Famous People Befriended By Vladimir Putin

Being a politician or a statesman is an odd kind of celebrity. Unlike actors, rock stars, or models, they're not famous for being good at an art or being exceptionally good-looking, but rather because they wield tremendous power over millions of people, shaping world events and history to their liking, or at least to the interests of the citizens they represent. Presidents or heads of states don't have fanbases like other famous people; they have followings, electorates, and scores of devotees.

Sometimes, those admirers are fellow famous people, met through elite channels and accessible only to the wealthy and powerful. It's a mutually agreeable relationship for celebrities and politicians — the Hollywood movie star, for example, gets a taste of power and has the ear of an influential figure, while the politician gets to bask in the adoration of an internationally popular icon who becomes a de facto endorser of their policies, however controversial. This has historically been an arrangement enjoyed by Russian president Vladimir Putin. A controversial and polarizing figure to say the least, he's courted friendships and alignments with a number of very famous entertainers. Here are some big-time celebs who have enjoyed the company of Putin.

Jack Nicholson

Only the second major leader of the Russian government since the end of communism and the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991, Vladimir Putin was appointed acting prime minister in 1999 by Boris Yeltsin, according to Reuters. Three months later, after Yeltsin's resignation, Putin won his first term as president, and within a year, he was enjoying the benefits of being Russia's top official, seen glad-handing and warmly talking up American celebrities that came into his country for business and promotional reasons. According to Page Six (via The Guardian), Jack Nicholson went to Russia in June 2001 for the Moscow International Film Festival and attended a private party at the home of festival head Nikita Mikhalhov. Putin also attended, and he told Nicholson that of the actor's films, his favorite was his 1975 Oscar-winner "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." Nicholson returned the affection by noting that he was fulfilling his "life-long" ambition to visit Moscow, and cordially offered Putin a job co-producing a future film project.

Interestingly, Sean Penn also attended the event in Russia to screen his Nicholson collaboration "The Pledge." More than 20 years later, according to CNN, Penn was in Ukraine producing a documentary on the country when Putin's Russian army invaded the country in 2022.

Leonardo DiCaprio

Like millions of teenagers during the actor's "Growing Pains" and "Titanic" heartthrob days, or the Academy Award voters who routinely place him on the annual list of Best Actor nominees, Russian president Vladimir Putin is very fond of Leonardo DiCaprio.

In 2010, according to The Guardian, DiCaprio, a staunch environmentalist and conservationist, flew to St. Petersburg, Russia, to attend a conference regarding the endangered Siberian tiger. Putin also attended, and upon meeting DiCaprio proclaimed him a "muzhik," a Russian slang term that means "manly man," on account of how the actor endured an emergency landing and a rerouting of another plane on account of heavy winds. "A person with less stable nerves could have decided against coming, could have read it as a sign — that it was not worth going," Putin told DiCaprio (according to The Telegraph). DiCaprio later told German newspaper Welt am Sonntag that he and Putin chatted "only about the protection" of the tigers, and "not politics." However, he called the politician "very, very, very interesting" and that if anybody ever made a movie about Putin, he "would love to play him."

Pamela Anderson

In the 1990s, Pamela Anderson was one of the most famous people on the planet, a sex symbol from her role as a lifeguard susceptible to slo-motion running montages on the internationally popular soap "Baywatch" and her popular pictorials in "Playboy." In recent years, she's acted less in favor of pursuing causes important to her, particularly animal rights. 

According to the Indy100, in 2009, Anderson learned that a shipment of 1,700 tons of meat made with the fins of endangered whales would move through Russian territory, and Anderson asked Putin to block it. According to the Hollywood Reporter, six years later, she wrote to Vladimir Putin to request he stop the importation of seal products, as Russia comprised "95 percent of the market, and that could potentially shut down the Canadian seal hunt, which is one of my big goals," Anderson said on "Piers Morgan's Life Stories" in 2018. In response to Anderson's letter, Putin outlawed imported seal meat and invited Anderson to Russia. Anderson has met with Putin's officials at the Kremlin on more than one occasion, with the president inviting her to one of his inaugurations.

Paul McCartney

Despite traveling all over the world to play for hordes of screaming fans as a member of the Beatles in the 1960s, and recording the song "Back in the U.S.S.R." in 1968, Paul McCartney didn't perform in Russia until 2003. He nearly took his '70s band Wings there, but the idea fell through, according to The Guardian. In the early 2000s, someone on his team suggested to McCartney that he finally play Red Square in Moscow. "We did, and it was fantastic," he said.

As part of the festivities, McCartney was summoned to the Kremlin, the Russian seat of power, and he was escorted by a general to the private quarters of President Vladimir Putin. McCartney and Putin posed for pictures together, and the latter dismissed an English translator so he could speak directly to the former Beatle. "He was fabulous. We had a quite intimate conversation about his life, which was quite refreshing," McCartney recalled. After Putin said he probably wouldn't be in attendance at the concert, McCartney utilized the piano on hand to give the Russian president a private performance of the 1970 Beatles hit "Let it Be."

Steven Seagal

According to BuzzFeed News, relations between Russia and the United States reached a chilly impasse when Vladimir Putin refused to meet President Barack Obama's request to stop arming the Syrian leader in his civil war that had left tens of thousands dead. Around 2013, according to officials, Putin came up with the idea to place an intermediary in between himself and the White House, and that individual would be Steven Seagal, the star of numerous martial arts and action B-movies in the 1990s, who turned energy drink pitchman and star of the reality show "Steven Segal: Lawman," in which he served as a sheriff's deputy in Louisiana. 

Putin and Seagal, American-born but of Russian heritage, had met a few months earlier in Moscow; they had lunch and went to a martial arts studio together. It turned out they had a lot in common — both are the same age and love the combat arts, as Putin has a black belt in judo and Seagal has one in aikido. "I would like to think I know him well, but suffice it to say I know him well enough to say that he is one of the greatest world leaders, if not the greatest world leader, alive today," Seagal told Russia Today in 2013. "He cares more about Russia than anybody I know, and he's not afraid to stand up and do what needs to get done."

Oliver Stone

American writer-director Oliver Stone made a widely acclaimed career for himself as one of the most incendiary and critical filmmakers in Hollywood. His historical dramas, such as "JFK," "Born on the Fourth of July," and "Nixon," asked a lot of questions and spoke truth to power. Politically, Stone swings hard to the left, and as such, according to The Daily Beast, gained favor with communist leaders such as Fidel Castro of Cuba and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. In the 2010s, Stone started making movies about the Russian government and President Vladimir Putin's machinations, specifically. In 2014, Stone directed "Ukraine on Fire," a documentary that claimed the CIA was behind that year's Ukrainian revolution, a film which included commentary from Putin. Three years later, Stone sold to the cable network Showtime "The Putin Interviews," a four-part talk show consisting entirely of conversations between the filmmaker and the Russian leader. Stone captured plenty of flattering footage of Putin, doing things like hanging around horses, beating a team of younger men at hockey, and walking around a garden.

In 2022, in the early days of Putin's order to send Russian troops into Ukraine, Stone defended the invasion. "This has been a defensive maneuver from the Russian side," Stone told Scheerpost. "The United States and its allies in NATO have been provoking Russia, have been using Ukraine as bait."

Mickey Rourke

Before he was a tough-guy actor, playing imposing characters and heavies in films like "Iron Man 2," "Sin City," and "The Wrestler" (for which he earned an Academy Award nomination), Mickey Rourke was an actual tough guy, a boxer of some renown on the amateur circuit, according to The Hollywood Reporter. Combat sports took a backseat to acting in the '80s for Rourke, and he had given it up entirely by the 1990s, only to suddenly hop back in the ring in 2014. Per, THR, Rourke, then 62, fought 29-year-old American boxer Elliot Seymour at the Rossiya, a concert hall in downtown Moscow. Rourke spent some time in Russia getting in shape for the match (which he won), and during that period he met the country's president, Vladimir Putin.

Rourke was a big fan of the politician. Spotted buying a T-shirt bearing Putin's face, he also gave a glowing review. "I actually met Putin. And I had a good feeling about him and I liked him and we got along very well. He seemed like a really okay guy to me," Rourke said at a 2018 press conference in advance of the match.

Donald Trump

First coming to fame in the 1980s for being a land developer of prominent and expensive real estate (via Britannica), Donald Trump became the rare celebrity business person, lending his name to a number of ventures before hosting the NBC reality series "The Apprentice" in the 2000s. And then, of course, there was getting into politics and being elected President of the United States in 2016. According to Newsweek, Trump's vocal and public admiration of his Russian political counterpart, President Vladimir Putin, stretches back to 2013. Trump, whose company owns the Miss Universe Pageant, traveled to Moscow for that year's iteration of the contest, and in 2014, he went on "Fox and Friends" and said that Putin "was so nice" and "fantastic," praising his leadership skills, remarking that "Putin has eaten Obama's lunch, therefore our lunch, for a long period of time."

Trump supported Russia's annexation of the disputed Crimea territory and in 2016, downplayed any suggestion that Russian cybercriminals, as directed by Putin's government, had any affect on the results of the election that installed him in the Oval Office.

Jean-Claude Van Damme

Martial artist and '90s-era action movie star Jean-Claude Van Damme enjoys taking part in the kind of feats of physical combat he performed in his movies, such as "Street Fighter," "The Expendables," and "Bloodsport." During a visit to Russia in 2010, he took part in a bare-knuckle boxingmatch , and who should sit down beside him but Russian president Vladimir Putin. Van Damme, embarrassed to be dressed in casual clothes in the presence of the suit-clad head of state, apologized to Putin, who responded by removing his jacket and rolling up his short sleeves. That broke the ice, and they got along well until Van Damme reached for his bag he'd placed under his seat. "As soon as I go to my bag, I've got 20 security guys coming at me," Van Damme told The Hollywood Reporter.

The actor assured Putin's detail that he wasn't going for a weapon, and they smoothed things over. Van Damme maintained enough goodwill for Putin that he sang his praises to TMZ in 2016. "America is strong and Russia is strong," Van Damme said, and encouraged whoever won that year's presidential election to establish a solid, friendly relationship with Putin.

Gerard Depardieu

Gérard Depardieu is a beloved national treasure in his native France. A 17-time nominee (and two-time winner) for the Cesar Award, the French equivalent of the Academy Award, he's best known elsewhere for arthouse classics like "Jean de Florette," "Camille Claudel," and "Cyrano de Bergerac," and mainstream English-language hits including "Green Card" and "The Man in the Iron Mask." In the 2010s, however, Depardieu has made headlines less for his movies and more for his political leanings and support of Russian president Vladimir Putin.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Depardieu, feeling overtaxed by the French government, departed France and moved to Russia, and he was given a Russian passport and full citizenship benefits in 2013 by Putin himself. "I love your president, Vladimir Putin, very much and it's mutual," the actor wrote in a letter for Russian state TV (per the New York Times). When Putin's troops invaded the politically unstable Crimea and claimed it for Russia in 2014, Depardieu publicly applauded the move, which earned him a five-year ban from the anti-Putin government of Ukraine. "I love Russia and Ukraine, which is part of Russia," Depardieu controversially said at the time (per AFP, via Yahoo! News).

Alex Ovechkin

To professional hockey fans, Alex Ovechkin is a household name, easily one of the most prominent and best players of the sport in the last two decades. Over a 17-year career spent entirely with the Washington Capitals, Ovechkin has been named to 12 NHL all-star teams, won the Stanley Cup, lead the league in points and goals scored, and received rookie of the year and MVP trophies.

Ovechkin, born in Moscow, played for the Russian national team at four Winter Olympics, per the NHL. He's also a notable admirer of his birth country's president, Vladimir Putin. During the latter's 2017 re-election campaign, according to USA Today, Ovechkin started a social media drive called "Putin Team," posting a photo of himself on Instagram with the politician. "Being part of this team makes me proud," Ovechkin wrote in Russian. "I'm confident that there's a lot of us who support Vladimir Putin ... So let's come together and show everyone a strong and unified Russia!"

Putin and Ovechkin are close enough to exchange gifts. When Ovechkin married in 2016, Putin sent a gift and a congratulatory telegram, which was read aloud at the wedding reception.

Conor McGregor

With an all-time record of 22 and 6, Conor McGregor is one of the most accomplished UFC fighters of all time. By November 2016, he was a champion in both the featherweight and lightweight divisions, but was removed of the latter title in 2017 after walking away from mixed martial arts, according to the Irish Times. McGregor spent his time on other pursuits, like a boxing match with Floyd Mayweather Jr. and promoting his whisky brand, Proper Twelve, per BelfastLive

In 2018, McGregor attended the final match of that year's FIFA World Cup at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow, as the personal, invited guest of Russian president Vladimir Putin. McGregor marked the occasion with an Instagram post of himself and Putin (later removed). "This man is one of the greatest leaders of our time and I was honored to attend such a landmark event alongside him," McGregor captioned. And while the World Cup match fell on the same weekend as McGregor's 30th birthday, it was he who gave a gift to Putin — the very first bottle ever produced of Proper Twelve. "I'm sure he did have a taste and I'm sure he enjoyed it," the fighter said.