Kris Kristofferson





6/22/1936 , Brownsville, Texas, USA

Birth Name

Kristoffer Kristian Kristofferson




At an early age, Kris Kristofferson got used to moving around a lot. He had to, since his father was an Air Force General who expected young Kris to follow in his footsteps. The younger Kristofferson graduated from San Mateo High School (the alumni of which include Alicia Silverstone, to boot). There Kris received his first taste of fame: he appeared in Sports Illustrated's "Faces In the Crowd" article, which chronicled his accomplishments in rugby, track and field. Kristofferson attended Pomona College in California, where he became a Golden Gloves boxer. While living in Pomona, Kris earned the Rhodes Scholarship for literature at England's Oxford University (Merton College, to be exact).

During his Oxford years, Kristofferson first met his manager Larry Parnes. Kris also wrote songs and recorded for Top Rank Records under the name Kris Carson, which went nowhere. In his spare time, Kristofferson was a member of the Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity. In 1960, Kris graduated with a Master's Degree in English Literature; he also married his longtime girlfriend Fran Beer. Kristofferson's literature-studies are reflected in his song, "The Best of All Possible Worlds." (French writer Voltaire satirized similar ideas of philosophical optimism in his short novel Candide.)

After graduating from Oxford, Kristofferson joined the U.S. Army; ultimately, he earned the rank of captain. He also became a helicopter pilot, having received his flight training at Fort Rucker in southeastern Alabama. In 1965, Kris was offered a position at West an English Lit professor! Yet none of this brought Captain Kristofferson any sense of real fulfillment. He never completely turned his back on writing and performing music; during the early 1960s, he formed a band while stationed in West Germany. Kris declined the West Point commission and - following his discharge from the Army in 1965 - moved to Nashville, Tennessee.

Kristofferson pursued his dream in earnest, having already sent several of his compositions to a friend's relative: successful Nashville songwriter Marijohn Wilkin. Unfortunately, Kris and Fran were burdened with medical bills due to their son's defective esophagus. The Kristoffersons divorced, and Kris supported himself as a janitor...sweeping the floors of Nashville's Columbia Studios, where Bob Dylan just happened to be recording his landmark 1966 album "Blond on Blond." Tragically, although Kristofferson watched some of Dylan's sessions, the two never met; Kris, fearing for his job, couldn't bring himself to approach Bob.

Kristofferson was holding a second job, as a commercial pilot for Petroleum Helicopters International (PHI): a firm based in Lafayette, Louisiana. (This was three years before Kris started cutting records and selling songs to other performers.) He actually wrote "Help Me Make It Through the Night" while sitting atop an oil platform!

Back in Nashville, Kristofferson's music career finally began picking up speed. In 1966, Dave Dudley released a successful Kristofferson single, "Vietnam Blues." The following year, Kris signed with Epic Records and released another (less-successful) single, "Golden Idol"/"Killing Time." Over the next few years, more Kristofferson originals hit the charts, performed by: Roy Drusky ("Jody and the Kid"); Billy Walker & the Tennessee Walkers ("From the Bottle To the Bottom"); Ray Stevens ("Sunday Morning Coming Down"); Jerry Lee Lewis ("Once More With Feeling"); Faron Young ("Your Time's Coming"); and Roger Miller ("Me and Bobby McGee", "Best Of All Possible Worlds", "Darby's Castle").

Kris also strengthened his ties with fellow Highwayman Johnny Cash, for whom he opened at the Newport Folk Festival. Actually, Kristofferson landed his chopper right in Cash's yard (!) to present him with a song he (Kris) had written: "Sunday Morning Coming Down." Cash recorded it, and the Country Music Association voted it Song Of The Year, 1970.

While Cash and Kristofferson exchanged more songs and tapes, Kris signed with Monument Records to record his debut album: 1970's "Kristofferson." (Monument was run by Fred Foster, who also managed Kristofferson's own songwriting label, Combine Music.) This record, which contained many of Kris's previous hits along with some new compositions, sold poorly at first. Ironically, the same album became a hit the following year, when it was re-released with a new title: "Me and Bobby McGee." During the early 1970s, Kristofferson saw still more of his songs turned into hits by various artists: Ray Price ("For the Good Times"; fellow Highwayman Waylon Jennings ("The Taker"); Bobby Bare ("Come Sundown"); Johnny Cash ("Sunday Morning Coming Down"); and Sammi Smith ("Help Me Make It Through the Night"). All three future Highwaymen made history during this time: "For the Good Times" won 1970's Song of the Year Award from the Academy of Country Music; that same year, "Sunday Morning Coming Down" won the same award from ACM's arch-rival, the Country Music Association. So did Kris become the only songwriter in history ever to win the same award from both organizations, during the same year, for two different songs.

In 1971, Janis Joplin achieved a #1 pop hit with Kris's "Me And Bobby McGee" from her posthumous album Pearl. More Kristofferson-penned hits followed from other artists: Ray Price ("I Won't Mention It Again", "I'd Rather Be Sorry"); Joe Simon ("Help Me Make It Through the Night"); Bobby Bare ("Please Don't Tell Me How the Story Ends"); O.C. Smith ("Help Me Make It Through the Night"); Jerry Lee Lewis ("Me and Bobby McGee"); Patti Page ("I'd Rather Be Sorry"); and Peggy Little ("I've Got to Have You").

Kris himself released his second album, "The Silver Tongued Devil And I", in 1971; the success of this record, at long last, established Kristofferson as a recording artist in his own right. That same year, Kris made his acting debut in Dennis Hopper's "The Last Movie" (how ironic), which debuted at the Isle of Wight Festival.

In 1972, Kristofferson co-starred in Cisco Pike; he also released his third album, "Border Lord"; which was comprised by all-new material. Despite its sluggish reception in record stores, Kris swept the Grammies that year...with numerous songs nominated, and several winning.

Kristofferson's fourth album, 1972's "Jesus Was a Capricorn", experienced a slow start in terms of sales...which were greatly bolstered by its third single, "Why Me?"

For the next few years, Kristofferson focused on acting. 1973 was busy for him: he appeared in Paul Mazursky's "Blume In Love" and Sam Peckinpah's "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid"; that same year, Kris married fellow singer Rita Coolidge...with whom he collaborated on his album "Full Moon". This successful record was buoyed by numerous hit singles and Grammy nominations.

Kristofferson's fifth solo album, "Spooky Lady's Sideshow", was a commercial failure; worst of all, it set the trend for the remainder of Kris's career. Artists like Ronnie Milsap and Johnny Duncan would continue to successfully record Kristofferson's material with success; however, Kris's rough singing voice and anti-pop sound kept his own audience to a minimum.

Kristofferson fell back on movies such as: "Bring Me the Head Of Alfredo Garcia"; Sam Peckinpah's "Convoy"; "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore"; "Vigilante Force" (a film based on Yukio Mishima's novel "The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea"), and "A Star Is Born" (with Barbra Streisand).

Kristofferson's music career kept spiraling downward with his ninth album, "Shake Hands With the Devil" (an apt title, since it failed to even chart). His next film, "Freedom Road", never made it to theaters in the USA. By now, Kris was battling a serious drinking problem: 1.5 bottles of Jack Daniels per day (DO NOT try this at home, folks). This cost Kristofferson his pilot's license, when he passed out at the controls in midair (!); it also ruined Kris's marriage to Coolidge, who divorced him in 1980. Meanwhile, more artists were taking Kristofferson tunes way up on the charts; these included fellow Highwayman Willie Nelson, whose less-than-creatively-titled LP "Willie Nelson Sings Kris Kristofferson" was a smash.

Kristofferson swore off booze for good in 1980, but his professional troubles weren't over. That year, he starred in Michael Cimino's infamous box-office flop "Heaven's Gate" (which has, however, done much better business in Europe).

In 1982, Kristofferson collaborated with three other artists (Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, and Brenda Lee) on "The Winning Hand": a country success which, sadly, failed to score with mainstream audiences. Kris returned most of his attention to films, including: "The Lost Honor Of Kathryn Beck"; "Flashpoint"; and "Songwriter" (how apt), the latter of which co-starred his friend Willie Nelson. Kristofferson also received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Song Score. "Songwriter", an album of duets between Nelson and Kristofferson, was another massive country success.

Kristofferson and Nelson continued their partnership; eventually, they added Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings to form The Highwaymen. Their self-titled debut album was a huge success, and the group worked together for several more years. In 1985, Kris starred in "Trouble In Mind"; he also released "Repossessed", a politically-aware album that was a big success among country audiences. Its standout cut was "They Killed Him"; this duet with Bob Dylan (!) was a tribute to Kristofferson's heroes...which included Martin Luther King Junior, Jesus Christ, and Gandhi. That same year, Kris co-starred in "Amerika": a controversial TV mini-series which hypothe on life after World War Three...the USA having surrendered to the USSR. In 1989, Kristofferson starred in "Welcome Home" (a swan song for late Patton director Franklin J. Schaffner). Four years later, he co-starred in "Knights", assisting champion-kickboxer-turned-actress Kathy "the Punisher" Long against evil cyborg-vampire Lance Henriksen.

Despite the success of 1990's Highwaymen 2, among other recordings with said group, Kristofferson's solo career nosedived early that decade. Twelve years after "Heaven's Gate", Kris co-starred with Drew Barrymore, O.J. Simpson and Oscar-winner Martin Landau in a film considered even worse by many critics: "No Place To Hide". One of Cannon Pictures' final releases prior to their going bankrupt (another was the "Walker, Texas Ranger" TV pilot), this movie was written and directed by Richard Christian Danus...who had previously co-written another box-office dud from 1980, "Xanadu". In fact, NPTH never even made it to theaters in the USA. (Landau himself, who portrayed an evil police chief in said film, hates discussing it even today.)

Kris's 1996 film "Lone Star" jump-started his acting career. Soon afterward, he co-starred in: "Sodbusters", the "Blade" trilogy; "A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries"; "Fire Down Below" (as an evil toxic-chemicals-magnate who unwisely pits himself against Steven Seagal); Tim Burton's remake of "Planet Of the Apes" (the original having been directed by Kris's old friend Franklin Schaffner); "Payback"; "The Jacket"; and "Fast Food Nation".

Kristofferson was inducted into Nashville's Songwriters' Hall Of Fame in 1977; he enjoyed a repeat of this ceremony in 1985. 1999 saw the release of "The Austin Sessions". On said album, Kris reworked some of his favorite songs with the help of several artist-friends, including: Mark Knopfler; Steve Earle; and Jackson Browne. In 2003, Kristofferson released "Broken Freedom Song", a live album recorded in San Francisco. In 2004, Kristofferson was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. Two years later, he received the Johnny Mercer Award from the Songwriters Hall of Fame; Kris also released "This Old Road", an album offering some of his first new material in 11 years.

On 4/16/2007, Kristofferson won CMT's Johnny Cash Visionary Award. Johnny's daughter Rosanne presented this honor during the show in Nashville. (Previous recipients include Cash himself, Hank Williams Junior, Loretta Lynn, Reba McEntire, and the Dixie Chicks.)

Kristofferson claims he prefers making music to making movies; he is one-quarter of the popular singing group the Highwaymen (the others are Willie Nelson, plus late greats Waylon Jennings and Cash). Yet Kris also claims his eight children (with three different wives since 1961) are his true legacy. Those children include daughter and fellow actress Tracy Kristofferson.

Kris is currently married to Lisa Meyers; they celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary on February 19th, 2008.
  • © 2006 Rick Diamond/
  • Adam Larkey/© 2006 American Broadcasting Companies, Inc.