He was born Vyacheslav Vasilevich Tikhonov on February 8, 1928, in a small town of Pavlov Posad near Moscow, USSR, (now Moscow, Russia). His father, Vasili Romanovich Tikhonov, was a technician at a local garment factory, and his mother, Valentina Vyacheslavovna, was a kindergarten teacher. Tikhonov’s first profession was that of a metal-worker during the Second World War. The war later became the main theme in some of his most notable film works. Young Tikhonov was obsessed with movies, his favorite actors were Nikolai Cherkasov as Aleksandr Nevsky, and Boris Babochkin as Chapaev. From 1945-1950 Tikhonov studied at the State Institute of VGIK and soon made his film debut in Molodaya gvardiya (1948) by director Sergei Gerasimov. During the filming of Molodaya Gvardiya Tikhonov met his first wife, Nonna Mordyukova. Their son, Vladimir Tikhonov, also became an actor, however, he suffered from a drug dependency and died. Vyacheslav Tikhonov met his second wife during the filming of Dozhivyom do ponedelnika (1968).
In the course of his career Tikhonov worked with some of the best Russian directors. He worked with director Stanislav Rostotsky in five films, starting in Delo bylo v Penkove (1957). Their collaboration was especially fruitful in Dozhivem do ponedelnika (1969) and Belyy Bim – Chyornoe ukho (1977), which received an Academy Award-nomination. Before that, Tikhonov appeared in the leading role as Prince Bolkonsky (replacing Innokenti Smoktunovsky in the role) in Voyna i mir (1967), an epic film by actor-director Sergei Bondarchuk. In 1969 the film won the Academy Award as the best foreign-language film.
Tikhonov’s most notable role on television was as Russian spy Stirlitz (Col. Maxim Isayev) in “Semnadtsat mgnoveniy vesny” (1973), a popular TV series about a Russian intelligence agent operating in Berlin during WWII. The dual identity of Tikhonov’s character is well played, and the film has won him millions of loyal fans. Tikhonov’s consistent popularity made his character, Stirlitz, a hero in hundreds of jokes. After the role as Stirlitz, Tikhonov became typecast as a Soviet military character, and played heroic KGB officers and generals in several Soviet films during the 70s and 80s. In 2002 Vyacheslav Tikhonov suffered a heart attack. However, he soon recovered and returned to acting. In 2004 he played a role in a film produced by his daughter Anna Tikhonova. Then he appeared in Andersen. Zhizn bez lyubvi (2006) by director Eldar Ryazanov.
Vyacheslav Tikhonov was awarded the State Prize of the USSR and the State Prize of Russian Federation. He received numerous government awards and decorations and was designated People’s Actor of the USSR (1974). Vyacheslav Tikhonov is currently residing in his country house in the prestigious village of Nikolina Gora, a suburb of Moscow.