Kristoffer Kristofferson (born June 22, 1936) is an American singer-songwriter, musician, and actor. He wrote and recorded the songs "Me and Bobby McGee", "For the Good Times", "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down", and "Help Me Make It Through the Night". Kristofferson composed his own songs and collaborated with Nashville songwriters such as Shel Silverstein. In 1985, Kristofferson joined fellow country artists Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, and Johnny Cash in forming the country music supergroup The Highwaymen, and formed a key creative force in the Outlaw country music movement that eschewed the Nashville music machine in favor of independent songwriting and producing. In 2004, Kristofferson was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. He is also known for his starring roles in Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, Heaven's Gate, and A Star Is Born, the latter of which earned him a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor.
Kristoffer Kristofferson was born in Brownsville, Texas, to Mary Ann (née Ashbrook) and Lars Henry Kristofferson, a U.S. Army Air Corps officer (later a U.S. Air Force Major General). His paternal grandparents emigrated from Sweden, while his mother had English, Scotts-Irish, German, Swiss-German, and Dutch ancestry. Kristofferson's paternal grandfather was an officer in the Swedish Army. When Kristofferson was a child, his father pushed him towards a military career.
At the age of 17, Kristofferson took a summer job with a dredging contractor on Wake Island. He called it "the hardest job I ever had."
Like most "military brats", Kristofferson moved around frequently as a youth, finally settling down in San Mateo, California, where he graduated from San Mateo High School in 1954. An aspiring writer, Kristofferson enrolled in Pomona College that same year. He experienced his first dose of fame when he appeared in Sports Illustrated's "Faces in the Crowd" for his achievements in collegiate rugby union, American football, and track and field. He and his classmates revived the Claremont Colleges Rugby Club in 1958, which has remained a southern California rugby institution. Kristofferson graduated in 1958 with a Bachelor of Arts degree, summa cum laude, in literature. He was elected to Phi Beta Kappa his junior year. In a 2004 interview with Pomona College Magazine, Kristofferson mentioned philosophy professor Frederick Sontag as an important influence in his life.
Kristofferson earned a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University, where he studied at Merton College. While at Oxford, he was awarded his Blue for boxing, played rugby for his college, and began writing songs. At Oxford, he was also acquainted with fellow Rhodes scholar, art critic, and poet Michael Fried. With the help of his manager, Larry Parnes, Kristofferson recorded for Top Rank Records under the name Kris Carson. Parnes was working to sell Kristofferson as "a Yank at Oxford" to the British public; Kristofferson was willing to accept that promotional approach if it helped his singing career, which he hoped would enable him to progress towards his goal of becoming a novelist. This early phase of his music career was unsuccessful.
In 1960, Kristofferson graduated with a B.Phil degree in English literature. The following year he married his long-time girlfriend, Frances Mavia Beer.
Kristofferson, under pressure from his family, ultimately joined the U.S. Army and attained the rank of Captain. He became a helicopter pilot after receiving flight training at Fort Rucker, Alabama. He also completed Ranger School. During the early 1960s, he was stationed in West Germany as a member of the 8th Infantry Division. During this time, he resumed his music career and formed a band. In 1965, when his tour of duty ended, Kristofferson was given an assignment to teach English literature at West Point. Instead, he decided to leave the Army and pursue songwriting. His family disowned him because of his career decision and sources are unclear on whether or not they reconciled. They saw it as a rejection of everything they stood for, in spite of the fact that Kristofferson has said he is proud of his time in the military, and received the American Veterans Awards "Veteran of the Year Award" in 2003.
After leaving the Army in 1965, Kristofferson moved to Nashville. He worked at a variety of odd jobs while struggling for success in music, burdened with medical expenses resulting from his son's defective esophagus. He and his wife soon divorced.
He got a job sweeping floors at Columbia Recording Studios in Nashville. He met June Carter there and asked her to give Johnny Cash a tape of his. She did, but Johnny put it in a large pile with others. Weeks later Kristofferson landed a helicopter in Cash's front yard, gaining his full attention. In a later interview, Kristofferson maintained Cash was not at home when he landed the helicopter. The story about Kristofferson having a beer in one hand and some songs in the other is a fable.
Cash decided to record "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down" and that year Kristofferson won Songwriter of the Year at the Country Music Awards.
He also worked as a commercial helicopter pilot for a south Louisiana firm called Petroleum Helicopters International (PHI), based in Lafayette, Louisiana. Kristofferson recalled of his days as a pilot, "That was about the last three years before I started performing, before people started cutting my songs. I would work a week down here south Louisiana
for PHI, sitting on an oil platform and flying helicopters. Then I'd go back to Nashville at the end of the week and spend a week up there trying to pitch the songs, then come back down and write songs for another week. I can remember "Help Me Make It Through the Night" I wrote sitting on top of an oil platform. I wrote "Bobby McGee" down here, and a lot of them south Louisiana
."In 1966, Dave Dudley released a successful Kristofferson single, "Viet Nam Blues." In 1967, Kristofferson signed to Epic Records and released a single, "Golden Idol/Killing Time," but the song was not successful. Within 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 Mornin' Comin' Down"); Jerry Lee Lewis ("Once More with Feeling"); Faron Young ("Your Time's Comin'"); and Roger Miller ("Me and Bobby McGee", "Best of all Possible Worlds", and "Darby's Castle"). He achieved some success as a performer himself, following Johnny Cash's introduction of him at the Newport Folk Festival.
Kristofferson signed to Monument Records as a recording artist. In addition to running that label, Fred Foster also served as manager of Combine Music, Kristofferson's songwriting label. His debut album for Monument in 1970 was Kristofferson, which included a few new songs, as well as many of his previous hits. Sales were poor, although this debut album would become a success the following year when it was re-released under the title Me & Bobby McGee. Kristofferson's compositions were still in high demand. Ray Price ("For the Good Times"), Gladys Knight & The Pips ("Help Me Make It Through The Night"), 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 recorded successful versions of his songs in the early 1970s. "For the Good Times" (Ray Price) won "Song of the Year" in 1970 from the Academy of Country Music, while "Sunday Morning Coming Down" (Johnny Cash) won the same award from the Academy's rival, the Country Music Association, in the same year. This is the only time an individual received the same award from these two organizations in the same year for different songs.
In 1971, Janis Joplin, who dated Kristofferson for some time until her death, had a number one hit with "Me and Bobby McGee" from her posthumous album Pearl. When released, it stayed on the number-one spot on the charts for weeks. More hits followed from others: Ray Price ("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"). The country music performer Kenny Rogers has also recorded some of Kristofferson's compositions, including a version of "Me and Bobby McGee" in 1969 with The First Edition for the Ruby, Don't Take Your Love To Town album.
Kristofferson released his second album, The Silver Tongued Devil and I in 1971; including "Lovin' Her Was Easier (Than Anything I'll Ever Do Again)". It was a success and established Kristofferson's career as a recording artist in his own right. Soon after, Kristofferson made his acting debut in The Last Movie (directed by Dennis Hopper) and appeared at the Isle of Wight Festival. A portion of his Isle of Wight performance is featured on the three disc compilation The First Great Rock Festivals of the Seventies. In 1971, he acted in Cisco Pike and released his third album, Border Lord. The album was all-new material and sales were sluggish. He also swept the Grammy Awards that year with numerous songs nominated, winning country song of the year for "Help Me Make It Through the Night." Kristofferson's 1972 fourth album, Jesus Was a Capricorn, initially had slow sales, but the third single, "Why Me," was a success and significantly increased album sales. It sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc by the RIAA on November 8, 1973. In 1972, Kristofferson appeared with Rita Coolidge on British TV on BBC's "The Old Grey Whistle Test", performing a physically intimate version of "Help Me Make It Through The Night".
For the next few years, Kristofferson focused on acting. He appeared in Blume in Love (directed by Paul Mazursky) and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia and Convoy (all directed by Sam Peckinpah). In 1987, Kristofferson starred in the 7-episode TV series Amerika with Robert Urich and Christine Lahti. He continued acting, in Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, Vigilante Force, a film based on the Yukio Mishima novel The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea, A Star Is Born (with Barbra Streisand), for which he received a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor, and Flashpoint in 1984 (directed by William Tannen). At the peak of his box-office power, Kristofferson turned down William Friedkin's Sorcerer (1977) and the romantic war film Hanover Street '. Despite his success with Streisand, Kristofferson's solo musical career headed downward with his non-charting ninth album, Shake Hands with the Devil. His next film, the two-part 1979 NBC-TV movie Freedom Road, did not get good ratings. In Kristofferson's next film he was cast in the lead role as the enigmatic Sheriff James Averill in Michael Cimino's bleak and sprawling 1980 anti-Western Heaven's Gate. Despite being a scandalous studio-bankrupting and industry-changing failure at the time (it permanently cost Kristofferson his Hollywood A-lister status), the film gained critical recognition in subsequent years. In 1986, he starred in The Last Days of Frank and Jesse James with Johnny Cash. In 1989, he was the male lead in the film Millennium with Cheryl Ladd. In 1996, he earned a supporting role as Charlie Wade, a corrupt South Texas sheriff in John Sayles's Lone Star, a film nominated for an Oscar for Best Screenplay. In 1998, he took a role in the film Blade, playing alongside Wesley Snipes as Blade's mentor Abraham Whistler. He reprised the role in Blade II (2002) and again in Blade: Trinity (2004). In 1999, he co-starred with Mel Gibson in Payback. He was in the 2001 version of Planet of the Apes. He has also played the title character "Yohan" as an old man in the Norwegian film Yohan-the Children Wanderer. He co-starred in the 2011 film Dolphin Tale and its 2014 sequel, Dolphin Tale 2. In 2012, Kristofferson was in Joyful Noise with longtime friend, Dolly Parton. In 2013, Kristofferson co-starred in The Motel Life, as well as Angels Sing with Willie Nelson and Lyle Lovett. In 2006 Mr. Kristofferson starred with Geneviève Bujold in an interesting film Disappearances about whiskey running from Quebec to the States during the Great Depression.
After his singing success in the early 1970s, Kristofferson met singer Rita Coolidge. They married in 1973 and released an album titled Full Moon, another success buoyed by numerous hit singles and Grammy nominations. However, his fifth album, Spooky Lady's Sideshow, released in 1974, was a commercial failure, setting the trend for most of the rest of his career. Artists such as Ronnie Milsap and Johnny Duncan continued to record Kristofferson's material with much success, but his distinctively rough voice and anti-pop sound kept his own audience to a minimum. Meanwhile, more artists took his songs to the top of the charts, including Willie Nelson, whose 1979 LP release of (Willie Nelson) Sings Kristofferson reached #5 on the U.S. Country Music chart and certified Platinum in the U.S.
In 1979, Kris Kristofferson traveled to Havana, Cuba, to participate in the historic Havana Jam festival that took place between March 2–4, alongside Rita Coolidge, Stephen Stills, the CBS Jazz All-Stars, the Trio of Doom, Fania All-Stars, Billy Swan, Bonnie Bramlett, Mike Finnegan, Weather Report, and Billy Joel, plus an array of Cuban artists such as Irakere, Pacho Alonso, Tata Güines, and Orquesta Aragón. His performance is captured on Ernesto Juan Castellanos's documentary Havana Jam '79.
On November 18, 1979, Kristofferson and Coolidge appeared on The Muppet Show, where Kristofferson sang "Help Me Make It Through the Night" with Miss Piggy, Coolidge sang "We're All Alone" with forest animals, and the pair sang "Song I'd Like to Sing" with the Muppet monsters.
In 1982, Kristofferson participated (with Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, and Brenda Lee) on The Winning Hand, a double album consisting of remastered and updated performances of recordings the four artists had made for the Monument label during the mid-1960s; the album reached the top-ten on the U.S. country album charts. He married again, to Lisa Meyers, and concentrated on films for a time, appearing in The Lost Honor of Kathryn Beck, Flashpoint, and Songwriter, the last of which also starred Willie Nelson. Kristofferson was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song Score. Music from Songwriter (an album of duets between Nelson and Kristofferson) was a massive country success.
Nelson and Kristofferson continued their partnership, and added Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash to form the supergroup The Highwaymen. Their first album, Highwayman, was a huge success, and the supergroup continued working together for a time. The single from the album, also entitled "Highwayman, and especially written for them by tunesmith Jimmy Webb," was awarded the ACM's single of the year in 1985. In 1985, Kristofferson starred in Trouble in Mind and released Repossessed, a politically aware album that was a country success, particularly "They Killed Him" (also performed by Bob Dylan), a tribute to his heroes, including Martin Luther King, Jr., Jesus, and Mahatma Gandhi. Kristofferson also appeared in Amerika at about the same time, a miniseries that attempted to depict life in America under Soviet control.In spite of the success of Highwayman 2 in 1990, Kristofferson's solo recording career slipped significantly in the early 1990s, though he continued to record successfully with the Highwaymen. Lone Star (1996 film by John Sayles) reinvigorated Kristofferson's acting career, and he soon appeared in Blade, Blade II, Blade: Trinity, A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries, Fire Down Below, Tim Burton's remake of Planet of the Apes, Chelsea Walls, Payback, The Jacket, and Fast Food Nation.
The Songwriters Hall of Fame inducted Kristofferson in 1985, as had the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame earlier, in 1977. 1999 saw the release of The Austin Sessions, an album on which Kristofferson reworked some of his favorite songs with the help of befriended artists such as Mark Knopfler, Steve Earle, and Jackson Browne. In 2003, Broken Freedom Song was released, a live album recorded in San Francisco.
In 2003, he received the "Spirit of Americana" free speech award from The Americana Music Association. In 2004, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. In 2006, he received the Johnny Mercer Award from the Songwriters Hall of Fame and released his first album full of new material in 11 years; This Old Road. On April 21, 2007, Kristofferson won CMT's Johnny Cash Visionary Award. Rosanne Cash, Cash's daughter, presented the honor during the April 16 awards show in Nashville. Previous recipients include Cash, Hank Williams, Jr., Loretta Lynn, Reba McEntire, and the Dixie Chicks. "John was my hero before he was my friend, and anything with his name on it is really an honor in my eyes," Kristofferson said during a phone interview. "I was thinking back to when I first met him, and if I ever thought that I'd be getting an award with his name on it, it would have carried me through a lot of hard times."
In July 2007, Kristofferson was featured on CMT's "Studio 330 Sessions" where he played many of his hits.
On June 13, 2008, Kristofferson performed an acoustic in the round set with Patty Griffin and Randy Owen (Alabama) for a special taping of a PBS songwriters series to be aired in December. Each performer played 5 songs. Kristofferson's set included "The Best of All Possible Worlds", "Darby's Castle", "Casey's Last Ride", "Me and Bobby McGee", and "Here Comes that Rainbow Again". Taping was done in Nashville.
Kristofferson released a new album of original songs entitled Closer to the Bone on September 29, 2009. It is produced by Don Was on the New West label. Prior to the release, Kristofferson remarked: "I like the intimacy of the new album. It has a general mood of reflecting on where we all are at this time of life."
On November 10, 2009, Kristofferson was honored as a BMI Icon at the 57th annual BMI Country Awards. Throughout his career, Kristofferson's songwriting has garnered 48 BMI Country and Pop Awards. He later remarked, "The great thing about being a songwriter is you can hear your baby interpreted by so many people that have creative talents vocally that I don't have." Kristofferson had always denied having a good voice, and has said that as he's aged, what quality it might once have had commenced to decay.In December 2009, it was announced that Kristofferson would be portraying Joe in the upcoming album Ghost Brothers of Darkland County, a collaboration between rock singer John Mellencamp and novelist Stephen King.
On May 11, 2010, Light in the Attic Records released demos that were recorded during Kristofferson's janitorial stint at Columbia. Please Don't Tell Me How the Story Ends: The Publishing Demos is the first time these recordings have been released and includes material that would later be featured on other Kristofferson recordings and on the recordings of other prominent artists, such as the original recording of "Me and Bobby McGee".
On June 4, 2011, Kristofferson performed a solo acoustic show at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center, showcasing both some of his original hits made famous by other artists, and newer songs.
In early 2013, Kristofferson released a new album of original songs called Feeling Mortal. A live album titled An Evening With Kris Kristofferson was released in September 2014.
Kris Kristofferson voiced the character Chief Hanlon of the NCR Rangers in the hit 2010 video game Fallout: New Vegas.
In an interview for Las Vegas Magazine Q&A by Matt Kelemen on 23 October 2015, he revealed that a new album, The Cedar Creek Sessions, recorded in Austin, would include some old and some new songs. In December 2016, the album was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Americana Album.
As of December 2017, Kristofferson has been married to Lisa Kristofferson for 36 years. They own a home in Los Flores Canyon in Malibu, California and maintain a residence in Hana on the island of Maui.
Kristofferson, while healthy for a man his age and still touring, has encountered a few serious medical issues in the past few decades. He had successful bypass surgery in 1999, but from 2004 to 2015 suffered from what was finally diagnosed as Lyme Disease, although it was initially and incorrectly thought to be early onset Alzheimer's disease. It is unclear how Kristofferson contracted Lyme Disease, but it is suspected that he caught it while filming a movie in the remote woods of Vermont in 2002. Kris’s wife credits Kristofferson's successful diagnosis and recovery to getting second opinions when dealing with auto-immune and Alzheimer-type diagnoses. Kristofferson is currently being treated by a specialist in California "who added antibiotic intramuscular injections to Kris’s protocol and is continuing to treat Kris," his wife reported.
Kristofferson has eight children from three marriages. Daughter Tracy (b. 1962) and son Kris (b. 1968) from his first marriage to Fran Beer. Daughter Casey (b. 1974) from his second marriage, to Rita Coolidge. Jesse (b. 1983), Jody (b. 1985), Johnny (b. 1988), Kelly Marie (b. 1990), and Blake (b. 1994) to his current wife Lisa (Meyers) Kristofferson.
Kristofferson has said that he would like the first three lines of Leonard Cohen's "Bird on the Wire" on his tombstone:Like a bird on the wire
Like a drunk in a midnight choir
I have tried in my way to be free
Awards and nominations
Bernhardt, Jack. (1998). "Kris Kristofferson". In The Encyclopedia of Country Music. Paul Kingsbury, Editor. New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 286–7.
Kris Kristofferson official website
Kristofferson Fan Website
Kris Kristofferson at Encyclopædia Britannica
The Old Oxonion Blues 1959 profile in Time
Kristofferson at the Country Music Hall of Fame
Kris Kristofferson at New West Records
Kris Kristofferson at AllMusic
Kris Kristofferson on IMDb
Kris Kristofferson at the TCM Movie Database
Kris Kristofferson at AllMovie
Kris Kristofferson at Broadcast Music, Inc.