In the summer of 1983, there was no girl in the world who was more popular. Not Drew Barrymore, not Heather O’Rourke… no one.
10-year-old Samantha Smith became an overnight sensation around the globe simply because of a letter she wrote (and for the response she got back).
In November 1982, Samantha wrote a letter to new Soviet General Secretary Yuri Andropov, asking him (among other things):
“Are you going to vote to have a war or not?”
In the spring of 1983, she got her response from ol’ Yuri:
“We want peace for ourselves and for all peoples of the planet. For our children and for you, Samantha.”
Andropov also invited Samantha to come visit the Soviet Union, which she did July of ’83, and even though she didn’t get the chance to visit Andropov himself, she did succeed in making the world seem just a little bit smaller, at least for a while.
Sure, her detractors labeled her an instrument of Soviet propaganda, and maybe she was (a little), but in the bigger picture, she was the best ambassador for world peace that we saw during our favorite decade.
Two years after her Russian visit, Samantha tragically lost her life (at age 13) in a small plane crash in her native Maine, but her legacy is alive and well even today. Along with the monuments to her memory in Maine and Moscow, there are two schools (one in Washington state and one in Queens) that bear her name, along with an asteroid and a mountain in Russia.
And though she never lived to see the collapse of the Soviet Union, we’ll argue that she single-handedly got the ball rolling.
We ♥ Samantha Smith.