Brownsville, Texas, 22 June 1936.
Pomona College (Phi Beta Kappa scholar; majored in creative writing);
Oxford (Rhodes scholar).
U.S. Army Captain, 1960–65 (based in Germany).
English teacher (West Point); Country and Western singer/songwriter, from
1965; Recording artist, from 1970; narrator for
Dead Man's Gun
television series, 1997; narrator for
television series, 1999. Address: c/o One Way, 1 Prospect Avenue, P.O.
Box 6429, Albany, NY 12206, U.S.A.
The Last Movie ( Chinchero ) (Hopper) (+ ro as Whistler, mus)
Cisco Pike (Norton) (as Cisco Pike) (+ mus)
Blume in Love (Mazursky) (as Elmo Cole) (+ mus); Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (Peckinpah) (as William H. "Billy the Kid" Bonney); The Gospel Road (Elfstrom) (+ ro as Vocalist, mus)
Free to Be . . . You and Me (Davis, Steckier, Wolf) (+ro as Songer); Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia ( Traiganme
The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea (Carlino) (as Jim Cameron) (+ mus); A Star Is Born (Pierson) (as John Norman Howard); Vigilante Force (Armitage) (as Aaron Arnold)
Semi-Tough (Ritchie) (as Shake Tiller); Convoy (Peckinpah) (as Rubber Duck)
Freedom Road (Kadár—for TV) (as Abner Lait)
Heaven's Gate ( Johnson County Wars ) (Cimino) (as James Averill)
Rollover (Pakula) (as Hubbell Smith)
Flashpoint (Tannen) (as Logan); Songwriter (Rudolph) (as Blackie Buck) (+ mus); The Lost Honor of Kathryn Beck ( Act of Passion ) (Langton—for TV) (as Ben Cole)
Trouble in Mind (Rudolph) (as Hawk)
The Last Days of Frank and Jesse James (Graham—for TV); Blood and Orchids (Thorpe) (as Curt Maddox); Stagecoach (Post) (as Ringo)
Amerika (TV mini-series) (Wrye) (as Devin Milford)
Big Top Pee-Wee (Kleiser) (as Mace Montana); The Tracker ( Dead or Alive ) (Guillermin—for TV) (as Noble Adams)
Millennium (Anderson) (as Bill Smith); Welcome Home (Schaffner) (as Jake)
Sandino (Littin) (as Tom Holte); Night of the Cyclone ( Perfume of the Cyclone ) (Irving) (as Stan); Pair of Aces (Lipstadt—for TV)
Another Pair of Aces: Three of a Kind (Bixby) (as Rip)
Original Intent (Marcarelli) (as Jack Saunders); No Place to Hide (Danus) (as Joe Garvey); Miracle in the Wilderness (Dobson—for TV) (as Jericho Adams); Christmas in Connecticut (Schwarzenegger—for TV) (as Jefferson)
Paper Hearts ( Cheatin' Hearts ) (McCall) (as Tom); Knights (Pyun) (as Gabriel); Trouble Shooters: Trapped Beneath the Earth (May—for TV) (as Stan Mather)
Sodbusters (Levy—for TV) (as Destiny)
Pharoah's Army (Henson) (as Preacher); Inflammable (Werner—for TV); Brothers' Destiny ( Long Road Home , The Road Home ) (Hamilton—for TV) (as Davis); Adventures of the Old West (Purvis—for TV); Big Dreams and Broken Hearts: The Dottie West Story (D'Elia—for TV) (as himself); Tad (Thompson—for TV) (as Abraham Lincoln)
Blue Rodeo (Werner—for TV); Dolly Parton: Treasures (for TV); Lone Star (Sayles) (as Sheriff Charlie Wade)
Fire Down Below (Alcalá) (as Orin Hanner Sr.); Message to Love: The Isle of Wight Festival (Lerner) (as himself)
Dance with Me (Haines) (as John Burnett); Blade (Norrington) (as Abraham Whistler); A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries (Ivory) (as Bill Willis); Girl's Night (Hurran) (as Cody); Outlaw Justice (Corcoran—for TV) (as Tarence); Two for Texas (Hardy—for TV) (as Hugh Allison); The Land Before Time VI: The Secret of Saurus Rock (Grosvenor) (as voice of Doc)
Netforce (Leiberman) (mini—for TV) (as Steve Day); Payback (Helgeland) (as Bronson); Limbo (Sayles) (as Smilin' Jack); Molokai: the Story of Father Damien (Cox) (as Rudolph Meyer); The Joyriders (Battersby) (as Eddie)
The Ballad of Ramblin' Jack (Elliot) (as Himself); Perfect Murder, Perfect Town (Schiller) (mini—for TV) (as Lou Ritt)
Eye See You (Gillespie) (as Doc)
Clay Pigeon (Slate and Stern) (mus)
Fat City (Huston) (mus)
Shipman, David. The Great Movie Stars 3. The International Years , London, 1991.
Weddle, David. If They Move. . . Kill 'Em. The Life and Times of Sam Peckinpah , New York, 1994.
* * *
Active in the film industry for thirty years, Kris Kristofferson never seemed too bothered about movie stardom. Already a major singer-songwriter and recording artist, the anti-establishment author of "Help Me Make It through the Night" and "Me and Bobby McGee" adapted well to acting without developing either a dominant film presence or a discernable career plan. Ruggedly handsome, Kristofferson appeared relaxed and easygoing onscreen, agreeably masculine rather than aggressively macho, confident enough in himself to be believably sensitive and caring towards the likes of Ellen Burstyn and Barbra Streisand. During the mid 1970s, Kristofferson carved a niche as Hollywood's premiere romantic co-star, yet the big hits were credited to his bigger-name leading ladies, leaving him with doubtful commercial standing as a solo act. Kristofferson's ambivalence towards the movie business didn't help, the actor abruptly quitting the wartime romance Hanover Street (1979), then announcing his retirement. Judging by Kristofferson's subsequent career, many film executives took him at his word. That said, even the peak period of the 1970s was an uncertain time for Kristofferson, his first decade in movies topped and tailed by appearances in two of Hollywood's most notorious flops ( The Last Movie ; Heaven's Gate ), with some bizarre choices in between. Whether bearded or clean-shaven, singing or non-singing, Kris Kristofferson never quite found his movie niche.
Kristofferson's starring debut in Bill Norton's sour LA story Cisco Pike is probably still his finest screen performance.
Effectively—if predictably—cast as Pike, a fading pop singer and reluctant drug dealer, Kristofferson's amiable character is in tune with the era: alienated, rootless, amoral and casually promiscuous. At times, Pike's laidback manner slides into outright lethargy, even when trashing a difficult client's office. Victimised by Gene Hackman's blackmailing cop, he puts up only token resistance. Arguably too straight-looking for a seasoned pusher, Kristofferson lets his songs bridge any credibility gaps: "From the rocking of the cradle/To the rolling of the hearse/The going up was worth the coming down." Driving off alone down a desert road at the end, Pike doesn't seem so sure: "It ain't fun no more."
Sam Peckinpah's Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid should be a highpoint of Kristofferson's career, yet in truth he was cast more for his chart success and "rebel" image than his acting ability. Producer Gordon Carroll wanted to draw a parallel between the "romantic" Western outlaw and the modern-day pop idol, both prisoners—and victims—of their mythical status. Peckinpah and scriptwriter Rudolph Wurlitzer fail to bring either the concept or the character to life, devoting their attentions to James Coburn's embittered, cynical, haunted Garrett. Looking self-conscious without his trademark beard, Kristofferson seems out of place in Peckinpah's West. His most memorable scene involves turning a shotgun loaded with dimes on R. G. Armstrong's unfortunate deputy ("Keep the change, Bob"), the drama taking a back seat to bloody pyrotechnics and a throwaway sick joke. Five years and five movies down the line, the bearded Kristofferson appears much more comfortable in Peckinpah's largely despised demolition derby Convoy , scripted by Bill Norton from the hit song by C. W. McCall. Kristofferson's trucker outlaw hero Rubber Duck is easy-going, sly, a natural—if reluctant—leader of men and a born philosopher: "Stay smooth on the surface and paddle like the devil underneath." Displaying an intense, determined quality rarely seen in his other movies, Kristofferson lends a much-needed edge to the comic book hijinks, even the climactic fake martyrdom failing to undermine his earlier hint of despair over the truckers' plight: "Who the hell else they got? Nobody, that's who."
Scoring his first popular success as Ellen Burstyn's rancher-musician boyfriend in Alice , Kristofferson fought against typecasting, taking the title role in the ill-conceived arthouse fantasy The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea and playing his first villain—a murderous Vietnam Veteran—in the throwaway action movie Vigilante Force. He did better as the booze-soaked Jim Morrison substitute in Streisand's mega-hit vanity project A Star Is Born , bringing both dignity and humanity to a stereotyped burned-out rock 'n' roll dinosaur. Even in Michael Cimino's fiasco-on-the-range Heaven's Gate , Kristofferson provides a solid, world-weary presence as the moral, Harvard-educated sheriff, countering the overall lack of plausible characterisation and narrative coherence.
Off screen for three years after a second major flop with the Jane Fonda vehicle Rollover , Kristofferson returned to films in Alan Rudolph's Songwriter , comfortably playing opposite fellow music veteran Willie Nelson in an agreeably laidback tale that offers no great insight into the country music business. Kristofferson's original score netted an Academy Award nomination, perhaps an indication of where many felt his real talents lay. Reuniting with Rudolph for the near-future parable Trouble in Mind , Kristofferson gave his strongest performance for years, cast as an idealistic ex-cop/ex-con who returns to Rain City to find his former love. Part of a fine ensemble cast—including Genevieve Bujold, Lori Singer, Keith Carradine, Joe Morton, and Divine—Kristofferson's typically low key approach blends in very well.
Still in demand, Kristofferson's presence in recent movies such as Blade and Payback suggests not so much a grizzled screen icon offering integrity-for-hire, as a music veteran and occasional character actor marking time between tour dates. The pick of Kristofferson's 1990s output is undoubtedly his high-profile cameo role in John Sayle's Lone Star. Appearing in extended flashbacks as the late, unlamented sheriff of 1950s Rio County, Texas, Kristofferson turns his usual screen image on its head, portraying an irredeemably vile man. With narrow eyes set in a heavy, lined face, the swaggering, arrogant Charley Wade offers soft-spoken menace and a cobra smile. Racist, corrupt, and homicidal, Wade recalls Cisco Pike's lawman adversary Leo Holland, complete with short hair and clipped moustache, a neat full circle for Kristofferson. Fittingly, Wade starts and ends the film as bullet-blasted bone fragments. Was his going up worth the coming down?