Mikhalkov was born in Moscow, Russian Empire, to Vladimir Alexandrovich Mikhalkov and Olga Mikhailovna (née Glebova). Mikhalkov stemmed from the noble family of Mikhalkovs and had tsarist admirals, governors, and princes among his grandparents. Since the 1930s, he has rivalled Korney Chukovsky, Samuil Marshak and Agniya Barto as the most popular poet writing for Russophone children. His poems about enormously tall "Uncle Styopa" ("Дядя Стёпа") enjoyed particular popularity. Uncle Styopa is a friendly policeman always ready to rescue cats stuck up trees, and to perform other helpful deeds. In English, his name translates as Uncle Steeple.
As a 29-year-old in 1942, Mikhalkov's work drew the attention of the Soviet Union's leader Joseph Stalin, who commissioned him to write lyrics for a new national anthem. At the time, the country was deeply embroiled in World War II and Stalin wanted a Russian theme for the national anthem, to replace the Internationale.
Mikhalkov penned words to accompany a musical score by the composer Alexander Alexandrov (1883–1946) that became known as National Anthem of the Soviet Union. The new anthem was presented to Stalin in the summer of 1943 and was introduced as the country's new anthem on January 1, 1944.
On the death of Stalin in 1953, the lyrics, which mentioned him by name, were discarded during the process of destalinization and the anthem continued to be used without words. Mikhalkov wrote new lyrics in 1970, but they were not submitted to the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet until May 27, 1977. The new lyrics, which removed any reference to Stalin, were approved on September 1 and were made official with the printing of the new Soviet Constitution in October 1977.
During the Soviet era, Mikhalkov and his wife, Natalia Konchalovskaya sometimes worked for the KGB, for example by presenting undercover KGB staff officers to foreign diplomats, as in the case of French ambassador Dejean who was compromised by the KGB in 1950s. His younger brother Mikhail Mikhalkov was also a notable writer as well as a KGB agent.
Use of the Soviet anthem, with Mikhalkov's lyrics, continued until 1991, when it was retired by President Boris Yeltsin after the USSR disintegrated. However, when Vladimir Putin took over from Yeltsin in 2000, he began to clamor for a restoration of Alexandrov’s music in place of Yeltsin's choice.
Mikhalkov was 87 years old by this time and long since retired; in fact, he is better known in modern Russia (or rather – by the new generation of Russians) as the father of popular film makers Nikita Mikhalkov and Andrei Konchalovsky – who had dropped part of his name "Mikhalkov-Konchalovsky" when he left Russia. But when Putin’s push to restore the old anthem began to pick up momentum, he picked up his pen once again, and wrote new lyrics to go with Alexandrov’s score. The result was the National Anthem of Russia, which was officially adopted in 2001.
Apart from the national anthem, Mikhalkov produced a great number of satirical plays and provided scripts for several Soviet comedies. He also successfully revived a long derelict genre of satirical fable. He was awarded three Stalin Prizes (1941, 1942, 1950) and numerous other awards.
He resided in Moscow. On his 90th birthday in 2003, Putin personally visited him at his home to present him with the 2nd class Order For Service to Fatherland, citing him for his contributions to culture of Russia. Mikhalkov was also decorated with a Hero of Socialist Labor and the Order of Lenin, among others, for his work during the Soviet period.
In 1936 Mikhalkov married Natalia Petrovna Konchalovskaya (1903–1988), granddaughter of Vasily Surikov. They remained married for 53 years until her death. In 1997 Mikhalkov married physics professor Yulia Valeryevna Subbotina.
Mikhalkov died in his sleep at the age of 96 in a Moscow hospital. His funeral, held at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, was attended by family, friends, and government officials. He was buried at Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow with full military honors.
From the corresponding article in the Russian Wikipedia Order of St. Andrew (13 March 2008) - the highest Russian honour; for outstanding contributions to the development of national literature and for many years of creativity and social activities.
Order For Merit to the Fatherland, 2nd Class (13 March 2003) - for outstanding contributions to the development of national culture.
Order of Honour (13 March 1998) - for great personal contributions to the development of domestic multi-national culture.
Order of Friendship (20 February 1993) - for great personal contributions to the development of arts and literature, and the strengthening of inter-ethnic cultural relations and productive social activities.
Hero of Socialist Labour (1973)
Order of Lenin (1939, 1963, 1973, 1983)
Order of the October Revolution (1971)
Order of the Red Banner (28 February 1945) - for exemplary performance in command assignments at the front in the struggle against the Nazi invaders, and for displaying courage and heroism.
Order of the Patriotic War, 1st Degree (1985)
Order of the Red Banner of Labour (1967, 1988)
Order of the Red Star (7 March 1943) - for exemplary performance in command assignments at the front in the struggle against the Nazi invaders, and for displaying courage and heroism.
Lenin Prize (1970) - for poetry of recent years for primary-school children
State Prize of the USSR (1978) - for the Russian satirical newsreel "Wick" (latest edition)
Stalin Prize, 2nd Degree (1941) - for poetry for schoolchildren
Stalin Prize, 2nd Degree (1942) - for the film script "Front-Girlfriend"
Stalin Prize, 2nd Degree (1950) - for the plays "Ilya Golovin" and "I want to go home"
State Prize of the RSFSR Stanilavsky (1977) - for the satirical play "Foam", performed at the Moscow Theatre of Satire
Order of the Blessed Prince Dmitri of the Russian Orthodox Church "For mercy" (1998)
Order of St. Sergius, 2nd Class (1993), Russian Orthodox Church (1993)