Though he invariably looked sickly and tubercular, Polish/German actor Klaus Kinski rose to fame in roles calling for near-manic aggressiveness. His war career consisted primarily of a year and a half in a British POW camp. After this experience, Kinski took to the theater, where he rapidly built a reputation for on-stage brilliance and off-stage emotional instability. He made his first German film, Morituri, in 1948; three years later, he made his English-language movie debut with a fleeting bit in Decision Before Dawn (1951). Villainy was Kinski's film stock in trade during the 1950s and '60s, with several appearances in Germany's Edgar Wallace second-feature series and in such Italian spaghetti Westerns as For a Few Dollars More (1965). International stardom came Kinski's way via his off-the-beam appearances in the films of director Werner Herzog, notably Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1973), Woyzeck (1978), Nosferatu (1979), and Fitzcarraldo (1982). With 1989's Paganini, Kinski proved to be as colorful and chaotic a director as he was an actor. Kinski was the father of actress Nastassja Kinski, though the two seldom saw each other and were never close. He died in 1991.
Biography by Hal Erickson
- Served in the German army during World War II and was captured by the British in 1944 and sent to a POW camp in England, from which he was released in 1946.
- Returned to Berlin after the war to find his father had died and his mother was killed during an Allied air raid.
- Unable to secure theater work in the late 1950s, he toured Austria, Switzerland and Germany as a monologist reciting selections from Shakespeare, Francois Villon and Oscar Wilde.
- From 1972 to 1987, he made five films with director Werner Herzog, whose book and documentary about the late actor is titled My Best Fiend.
- Turned down a role as a German officer in 1981's Raiders of the Lost Ark because he thought the script wasn't very good.
- Kinski's 1988 autobiography All I Need Is Love was rereleased in 1993 with additional copy and retitled Kinski Uncut.
- His final film, 1989's Paganini, in which he played the legendary Italian violinist Nicolo Paganini, was also the only movie he directed.
- Made more than 180 movies in his 30-year career.
- David Schmoeller, who had an extremely difficult time directing him in 1986's Crawlspace, chronicled the experience in a 1999 short called Please Kill Mr. Kinski.
- Was fluent in English, French, German, Italian and Spanish.