TCM Archive Materials VIEW ALL ARCHIVES (1)
Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY
A former U.S. Army captain who turned to songwriting and helped rejuvenate the country-and-western scene in the late 1960s and early 1970s with songs like "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down," "Help Me Make It Through the Night" and "Me and Bobby McGee," Kris Kristofferson made the rare successful segue into films. Making his acting debut as a singer in Dennis Hopper's "The Last Movie" (1971), Kristofferson quickly gained stature as an actor with "Cisco Pike" (1972), "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore" (1974) and "A Star is Born" (1976). Though years of alcoholism and later triple-bypass heart surgery slowed down the momentum throughout his career, Kristofferson routinely bounced back better than before, establishing himself as a grizzled veteran performer and bona fide music legend.Kristofferson was born on June 22, 1936 in Brownsville, TX. His father, Henry, was a major general in the Air Force, whose frequent relocations eventually brought the family to San Mateo, CA where Kristofferson attended high school and became a Golden Gloves boxer. After studying creative writing at Pomona College, in 1958, Kristofferson won a Rhodes scholarship and attended the University of Oxford, earning a master's degree in...
A former U.S. Army captain who turned to songwriting and helped rejuvenate the country-and-western scene in the late 1960s and early 1970s with songs like "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down," "Help Me Make It Through the Night" and "Me and Bobby McGee," Kris Kristofferson made the rare successful segue into films. Making his acting debut as a singer in Dennis Hopper's "The Last Movie" (1971), Kristofferson quickly gained stature as an actor with "Cisco Pike" (1972), "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore" (1974) and "A Star is Born" (1976). Though years of alcoholism and later triple-bypass heart surgery slowed down the momentum throughout his career, Kristofferson routinely bounced back better than before, establishing himself as a grizzled veteran performer and bona fide music legend.
Kristofferson was born on June 22, 1936 in Brownsville, TX. His father, Henry, was a major general in the Air Force, whose frequent relocations eventually brought the family to San Mateo, CA where Kristofferson attended high school and became a Golden Gloves boxer. After studying creative writing at Pomona College, in 1958, Kristofferson won a Rhodes scholarship and attended the University of Oxford, earning a master's degree in English Literature and developing a taste for poetry - particularly William Blake - which informed his lifelong desire to write songs. But instead of pursuing that passion right away, Kristofferson instead joined the Army and flew helicopters. He was planning on starting a teaching job at West Point, but after a few weeks spent in Nashville with musicians and songwriters, his life's goal changed forever. "It was like my salvation," he later said to NPR's Terry Gross. After developing a thriving music career - which included Janis Joplin's heart-wrenching take on "Me and Bobby McGee" - Kristofferson made the transition into acting.
Kristofferson made his first big acting splash with a strong performance in Sam Peckinpah's "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid" (1973), playing the famed outlaw who ignores the advice of his old comrade-turned-lawman (James Coburn) to flee to Mexico, choosing instead to meet his fate on his own terms. It grew apparent with each role, that the actor's weathered good looks inflamed the hidden longings of women with his romantic roles opposite Ellen Burstyn ("Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore"), Sarah Miles ("The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with The Sea") and Barbra Streisand ("A Star Is Born"), but his rugged vulnerability appealed to men as well. Meanwhile, he seemed headed for a big film career, but instead, had the misfortune of starring in Michael Cimino's disastrous "Heaven's Gate" (1980), which seemed to put an end to his onscreen career. Kristofferson did rebound with two pictures for director Alan Rudolph ("Song Writer" 1984; "Trouble in Mind" 1985), but he found more substantive roles on television during the 1980s.
Despite the fallout from Cimino's bomb, he continued to act in films that were smaller in scope. In addition to starring as Willie Nelson's friend in Rudolph's "Songwriter," he also received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song Score, losing out to Prince's Purple Rain. In a recycled plot that had already made the rounds on large and small screens, he flopped with "Welcome Home" (1989), playing a presumed dead Air Force officer back after 17 years in Cambodia. He costarred in the little-seen Civil War drama "Pharaoh's Army" (1995), before demonstrating his range in playing bad guys as a racist sheriff in John Sayles' "Lone Star" (1996), rejuvenating an A-list career nearly two decades in abeyance.
Having appeared on television since the early 1970s in music specials, Kristofferson made his TV acting debut alongside Muhammad Ali in the 1979 NBC miniseries "Freedom Road;" also appearing in two more acclaimed miniseries, "Blood and Orchids" (CBS, 1986) and "Amerika" (ABC, 1987) - the latter proposing a world in which the Nazis won World War II. He acted with friends Nelson and Johnny Cash in ABC's "The Last Days of Frank and Jesse James," and joined them and Waylon Jennings for the CBS remake of "Stagecoach" (both 1986), executive-produced by Nelson who would executive produce (and act in) two more CBS vehicles, "Pair of Aces" (1990) and its sequel "Another Pair of Aces: Three of a Kind" (1991). He worked steadily throughout the early 1990s in fare like Arnold Schwarzenegger's TV-directing debut, "Christmas in Connecticut" (TNT, 1992), Showtime's "Sodbusters" (1994), and the Family Channel's "Tad" (1995), playing Abraham Lincoln in a tale of his presidency told from the point-of-view of his youngest son.
Kristofferson, who had flourished since "Lone Star," was just warming up with the features "Fire Down Below" and "Girls Night" (both 1997), as well as a TNT movie "Two for Texas" (1998). He appeared in two pictures that opened on the same day in 1998 - "Blade," as an obdurate vampire hunter, and "Dance With Me," as the lone and remote owner of a dance studio. But even these were just mere preludes for perhaps his finest work ever, playing a character based on novelist James Jones in the Merchant-Ivory vehicle, "A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries," adapted from the novel by Jones' daughter Kaylie. In the deft hands of the Merchant-Ivory team (including screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala), Kristofferson soared above his "sensitive man" typecasting to deliver a multidimensional portrait of an assured but vulnerable patriarch; a role that fit the father of eight like a glove. In 1998, he wrapped an additional four projects; two for television - the ABC miniseries "Tom Clancy's Netforce" and the CBS movie "Outlaw Justice" - and two for the big screen - DreamWorks' "The Joyriders" and "Limbo," reuniting him with the agent of his rebirth, director John Sayles.
As narrator for "Journey Inside Tibet" (1999), Kristofferson described the journey of flutist Paul Horn to Tibet to become the first Western musician to record inside the sacred temple of Potala Palace. In "The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack" (2000), he appeared as himself in this intimate portrait of folk music hero Ramblin' Jack Elliott. Kristofferson then made a rare foray into mainstream Hollywood fare with "Planet of the Apes" (2001), playing the captive human, Karubi, a forgettable role in a remake that turned off fans of the original. He later revived the character of Whistler, mentor to half-human, half-vampire Blade (Wesley Snipes), in "Blade II" (2002). In "Chelsea Walls" (2002), an art house film by first-time director Ethan Hawke, he displayed his acting chops as a middle-aged novelist struggling with his latest novel and an alcohol problem. Meanwhile, his collaboration with Sayles continued in "Silver City" (2004), a satire about politics and murder in the "new west" of Colorado.
Kristofferson once again played Whistler in "Blade: Trilogy" (2004) - the third installment of the horror trilogy that played more like a videogame than a movie - before appearing as a mental institution doctor in the thriller, "The Jacket" (2005) opposite Adrien Brody. Meanwhile, Kristofferson was rewarded for his outstanding music career, earning an induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2004 and receiving the Johnny Mercer Award from the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2006. He continued racking up acting credits, taking supporting roles in "Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story" (2005), "Fast Food Nation" (2006) and "The Wendell Baker Story" (2007).
Filmographyclose complete filmography
CAST: (feature film)
Milestones close milestones
He won first and third place in the 1958 Atlantic Monthly Collegiate Short Story Contest.
Received honorary doctorate from Pomona College (his alma mater) in 1974
Kristofferson was inducted the Songwriter's Hall of Fame.
He received Grammy nominations for Best Song in 1971 for both "Help Me Make It Through the Night" and "Me and Bobby McGee". He also received Grammy nominations for Best Country Song in 1971 ("For the Good Times") and in 1973 ("Why Me?").
"I ... once turned down a film because I didn't feel that I physically matched the guy. That was the Woody Guthrie story, 'Bound for Glory.' And I regretted it." --Kris Kristofferson in New York Post, February 8, 1995.
"Going to Maui was the best move I ever made. It's such a slower pace of life. I can see why people wonder if I don't get bored. With five kids, it's kind of hard to." --Kris Kristofferson in New York Post, February 8, 1995.
"To me it's satisfying to express things that you feel and have other people say 'Right, that's exactly how I feel, too,' or 'Yeah, I never thought of that." --Kris Kristofferson.
On the making of "A Star is Born": "It was like Ranger school. But she [Barbra Streisand] tried to make a good movie. And she let me be sympathetic. If you remember the earlier version, he wasn't very sympathetic. Barbra gave me room to act." --Kristofferson in Parade Magazine, July 10, 1994.
"I've always felt like an overachiever. Back when football was important to me in college, I made first string because I had the desire. I always knew I wasn't good enough to be out there, but I was. I think I've gone through a lot of my performing the same way, knowing I didn't really deserve to be on the same stage with Willie [Nelson], Waylon [Jennings] and Johnny [Cash], but I was there. And at least once in every film, I'm convinced that I'm uniquely unequipped to do the job, that I should never do another one. But I get over it." --Kris Kristofferson to Interview, September 1998.
Companions close complete companion listing
Please support TCMDB by adding to this information.Click here to contribute