Famous Lithuanian People: Lithuanian Artists, Scientists, Leaders, Musicians, Politicians and Athletes.
From its turbulent history and exposure to different cultures, Lithuania has a crop of illustrious personalities who helped shape the nation. Their accomplishments brought glory to a nation whose perseverance and courage to become independent and rise above the oppression are fully embodied in the colors of their flag. They shared their honor and made the population proud of their heritage.
The following people made their mark on both the local and international scenes. They are just some of many famous Lithuanians who have lifted Lithuania’s name worldwide and made a difference in our world. Their purpose and stories inspired awe if not greatness.
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:: List of Famous People from Lithuania ::
Arvydas Romas Sabonis
He was born on December 19, 1964 in Kaunas. He placed Lithuania in the sports map by becoming the best and most famous Lithuanian basketball player. He was named the European Player of the Year eight times and won the Mr. Europa Award twice. He was also a six-time Euroscar awardee. Sabonis spent seven seasons with the National Basketball League in the United States and was considered as one of the best passers and best overall centers in NBA history and was likened to NBA-great Larry Bird. He played for the Soviet Union basketball team which won the gold medal in the 1988 Summer Olympics in South Korea and helped Lithuania win bronze in the 1992 and 1996 Olympics. Sabonis retired in 2003 and became a business man. He was inducted to the FIBA Hall of Fame on August 20, 2010 and was names to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (NMBHF) on April 4, 2011 and will be inducted on August 2011. Sabonis, who stands 7 feet and 3 inches will be the tallest basketball player to be inducted in the NMBHF.
Raimondas Šarūnas Marčiulionis
He is another basketball great from Lithuania, born on June 13, 1964 and a teammate of Arvydas Romas Sabonis when they won the Olympic gold medal in basketball for Russia during the 1988 Summer Olympics in South Korea. Like his compatriot, Marčiulionis was also an NBA player, one of the first Europeans to join the North American basketball league. He was drafted by the Golden State Warriors in 1989 then played for the Seattle Supersonics in 1994 to 1995 then moved to Sacramento Kings and then to the Denver Nuggets. Before his retirement Marčiulionis opened the Šarūnas Hotel located in Vilnius in 1993. The following year he founded and became president of the Lithuanian Basketball League. In 1999 he was the founder and commissioner of the North European Basketball League that was absorbed by the current Baltic Basketball League. Today he juggles between being the president of Šarūnas Marčiulionis Basketball Academy and being a successful businessman.
He was born on March 5, 1976 in Karunas but spent his teenage years in Pennsylvania, United States and attended the University of Maryland, where he played college basketball. Jasikevičius has an extensive club career, playing in Lithuanian basketball clubs Lietuvos Rytas in 1998 for his pro debut then moved to Olimpija Ljubljana. He also joined FC Barcelona for three seasons, from 2000 to 2003 and the Maccabi Tel Aviv in 2003. Jasikevičius also played for the Indiana Pacers from 2005 to 2007 then traded to the Golden State Warriors in 2007. He later signed up with Panathinaikos BC for three seasons from 2007 to 2010, Lietuvos Rytas of Lithuania in 2010 and is now (2011) signed up for one year with Fenerbahçe Ülker basketball club in Turkey. In his club basketball career, Jasikevičius won several awards but he holds the distinction of being the only player in the history of basketball to win the Euroleague award three times with three different teams – with FC Barcelona in 2003, with the Maccabi Tel Aviv also in 2003 and with the Panathinaikos BC in 2009.
Jonas Mekas was born on December 23, 1922 in Semeniškiai, Biržai, Lithuania. He left Lithuania in 1944 because of the war but was caught by the Germans and imprisoned for eight months in a labor camp with his brother. They were able to escape and stayed for two months on a farm near the Danish border. He studied philosophy at the University of Mainz in Germany from 1946 to 1948 before emigrating to the US and settling in Brooklyn, New York with his brother Adolfas. He discovered avant-garde films and started creating his own. Mekas is a writer, curator and filmmaker and considered the godfather of American avant-garde cinema, with his works being exhibited in festivals and museums in America and Europe. He had closely collaborated and interacted with personalities like Yoko Ono, John Lennon and Salvador Dali. He has been teaching film courses at the New York University and the New School for Social Research in Greenwich, New York; at the MIT and at Cooper Union, a private college in Manhattan. Mekas has opened the Jonas Mekas Visual Arts Center in Vilnius on November 10, 2007.
Multi-awarded Eimuntas Nekrošius, a world-renowned Lithuanian theater director was born on November 21, 1952 in Pažobris, a village in the municipality of Raseiniai in Lithuania. He graduated from the Lunacharsky Institute of Theater Arts in Moscow and returned to Lithuania to work at the Vilnius State Youth Theater and the Kaunas State Drama Theater. He had directed numerous plays including Little Tragedies by Aleksandr Pushkin, Hamlet by William Shakespeare, Macbeth and the Children of Rosenthal for the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow, and Faust by Johann Wolfgang Geothe.
Most of his plays exceed viewing time because he likes directing complex and challenging pieces. The plays usually use natural props like ice, stone, wind, fire and water, and all of them are set to soothing and repetitive background music.
Oskaras Koršunovas has directed more than 30 stage plays since 1990. Born in 1969 in Vilnius, he received his Bachelor’s (1988) and Masters (1994) degrees in theater directing from the Music Academy of Lithuania. At the Academic Drama Theater of Lithuania, Oskaras staged more than 20 performances. He moved on to establish his own Oskaras Koršunovas Theater in 1998. He distinguishes himself by focusing on present-day reality, creating plays about absurdity, fragmentation, chaos and paradox. As still quite young theater director, he has participated in more than 100 festivals and is already the recipient of many local and international awards.
He was born as Jonas Mačiulis in 1862. He was a poet and priest in Lithuania whose works became the standard for modern poetry in Lithuania. His name should not be confused with Jonas Mačiulis, a Lithuanian professional basketball player born on February 10, 1985 who is under contract with Armani Jeans Milano. Maironis was from a poor peasant family from the Pasandravis estate. After attending the Kiev University for sometime he transferred to the Kaunas Seminary where he graduated in 1888, He also enrolled at the St. Petersburg Catholic Theological Academy where he graduated in 1892. He became a professor at the Academy, a rector of the Kaunas Seminary and a literature lecturer at Kaunas University. Some of his most notable works, translated into English are Lithuania, Trakai Castle, From Birute Hill, I’ll Vanish Like Smoke, The Earth is Sleeping, Spring, News Has Come, Summer Nights, Evening on the Lake of the Four Forest Cantons, and Jūratė and Kastytis.
Martynas Mažvydas was born on May 21, 1510 near Žemaičių Naumiestis. He was a Lithuanian author who was persecuted by many in the predominantly Catholic Lithuania for his Protestant leanings and in 1546 accepted the invitation of Duke Albrecht of Prussia to study at Albertina University in Konigsberg, now known as Kaliningrad. He was still at the university when he wrote the first printed book in the Lithuanian language, the Catechismusa Prasty Szadei or The Simple Words of Cathechism, printed in Konigsberg in 1547.
Jurga Ivanauskaitė was born on November 14, 1961 in Vilnius. She was considered one of the most talented Lithuanian women. She wrote numerous essays, prose and dramas. She was also a painter. Her first book, publish in 1985 was entitled The Year of Lilies in the Valley or Pakalnučių Metai. She was also the author of Ragan Ir Lietus or The Withc and the Rain, Placebas or Placebo and Citadel of Sleeping Butterflies (Miegančių Drugelių Tvirtovė which were translated into many languages. She was an active supporter of the Tibetan liberation movement after visiting the Far East several times. Jurga died of soft tissue sarcoma at the age of 45 on February 17, 2007 in her hometown of Vilnius.
Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis
He was a consummate artist – a musician and a painter who had created more than 500 paintings and 350 musical works in his short lifetime. Born on September 10, 1875, Mikalojus was an educated Lithuanian, the eldest in a brood of nine. He was a musical prodigy and was able to play by ear when he was three and was able to sight-read music by the time he was seven. He contributed greatly to symbolism and art nouveau in Lithuania. The majority of his works can be viewed at the M. K. Čiurlionis National Art Museum located in Kaunas. There were several posthumous exhibitions of his artworks as well as the establishment of the National M. K. Čiurlionis School of Art in Vilnius and the Čiurlionis Art Gallery in Chicago. Asteroid 2420 Čiurlionis, discovered on October 3, 1975 by Nikolai Stepanovich Chernykh was named in his honor.
Violeta is considered the most beautiful mezzo soprano in the world and the most famous Lithuanian opera prima donna. She has sung in some of the most prestigious opera stages in the world, such as New York, Munich and Milan and had received a Royal Philharmonic Fellowship.
Vytautas Kernagis was a Lithuanian artist who wore many hats. He was a singer-songwriter, an actor, a director, a television announcer and a bard. He also did many firsts for Lithuania. He was a pioneer of Lithuanian sung poetry and recorded his first album in 1978. He took part in the first rock opera of Lithuania entitled Velnio nuotaka; participated in the first musical done in Lithuania, the Ugnies medžioklė su varovais in 1976 and in Šokantis ir dainuojantis mergaitės vieversėlis, the first Lithuanian musical for a puppet theater. He was also a member of the pioneer big beat bands Aisčiai and Rupūs miltai of Lithuania. He died at age 57 from gastric ulcer.
The many political upheavals that happened in Lithuania through the course of its history brought forth many outstanding personalities such as Jonas Basanavičius, who was considered as the patriarch of the Lithuanian nation. He founded the first newspaper in Lithuanian language, Aušra or The Dawn. He was also an activist that worked for the reestablishment of the independence of Lithuania. He was the chairman of the organizing committee of the Congress of Lithuanians in 1905 called the Great Seimas of Vilnius, the first modern national congress that dealt with national concerns rather than social issues. He was also a doctor and scientist and founded the Lithuanian Scientific Society where he also acted as chairman. The society conducted research on the language of Lithuania as well as its various dialects, and also conducted historical, archeological and anthropological researches. Jonas Basanavičius died on February 16, 1927, the same month and day that Lithuania was declared independent as a result of the Great Seimas.
Marija Gimbutienė was born in Vilnius on January 23, 1921. She was a Lithuanian-American archeologist famous for her research cultures of Old Europe during the Neolithic and Bronze ages. Her published works on her research concluded that the Neolithic sites in Lithuania and Europe revealed that there were stable classless societies were the women were the center spiritually and materially. These works spurred the later researches on matriarchal and the Goddess movements.
Vytautas was one of the famous rulers of Lithuania during the glory days of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. He was responsible for annexing several countries and increasing the size of the Grand Duchy. He was still revered as a national hero in modern Lithuania and played a great part in the National Lithuanian Revival during the 19th century.
Mindaugas was the first known Grand Duke of Lithuania and also the country’s only king. He was born circa 1200. Although very little is known about his origins due to the absence of records, it was clear that he and his brother inherited the title because they were included in the list of elder dukes although they were younger when a treaty was signed in 1219 with Galicia-Volhynia. He was able to extend the size of his kingdom during his 10-year reign as the ruler of all the Lithuanians that number between 300,000 to 400,000. There was power struggle with his relatives and he was assassinated by his nephew and another political rival in 1263. The same fate was bestowed on the three immediate successors of Mindaugas.
Robert Lee Zemeckis
Robert Lee Zemeckis was born in Chicago to a Lithuanian American father and an Italian American mother on May 14, 1952. He is a famous Hollywood film director as well as a screenwriter and producer. He was the director who employed state-of-the-art special effects for the Back to the Future film series. He also directed the Academy Award-winning live-action/animation film Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Forrest Gump for which he earned an Academy Award for Best Director. He also pioneered the performance capture techniques for The Polar Express, Beowulf and A Christmas Carol. He revealed that he grew up without art in his family but he was inspired by television and started filming home movies with his parents’ 8 mm film camera.
He changed his last name to Bronson because he thought that Buchinsky is too Russian, although he is in fact Lithuanian, one of the 15 children born to Lithuanian immigrants. His father was of Lipka Tatar ancestry from Druskininkai. His maternal grandparents were from Lithuania who immigrated to the US and settled in the coal mining town of Tamaqua in Pennsylvania. Charles Bronson was christened Charles Dennis Buchinsky. He was the first Buchinsky family member to graduate from high school but his father died when he was 10 and he had to work in the coal mines until he enlisted in the US Army Air Force in 1943 as an aerial gunner and as a B-29 Superfortress crewman in 1945 Bronson was awarded the Purple Heart for his service. After working several odd jobs when the war ended, he joined a theatrical group in Philadelphia. From being a non-credited bit player, he went on to become a successful Hollywood actor, playing various roles, usually where brawn and muscles are needed. He first gained attention in the western film The Magnificent Seven and went on to star in great films such as Once Upon a Time in the West, The Dirty Dozen, The Great Escape, The Mechanic, Rider on the Rain and the very popular series, Death Wish.
He was born on January 20, 1901 in Vilnius to Jewish parents. He was considered as one of the best violinists in the world and his ability to play the violin with stunning precision was considered by critics to be unequalled. His father, Reuven Heifetz, his first mentor, was a violin teacher. Jascha was a child prodigy, and took up the violin at age 3. By the time he was five he was already taking lessons from Ilya D. Malkin, a pupil of Leopold Auer who became Jascha’s teacher in 1910 when he entered the Saint Petersburg Conservatory. At age 9 Jascha made his public debut in Kaunas, formerly Kovno, playing Felix Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor. Jascha gained wide recognition and popularity at a very young age. He played in front of 25,000 spectators in an outdoor concert in 1911 and the police had to be called in to protect him due to the surge of adoring fans. He toured Europe while he was barely in his teens. His family moved to the United States in 1917 and he made his first appearance in front of an American audience on October 27, 1917 at Carnegie Hall in New York where he was an instant success. It was also on that same year that he became an honorary member of the national fraternity for men in music, the Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia at the New England Conservatory of Music, making him the youngest member at age 16.
Juozas Petras Kazickas
Juozas Petras Kazickas, born on April 16, 1918 is of Lithuanian-American descent, He is a self-made multi-millionaire whose assets are worth more than 1 billion litas and in 2006 he was considered as the wealthiest Lithuanian. Juozas took up economics, first at Vytautas Magnus University and finished it at the Vilnius University. He received a scholarship to pursue his post graduate studies at Yale University and received his Ph.D. in 1951 when he successfully defended his thesis about the sovietization of Czechoslovakia. He was offered a professorship position at Georgetown University but turned it down to form Neris International with a fellow Lithuanian. Their company, based in Manhattan became a major coal exporter to Italy and Germany.
Kazickas is into venture capitalism and used to be actively involved with major industries. He became an adviser to the Lithuanian government. He was instrumental in encouraging American manufacturing giants like Coca-Cola, Motorola and Philip Morris to invest in his home country. He established his first private capital communication company Lithuania Litcom in 1991. This later became Omnitel.
He is also involved in philanthropy work. He sponsored the construction of a Catholic Church in Kathmandu, the Church of the Assumption, in memory of his son who was found dead in a hotel in Nepal in 1976. He established the Kazickas Family Foundation in 1998. It is a private foundation that donates to other foundations, gives scholarships and provides fund for Baltic Studies at Washington and Yale universities. It is also supporting the reconstruction of the Royal Palace of Lithuania and the Pažaislis Monastery, the largest monastery complex in Lithuania and the best example of Italian baroque style of architecture in Lithuania.
Nerijus Numavičius is considered the richest businessman in Lithuania, with a net worth valued at 3.8 billion litas in 2011. He is the majority owner (73%) of the VP Group, a group of companies engaged in various retail trade businesses. He was born on May 12, 1968 in Šilalė. He studied public health in Vilnius University and formed his company with fellow medical studies students. He is now a congress member of the Lithuanian Business Confederation and the chairman of the International Business School at Vilnius University.
Bronislovas Lubys, born on October 8, 1938 in Plungė is one of the richest Lithuanians, owning 51% shares of stocks in Achema, the largest producer of fertilizer in the Baltic States, with facilities located in Jonava, with about 1,700 employees. He was the former Prime Minister of Lithuania and was a signatory to the Act of the Re-Establishment of the State of Lithuania or the Act of March 11 (1990).
Other notable people of Lithuanian descent:
Nathan Cummings was the founder of Sara Lee. He was born in 1896 in Canada to Lithuanian immigrants. After acquiring and then selling McCormicks, he acquired several companies and formed them into the Consolidated Grocers Corporation which was changed into the Consolidated Foods Corporation in 1954 because he thought the name sounded old-fashioned. The company name was later changed into Sara Lee in 1985 after the name of one of the company’s best selling brands that Cummings acquired in 1956.
Victor David Brenner (June 12, 1871 – April 5, 1924).
He was born in Lithuania but grew up in the United States. He was an engraver, medalist and sculptor, known for being the designer of the Lincoln penny or the United States Lincoln Wheat Ears Cent.
Alexander Bruce Bialskis
He was the first director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation from 1912 to 1919.
Al Jolson (1886 to 1950) – singer and entertainer
Walter Matthau (1920 to 2000) – American actor
Birute Galdikus (1946) – world-leading authority on orangutans; anthropologist.
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