a December night in 1916.
Yusupov invited Rasputin to a party at his palace. He was lead to the cellar for dinner, where he was served Madiera wine and cakes, both poisoned with potassium cyanide. Rasputin kept eating and drinking the fare that should have killed him many times over, remarking only:
“Yes, my head is heavy and I’ve a burning sensation in my stomach.”
His assassins decided to take a more direct approach and shot him near the heart. He slumped back at first, only to open his eyes and attack Yusopov, chasing the prince into the courtyard where the final showdown took place.
The killers shot four more rounds into Rasputin, which seemed to do the trick. But, since the religious leader seemed immune to death, they bundled his body in linen and dumped it in the icy Neva river.
Myths misted his death as much as his life, with rumors blossoming that he’d survived the gunshots only to die in the river, or that he’d survived the attack. For all that is unknown about the mysterious figure, his legend, like his stamina, is powerful.