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Klaus Kinski

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Also Known As: Niklaus Gunther Nakszynski Died: November 23, 1991
Born: Cause of Death: natural causes
Birth Place: Poland Profession: actor

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

l extras. In a mad rage, he swung his sword, hitting one of the actors in the head with brutal force. The actor was fortunate enough to have been wearing a helmet. Instead of killing him, which the blow likely would have done, Kinski only ripped open a two-inch gash.But the most infamous incident involved Herzog himself, when Kinski threatened to walk off and began loading his belongings onto a raft with the intention of leaving for good. Aware that Kinski was notorious for never coming back, Herzog threatened the actor with his own rifle and assured him that he had enough bullets for both of them. From then on, Kinski behaved and gave one of the best performances of his career, which was highlighted by the final scene where Aguirre floats on a raft populated by the festering bodies of his crew and dozens of screeching tree monkeys. Kinski¿s silent performance of a man driven to insanity by greed has remained one of the most tortured and penetrating ever recorded on film. After "Aguirre," Kinski went back to the typical schlock he participated in prior to working with Herzog, playing a sadistic bounty hunter who tortures his victims and skins them alive in "My Name Is Shanghai Joe" (1972), a...

l extras. In a mad rage, he swung his sword, hitting one of the actors in the head with brutal force. The actor was fortunate enough to have been wearing a helmet. Instead of killing him, which the blow likely would have done, Kinski only ripped open a two-inch gash.

But the most infamous incident involved Herzog himself, when Kinski threatened to walk off and began loading his belongings onto a raft with the intention of leaving for good. Aware that Kinski was notorious for never coming back, Herzog threatened the actor with his own rifle and assured him that he had enough bullets for both of them. From then on, Kinski behaved and gave one of the best performances of his career, which was highlighted by the final scene where Aguirre floats on a raft populated by the festering bodies of his crew and dozens of screeching tree monkeys. Kinski¿s silent performance of a man driven to insanity by greed has remained one of the most tortured and penetrating ever recorded on film. After "Aguirre," Kinski went back to the typical schlock he participated in prior to working with Herzog, playing a sadistic bounty hunter who tortures his victims and skins them alive in "My Name Is Shanghai Joe" (1972), a grotesque doctor who thinks he¿s gotten away with murder in "Death Smiles on a Murderer" (1972) and an industrialist who develops a drug that halts the aging process in "Lifespan" (1976).

Between his exemplary work with Herzog and the dreadful movies he made for a paycheck, it seemed as though Kinski was charting a course along two divergent career paths. After playing the titular "Jack the Ripper" (1976), he appeared in the soft core erotica "Madame Claude" (1977), before starring in forgettable movies like "The Liberator" (1977) and "The Night of the Assassin" (1977). Nothing was worthy of the talent on display in "Aguirre" until he once again resumed working with Herzog on "Nosferatu the Vampyre" (1979), a stylistic remake of the famed 1922 silent film where the director concurrently shot both German- and English-language versions. In a change of pace, Kinski kicked up little fuss during this particular production, and again delivered for Herzog another top notch performance. Right on the heels of "Nosferatu," actor and director went to work on "Woyzeck" (1979), a bizarre period drama in which Kinski played a soldier-turned-killing machine whose last spark of humanity is extinguished when he murders his true love (Eva Mattes). After these two sterling performances, Kinski slipped back to low-brow movies like the cheap psychological thriller "Schizoid" (1980) and another soft core sex movie "Fruits of Passion" (1981).

Kinski once again rejoined fellow conspirator Werner Herzog for "Fitzcarraldo" (1982), their most accomplished work outside of "Aguirre." Once again deftly tapping into his manic persona, Kinski played an obsessive impresario whose unflinching desire to bring an opera house into the deepest jungles of South America prompts him to maneuver a 300-ton steamship over several mountains ¿ a feat Herzog performed for real without special effects, much to the mounting frustration of his overworked crew. Initially Herzog had filmed about 40 percent of the movie with Jason Robards in the lead, but the actor fell ill and forced the director to recast the role. Eventually, he settled on Kinski, who regressed to his former ways, and began lashing out at the cast and crew at will. One incident where Kinski endlessly ranted at production manager Walter Saxer over the quality of the food was captured on film and included in "My Best Fiend" (1999), Herzog¿s documentary chronicling their turbulent relationship. At one point, Kinski¿s repeated ranting had gotten so out of hand that the tribal chief of the native South American extras offered in all seriousness to kill the actor ¿ a proposition Herzog declined because he needed Kinski to finish the movie. Despite the on-set troubles, Kinski delivered one of the best performances in Herzog¿s most ambitious film ¿ both their obsessive personalities, usually in sharp conflict, fused perfectly together to create a masterful film.

Unfortunately, Kinski would never achieve such artistic heights again, even though he did collaborate one last time with Herzog later in the decade. The actor went back to making movies that were far below his talent level in exchange for a quick paycheck. Such forgettable films like "Codename: Wildgeese" (1984), "Creature" (1985), the dreadful "Crawlspace" (1986) and the spaghetti Western "Rough Justice" (1987), in which he played a licentious gunslinger, littered his résumé. Occasionally he landing supporting roles in average movies like "The Little Drummer Girl" (1984) and "Timestalkers" (1987), but he was unable or unwilling to challenge himself. Meanwhile, he made his fifth and final movie with Herzog, "Cobra Verde" (1987), playing a 19th century Brazilian sent to West Africa to round up slaves, only to help the natives overthrow a mad king and take the reigns of power himself. The least well-received of the duo¿s collaborations, "Cobra Verde" nonetheless ranked higher than a vast majority of Kinski¿s work outside his efforts with Herzog.

Kinski went on to publish his autobiography, All I Need is Love (1988), in which he gladly portrayed himself as growing up in poverty and later becoming endlessly obsessed with sex. German actress Marlene Dietrich threatened to sue for libel, undoubtedly over Kinski¿s description of their well-known liaison, while his own neglected daughter, Nastassja Kinski, also threatened her own suit, which she quickly withdrew without explanation. For his part, Herzog later commented that Kinski¿s claims were largely fictitious and set about correcting some of the record with his documentary, "My Best Fiend," which showed a more dimensional Kinski ¿ one who was self-effacing and personable, as well as raving mad. Kinski resumed his acting career by reprising the centuries-old vampire for the Italian-made horror film, "Nosferatu a Venezia" (1988), and made his one and only film as a director, "Paganini" (1988), a near-pornographic biography of the notorious 18th century composer, Niccolo Paganini, that once again drew a lawsuit from producers and ended Kinski¿s acting career; he would never again appear before or behind a camera again. Three years later, on Nov. 23, 1991, Kinski¿s fast living finally caught up and he died from a heart attack at 65 years old, thus ending one of the most storied lives and careers film has ever known. For all the mania he displayed on screen and off, there was no doubt that Kinski delivered some of cinema¿s most intensely mesmerizing performances.

By Shawn Dwyerski snatched the microphone away, pushed the man aside while calling him names and stormed away from the jeering crowd. Kinski eventually stopped the tour, causing him to break several contracts. It was around this time that Herzog approached Kinski to star in "Aguirre, the Wrath of God" (1972). Despite the small paycheck due to Herzog¿s total budget of little more than $350,000, Kinski agreed.

Shot deep in the jungles of Peru, "Aguirre" was an historical epic about a doomed voyage taken by Spanish conquistadors in search of the mythical city of El Dorado and the filming of which became cinematic legend. The manic Kinski was a natural to play the ambitious and greedy Aguirre, who takes command of the expedition even unto to the death. Of course, Kinski was his typically abusive self behind the scenes, going off on wild tangents for untold numbers of reasons; Herzog later claimed Kinski ranted just to be the center of attention. One night while trying to sleep, Kinski heard a group of extras drinking and playing cards nearby, and fired three shots from his rifle into their tent. Luckily no one was killed, though one extra lost the tip of his finger. In another instance, Kinski committed another violent outburst while shooting a fight scene with severa

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Filmographyclose complete filmography

DIRECTOR:

1.
  Paganini (1989) Director

CAST: (feature film)

1.
2.
 My Best Fiend (1999)
3.
4.
 Paganini (1989) Nicolo Paganini
5.
 Cobra Verde (1988) Francisco Manoel Da Silva
6.
 Nosferatu a Venezia (1988) Nosferatu
7.
 Timestalkers (1987) Dr Joseph Cole
8.
 Caballero del Dragon, El (1986) Boetius
9.
 Crawlspace (1986) Dr Karl Gunther
10.
 Kommando Leopard (1985) Colonel Silveira
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

1930:
Moved with parents to Berlin (date approximate)
1944:
Drafted into the German army at age 16
:
On second day of combat in the Netherlands, Kinski was injured and captured by Allied forces and spent the rest of WWII in a British prison-of-war camp
:
Gave poetry recitals in small German cabarets and later larger halls
:
Acted on stage in Tubingen and Baden-Baden
1948:
West German film acting debut, "Morituri"
1951:
First English-language film, "Decision Before Dawn"
1960:
Moved to Berlin
1961:
Appeared on German TV in "Die Kurve"
1989:
Directorial and screenwriting debut with the unreleased feature, "Paganini" (also actor)
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Notes

"There are great contradictions in the man, between violence and sensitivity, liberty and domination. You can see it in the eyes...which are as blue as hyacinths. And you can judge it from the lavishly wide, sensual mouth...a mouth to suck the sleep out of Sleeping Beauty or to tear at raw meat."--David Thomson in AMERICAN FILM (quoted in Film Dope, Volume 30)

"Paradoxically, the amount of junk he has played in seems only to add to his prestige, fostering a myth of the true artist who maintains his talent and integrity even when mired in dung. But in looking around this slum of a filmography which, like most slums, does have a few redeeming areas, one is struck by the contrast between Kinski's defiantly mercenary justifications ('I told them never mind sending me the script, just send me the cheque.') and the actual performances he gave. Far from suggesting indifference, they indicate the oppoosite, a frantic desire that the audience be watching no one on the screen but him...even when he's only on the periphery of a scene, Kinski is usally steigering away, glowering and sucking his fingers. This is not a disinterested performer."--Bob Baker (Film Dope, Volume 30)

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
Gislinde Kinski. Married in the 1950s; divorced three years later.
wife:
Ruth Brigitte Tocki. Writer. Second wife; mother of Nastassja Kinski.
wife:
Minhoi Wiggers. Third wife; mother of Nanhoi/Nikolai.

Family close complete family listing

brother:
Achim Nakszynski.
brother:
Arne Nakszynski.
sister:
Inge Nakszynski.
daughter:
Pola Kinski. Actor.
daughter:
Nastassja Kinski. Actor, model. Born January 24, 1960; mother Ruth Brigitte Tocki.
son:
Nikolai Kinski. Actor. Born July 31, 1976; mother Minhoi Wiggers.
VIEW COMPLETE FAMILY LISTING

Bibliography close complete biography

"Ich bin so wild nach deinem Erdbeermund"
"All I Need Is Love: A Memoir"
"Kinski Uncut: The Autobiography of Klaus Kinski"

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