Mr. Tolstoy (also known as Serge) is among the 200 lineal descendants of his great-grandfather, a nobleman of Imperial Russia who wrote “War and Peace” and “Anna Karenina” and whose family given the title “count” by Peter the Great. Leo Tolstoy had 13 children before his death in 1910. Most of them fled to Russia after the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution led to the assassination of Czar Nicholas II and his family and extermination of thousands of Russian aristocrats.
After spending most of his life in Europe, mostly playing, Mr. Tolstoy lived in Washington in the late 1960s. And he spent most of the money he bet on horses, The Washington Post reported in 2010, noting his presence six days a week on Laurel, Bowie, Timonium and Pimlico avenues. “I made my bread and butter along the way,” he said. “Many wealthy women wanted to marry me and become Countess Tolstoy. It’s too late now, but I could become a millionaire.”
For three years, he lived in a low-income, assisted living facility in the District’s Foggy Bottom community. Before that, he was evicted from a high-rent apartment where he lived beyond his means. He called himself “the homeless number.”
Sergei Tolstoy was the only son of Vera Tolstoy, one of the author’s grandchildren who fled Russia in the 1920s. He lived in Yugoslavia at the time, where he became a secretary of a Czech timber baron, Odo Bakovsky. They married in an Islamic ceremony and had a son, Serge, born on October 20, 1922.
In a short time, Bakovsky lost most of his wealth, and Vera Tolstoy began to work in a Prague jewelry store. The marriage was contentious, according to a press release at the time of their divorce in 1926 – reportedly given that Bakovsky was married to another woman in that time.
To make matters worse, Bakovsky and Serge left for Czechoslovakia, but the boy was soon returned to his mother. Tolstoy took the name of Sergei. His mother was said at the time to have considered herself an aristocrat and her husband a proletarian, and she wanted to raise her only son as a “Count Tolstoy rather than a proper Bakovsky. “
“From the beginning, my life was strange,” Sergei Tolstoy told the Baltimore Evening Sun six years later. “Who was kidnapped? Who is fatherless? I remember, my first toy was four or five boxes, to make a train. There is no money.
He went to boarding schools in France and lived with his mother for a while. During World War II, he told The Sun, he was recruited on a special mission for the US Army to lead intelligence operations against the Russians based on his comments. To explain why he was ineligible for military benefits, he said that he did his work under the name of “Captain Longfellow.”
He spent the post-war years in Paris, making friends with Prince Aly Khan and other young gamblers who frequented the casinos. He told The Sun that he was not ready for a real job but learned Russian and was successful for a short time in the import business. Another film was the Normandy invasion drama “The Longest Day” (1962), where he played a German soldier.
At the behest of his mother, who lived in Washington and became a Russian language expert with Voice of America, Mr. Tolstoy in the United States. She didn’t approve of his bad lifestyle, he said, and forced her to marry him. The woman’s name is Natasha, and she’s another Russian immigrant, but she’s hard to raise. The marriage lasted seven weeks, she told The Sun, because she just enjoys cooking and doing her hair. “That’s all,” he said. “I didn’t pay much attention.”
Mr. Tolstoy told The Post in 2010 that his income was just $213 a month from Social Security, and $64 went toward his rent in St. Louis. Mary’s Court, a low-rise building where he lived for 30 years.
“I live like a bohemian,” he told The Post. “I beg you, you are a thief.”
His mother died in 1999, leaving him with no immediate survivors.
After his recovery, Mr. Tolstoy to family gatherings in Yasnaya Polyana, the country 200 kilometers south of Moscow where Leo Tolstoy spent most of his life. The land was expropriated by the Soviet government in 1921 and made into a museum where his writing is still appreciated as a Russian cultural treasure, despite the author’s aristocratic status.
In recent years, Mr. Tolstoy suffered serious injuries in the crash near his home and was treated at a hospital in Rockville, Md., by Canarte.
There he contemplated his long life. “They tell me it’s because I have blue blood,” she told The Post in 2016. “But every time I look, it’s red.”