Like so many others before him, Kris Kristofferson pursued Hollywood success after first finding fame in the pop music arena. Unlike the vast majority of his contemporaries, however, he could truly act as well as make music, delivering superb, natural performances in films for directors like Martin Scorsese, Sam Peckinpah, and John Sayles. Born June 22, 1936, in Brownsville, TX, Kristofferson was a Phi Beta Kappa at Pomona College, earning a degree in creative writing. At Oxford, he was a Rhodes Scholar, and while in Britain he first performed his music professionally (under the name Kris Carson). A five-year tour in the army followed, as did a stint teaching at West Point. Upon exiting the military, he drifted around the country before settling in Nashville, where he began earning a reputation as a gifted singer and songwriter.
After a number of his compositions were covered by Roger Miller, Kristofferson eventually emerged as one of the most sought-after writers in music. In 1970, Johnny Cash scored a Number One hit with Kristofferson's "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down," and that same year he released his debut LP, Kristofferson. Upon composing two more hits, Janis Joplin's "Me and Bobby McGee" and Sammi Smith's "Help Me Make It Through the Night," Kristofferson was a star in both pop and country music. In 1971, his friend, Dennis Hopper, asked him to write the soundtrack for The Last Movie, and soon Kristofferson was even appearing onscreen as himself. He next starred -- as a pop singer, appropriately enough -- opposite Gene Hackman later that year in Cisco Pike, again composing the film's music as well. Another role as a musician in 1973's Blume in Love threatened to typecast him, but then Kristofferson starred as the titular outlaw in Sam Peckinpah's superb Western Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.
For Peckinpah, Kristofferson also appeared in 1974's Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, followed by a breakthrough performance opposite Oscar-winner Ellen Burstyn in Martin Scorsese's acclaimed Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore. After a two-year hiatus to re-focus his attentions on music, he followed with a villainous turn in the little-seen Vigilante Force and the much-hyped The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With the Sea. Amid reports of a serious drinking problem, Kristofferson next starred as an aging, alcoholic rocker opposite Barbra Streisand in the 1976 remake of A Star Is Born, an experience so grueling, and which hit so close to home, that he later claimed the picture forced him to go on the wagon. In 1977, Kristofferson teamed with Burt Reynolds to star in the football comedy Semi-Tough, another hit. He next reunited with Peckinpah for 1978's Convoy.
Hanover Street was scheduled to follow, but at the last minute Kristofferson dropped out to mount a concert tour. Instead, he next appeared with Muhammad Ali in the 1979 television miniseries Freedom Road. He then starred in Michael Cimino's legendary 1981 disaster Heaven's Gate, and when the follow-up -- Alan J. Pakula's Rollover -- also failed, Kristofferson's film career was seriously crippled; he received no more offers for three years, appearing only in a TV feature, 1983's The Lost Honor of Kathryn Beck, and performing his music. His comeback vehicle, the 1984 thriller Flashpoint, earned little attention, but Alan Rudolph's Songwriter -- also starring Willie Nelson -- was well received. In 1986, Kristofferson reunited with Rudolph for Trouble in Mind, and starred in three TV movies: The Last Days of Frank and Jesse James, Blood and Orchids, and a remake of John Ford's Stagecoach.
Remaining on television, Kristofferson co-starred in the epic 1987 miniseries Amerika. The year following, he appeared in a pair of Westerns, The Tracker and Dead or Alive, and unexpectedly co-starred in the comedy Big-Top Pee-Wee. The 1989 sci-fi disappointment Millennium was his last major theatrical appearance for some years. In the early '90s, the majority of his work was either in television (the Pair of Aces films, Christmas in Connecticut) or direct-to-video fare (Night of the Cyclone, Original Intent). In many quarters, Kristofferson was largely a memory by the middle of the decade, but in 1995 he enjoyed a major renaissance; first, he released A Moment of Forever, his first album of new material in many years, then co-starred in Pharoah's Army, an acclaimed art-house offering set during the Civil War. The following year, Kristofferson delivered his most impressive performance as a murderous Texas sheriff in John Sayles' Lone Star. He turned in another stellar performance two years later in James Ivory's A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries. After a turn in the Mel Gibson vehicle Payback and Father Damien, Kristofferson again collaborated with Sayles, playing a pilot of dubious reputation in 1999's Limbo. In the decades to come, Kristofferson would remain active on screen, appearing in movies like He's Just Not That Into You, Fastfood Nation, and Dolphin Tale.