Yakov Naumovich Pokhis (Russian: Яков Наумович Похис, Ukrainian: Яків Наумович Похис; born 24 January 1951), better known as Yakov Smirnoff, is a Ukrainian-born American comedian, painter and teacher. He was popular in the 1980s for comedy performances in which he used irony and word play to contrast life under the Communist regime in his native Soviet Union with life in the United States, delivered in heavily accented English. He has a theatre in Branson, Missouri, where he performs year-round. Yakov is also a professor at Missouri State University and Drury University where he teaches "The Business of Laughter."
Smirnoff is also a painter and has frequently featured the Statue of Liberty in his art since receiving his U.S. citizenship.
On the night of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, he started a painting inspired by his feelings about the event, based on an image of the Statue of Liberty. Just prior to the first anniversary of the attacks, he paid US$100,000 for his painting to be transformed into a large mural. Its dimensions were 200 feet by 135 feet (61 m by 41 m).
The mural, titled "America's Heart," is a pointillist-style piece, with one brush-stroke for each victim of the attacks. Sixty volunteers from the Sheet Metal Workers Union erected the mural on a damaged skyscraper overlooking the ruins of the World Trade Center. The mural remained there until November 2003, when it was removed because of storm damage. Various pieces of the mural can now be seen on display at his theater in Branson, Missouri.
The only stipulation he put on the hanging of the mural was that his name not be listed as the painter. He signed it: "The human spirit is not measured by the size of the act, but by the size of the heart."
To read more about Yakov Smirnoff, visit his page on Wikipedia. To read more about the "America's Heart" mural, visit his website.