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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).
Cast (Feature Film)
Music (Feature Film)
Misc. Crew (Feature Film)
Special Thanks (Special)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Music (TV Mini-Series)
Went to Nashville on vacation; moved there to sell his songs weeks before he was to have begun teaching English at West Point
First song recorded professionally, "Me and Bobby McGee" (by Roger Miller)
Credited as writer for the ABC special "Just Friends"
Recorded debut album <i>Kristofferson</i>
Contributed songs to Monte Hellman's feature "Two-Lane Blacktop"
Made film acting debut in a bit part in "The Last Movie"
Had first leading role in features in "Cisco Pike"
Starred in the first of three films directed by Sam Peckinpah, "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid"
Played the romantic interest to Ellen Burstyn in "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore"
Reteamed with Peckinpah for "Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia"
Acted opposite Barbra Streisand in the remake of "A Star Is Born"
Made final film with Peckinpah, "Convoy"
Starred in NBC miniseries "Freedom Road"
His career momentum was halted by his starring role in Michael Cimino's disastrous "Heaven's Gate"
Reteamed with Rudolph for "Trouble in Mind"
First of two features with director Alan Rudolph, "Songwriter"; also scored; received Oscar nomination for Best Original Song Score
Joined with Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash to form The Highwaymen
Teamed with Nelson (who served as executive producer), Cash and Jennings for TV remake of "Stagecoach" (CBS)
Starred in CBS miniseries "Blood and Orchids"
Portrayed Jesse James in CBS movie "The Last Days of Frank and Jesse James"; acted with Nelson and Cash
Starred in the ABC miniseries "Amerika"
Acted in "Pair of Aces", a CBS movie followed by a sequel, "Another Pair of Aces: Three of a Kind" (1991), Nelson executive produced and acted in both
Released the album <i>The Best of Kris Kristofferson</i>
Starred in Arnold Schwarzenegger's TV directorial debut "Christmas in Connecticut" (TNT)
Scored "Cheatin' Hearts"; also co-starred
Played Destiny in Showtime comedy Western "Sodbusters"
Portrayed Abraham Lincoln in "Tad" (The Family Channel)
Rejuvenated career with malignant presence in John Sayles' "Lone Star"
Played character based on novelist James Jones in the Merchant-Ivory film "A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries", adapted from the novel by Jones' daughter Kaylie
Played a villain opposite Mel Gibson in "Payback"
Reteamed with Sayles for "Limbo"
Co-starred in the Tim Burton directed remake of "Planet of the Apes"
Played a writer in "Chelsea Walls"
Featured in "The Big Bounce," based on the novel by legendary crime fiction writer Elmore Leonard
Cast in John Sayles' political satire "Silver City," which starred Chris Cooper, Daryl Hannah and Richard Dreyfuss
Cast opposite Adrien Brody in the psychological thriller "The Jacket"
Co-starred with Dakota Fanning and Kurt Russell in the family drama "Dreamer: Inspired by a True Story"
Cast as part of an ensemble in "Fast Food Nation," Richard Linklater's adaptation of Eric Schlosser's non-fiction book
Narrated the Bob Dylan biopic "I'm Not There."
Joined the ensemble cast of the romantic comedy "He's Just Not That Into You"
Cast in the family drama "Dolphin Tale," starring Harry Connick Jr., Ashley Judd, and Morgan Freeman
Co-starred with Dolly Parton and Queen Latifah in the musical comedy "Joyful Noise"
Cast opposite Eric Bana and Olivia Wilde in crime drama "Deadfall"
Co-starred with Emile Hirsch in "The Motel Life"
Played Andrew Jackson in "Texas Rising" mini-series
Co-starred with Trace Adkins in "Traded"
Re-teamed with Adkins for "Hickok"