Sure, Clinton played his sax on TV, Bush groped Angela Merkel, but Boris Yeltsin gave speeches drunk, tossed women into the water, danced on stage, and generally did all manner of laughable things. But he also turned back a hardline coup by jumping atop a tank and dragged Russia kicking and screaming toward democracy.
Not since cigar chomping, Scotch drinking Winston Churchill led Britain through World War II has the world had a more colorful leader. The Canadian Broadcasting Company called it “strange behavior,” noting:
Yeltsin’s behaviour became increasingly bizarre during his years in office as rumours of excessive drinking swirled. In 1994, the burly, bear-like Yeltsin jumped on the stage during a visit to Germany to conduct a brass band while singing and dancing. Later the same year, he failed to get off a plane during an official visit to Ireland. Russian officials told Irish officials that Yeltsin was unwell, while the common belief among journalists covering the visit was that he was drunk.
In 1997, he unexpectedly announced during a visit to Sweden that he would cut Russia’s nuclear arsenal by one-third and work toward a total world ban on nuclear weapons. Russian officials scrambled to correct the president.
The following year, during a banquet with Pope John Paul II, Yeltsin toasted his “love of Italian women,” and on another occasion, played wooden spoons on the balding head of Askar Akayev, the president of ex-Soviet state Kyrgyzstan.
He made headlines in Canada for taking former Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney boar hunting in 1993, a move that angered animal activists.
Yeltsin was born to a poor peasant family in the Ural mountains and studied engineering and worked as a construction manager before joining the Communist party.