Kris Kristofferson’s father was an Air Force general who pushed his son to a military career. Kris was a Golden Gloves boxer and went to Pomona College in California. From there, he earned a Rhodes scholarship to study literature at Oxford. He ultimately joined the army and achieved the rank of captain. He became a helicopter pilot, which served him well later. In 1965 he resigned his commission to pursue songwriting. He had just been assigned to become a teacher at West Point. He got a job sweeping floors in Nashville studios. There he metJohnny Cash, who initially took some of his songs but ignored them. He was also working as a commercial ‘copter pilot at the time. He got Cash’s attention when he landed his helicopter in Cash’s yard and gave him some more tapes. Cash then recorded Kristofferson’s “Sunday Morning Coming Down”, which was voted 1970’s Song Of The Year by the Country Music Association.
In 1971, Janis Joplin, who dated Kristofferson for some time until her death, had a number 1 hit with “Me and Bobby McGee” from her posthumous Pearl. When released, it stayed on the number one spot on the charts for weeks. More hits followed from others: 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”). Kristofferson released his second album, The Silver Tongued Devil and I in 1971; the album 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. 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.
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 (directed by Sam Peckinpah). He continued acting, in Sam Peckinpah’s Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, Convoy, (another Sam Peckinpah film which was released in 1978), 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, andA 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 both William Friedkin‘s Sorcerer (1977) and the first Rambo-installment, First Blood. In spite of 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, Freedom Road, did not earn a theatrical release in the U.S. Kristofferson’s next film was Heaven’s Gate, a phenomenal industry-changing failure—in which, nonetheless, he turned in a nuanced performance. 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 1999 he co-starred with Mel Gibson in Payback. He has also played the title character “Yohan” as an old man in the Norwegian film Yohan-the Children Wanderer.
Also during this time, 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 Kris Kristofferson proved to be a smash success.