Soviet dissidents once ridiculed the mumbling and senility of Leonid Brezhnev, who led the Soviet Union until his death in 1982 at age 76. Two more aged Soviet helmsmen died after Brezhnev in just three years before Mikhail Gorbachev took over in 1985 — prompting Russians to joke about "season tickets" to their funerals.
Dictator Josef Stalin's death in 1953 came as a surprise to average Soviet citizens, although his health had been deteriorating for years.
Mansur Mirovalev contributed to this report
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