Described as "a Pre-Raphaelite angel posing as a punk-rock idol", this tall (6'3"), blond star of the Bolshoi Ballet staged a dramatic, front-page defection from the Soviet Union in 1979. A Russian dance star since 1971, Godunov, a colleague of Mikhail Baryshnikov, became a principal with the American Ballet Theatre and in 1982, after he left under a cloud of bad feelings, danced as guest artist with various troupes. Spotted by director Peter Weir on a 1983 PBS special, "Godunov: The World to Dance In", he made his US acting debut as a somber Amish farmer in the thriller, "Witness" (1985).
Unlike Baryshnikov, Godunov chose not to appear in dance films. Perhaps due to this--or to the alcoholism which eventually killed him--Godunov's film career fizzled. His lion's mane of long blond hair and his intimidating presence did help him get roles as an arrogant symphony conductor in "The Money Pit" (1986), a villain in "Die Hard" (1988) and an incestous madman in "Waxwork II" (1991). Godunov's final role was in the comedy "North" (1994). As an in-joke, he portrayed an Amish father, married to "Witness" co-star Kelly McGillis.