He was of Russian, German, French, Italian and Ethiopian descent, with ancestral connections to Russian nobility as well as the Ethiopian Royal Family.
He served as a private soldier with the British Army's Royal Sussex Regiment, during the Second World War. He was batman for David Niven and the two became life-long friends.
He had a career as an actor, director, and writer, appearing in more than 100 film and television productions.
He received an Oscar for his role in Spartacus.
He was a regular guest of numerous talk shows and late night comedians.
He made a comedy record in the late 1950s, "Mock Mozart" and "Phoney Folk Lore". He had been performing these as party pieces. Overdubbing allowed him to sing multiple parts.
He was also an internationally acclaimed TV journalist.