While sipping coffee with other dancers, minutes before he was to board a plane to return to Moscow, Nureyev made a split-second decision to run.
Soviet guards tried to block the way, but he managed to reach a French policeman, shouting "Protect me!"
He was granted political asylum and became a naturalized Austrian citizen in 1982.
On January 6, 1993, Nureyev died at a Paris hospital from cardiac complications from AIDS.
Nureyev joined the Grand Ballet du Marquis de Cuevas in Paris, and made his first appearance in 1961 at the Royal Ballet in London. He directed the Paris Opera Ballet from 1983-89, retiring to take the lead role in a traveling version of the Broadway musical The King and I.
He returned to Paris in 1992 to choreograph La Bayadere, Marius Petipa's 19th century classic. That year, he made his American debut as a conductor in New York with American Ballet.
By CBS.com Associated Producers, Joshua Platt and Andre Rodriguez