Kinski at the 1988 Cannes Film Festival
Klaus Günter Karl Nakszynski
18 October 1926
|Died||23 November 1991 (aged 65)|
Lagunitas, California, U.S.
|Gislinde Kühbeck (1952-1955; divorced; 1 child)|
Brigitte Ruth Tocki (1960-1971; divorced; 1 child)
Minhoi Geneviève Loanic (1971-1979; divorced; 1 child)
|Children||Pola, Nastassja and Nikolai Kinski|
He appeared in more than 130 films, and was a leading role actor in the films of Werner Herzog, including Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972), Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979), Woyzeck (1979), Fitzcarraldo (1982), and Cobra Verde (1987). He also appeared in many Spaghetti Westerns, such as For a Few Dollars More (1965), A Bullet for the General (1966), The Great Silence (1968), And God Said to Cain (1970), Shoot the Living and Pray for the Dead (1971) and A Genius, Two Partners and a Dupe (1975).
Kinski was a controversial figure, and some of his tantrums on set were filmed in Herzog's documentary My Best Fiend. He is the father of Pola, Nastassja, and Nikolai Kinski, born of three different marriages. They have all become actors and have worked in Germany and the United States, in film and TV.
Klaus Günter Karl Nakszynski was born to German nationals in Zoppot, Free City of Danzig (now Sopot, Poland) in 1926. His father, Bruno Nakszynski, was a failed opera singer turned pharmacist; his mother, Susanne (née Lutze), was a nurse and the daughter of a local pastor. Klaus had three older siblings: Inge, Arne and Hans-Joachim.
Due to the Great Depression, the family was unable to make a living in Danzig and moved to Berlin in 1931, where they also struggled. They settled in a flat in the Wartburgstraße 3, in the district of Schöneberg, and took German citizenship. In 1936, Kinski attended the Prinz-Heinrich-Gymnasium in Schöneberg.
During the Second World War, Kinski was conscripted at the age of 17 into the German Wehrmacht some time in 1943, and served with the German Air Force (Luftwaffe) as an elite paratrooper (Fallschirmjäger). He saw no action until the winter of 1944, when his unit was transferred to the Netherlands. He was captured by the British on his second day of combat.
Kinski gave a different version of events in his 1988 autobiography. He said that he made a conscious decision to desert; he had been captured by the Germans, court-martialed as a deserter and sentenced to death, but he escaped and hid in the woods. A British patrol opened fire on him, he was wounded in the arm and they took him captive. After being treated for his injuries and interrogated, Kinski was transferred to a prisoner of war camp in Britain. The ship transporting him was torpedoed by a German U-boat, but arrived safely. He was held at the prisoner of war Camp 186 in Berechurch Hall in Colchester, Essex.
There he played his first roles on stage, taking part in variety shows intended to maintain morale among the prisoners. By May 1945, at the end of the war in Europe, the German POWs were anxious to return home. Kinski had heard that sick prisoners were to be returned first, and tried to qualify by standing outside naked at night, drinking urine and eating cigarettes. He remained healthy however, and was finally returned to Germany in 1946, after spending a year and four months in captivity.
After his return to Germany, Kinski started out as an actor, first at a small touring company in Offenburg, where he used his newly adopted name of Klaus Kinski. In 1946, he was hired by the renowned Schlosspark-Theater in Berlin. The next year, he was fired by the manager due to his unpredictable behavior. Other companies followed, but his unconventional and emotionally volatile behavior regularly got him into trouble.
For three months in 1955, Kinski lived in the same boarding house as a 13-year-old Werner Herzog, who would later direct him in a number of films. In the 1999 documentary My Best Fiend, Herzog described how Kinski locked himself in the communal bathroom for 48 hours and broke everything in the room to pieces.
In March 1956, he made a single guest appearance at Vienna's Burgtheater in Goethe's Torquato Tasso. Although respected by his colleagues, among them Judith Holzmeister, and cheered by the audience, Kinski did not gain a permanent contract. The Burgtheater's management became aware of the actor's earlier difficulties in Germany. He unsuccessfully tried to sue the company.
Living jobless in Vienna, Kinski reinvented himself as a monologist and spoken word artist. He presented the prose and verse of François Villon, William Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde, among others. He established himself as an actor touring Austria, Germany, and Switzerland with his shows.
Kinski's first film role was a small part in the 1948 film Morituri. He appeared in several German Edgar Wallace movies, and had bit parts in the American war films Decision Before Dawn (1951), A Time to Love and a Time to Die (1958), and The Counterfeit Traitor (1962). In Alfred Vohrer's Die toten Augen von London (1961), his character refused any personal guilt for his evil deeds and claimed to have only followed the orders given to him. Kinski's performance reflected post-war Germany's reluctance to take responsibility for what had happened during World War II.
During the 1960s and 1970s, he appeared in various European exploitation film genres, as well as more acclaimed works such as Doctor Zhivago (1965), featured in a supporting role as an anarchist prisoner on his way to the Gulag.
He relocated to Italy during the late 1960s, and had roles in numerous Spaghetti Westerns, including For a Few Dollars More (1965), A Bullet for the General (1966), The Great Silence (1968), Twice A Judas (1969), and A Genius, Two Partners and a Dupe (1975). In 1977, he starred as the guerrillero Wilfried Böse in Operation Thunderbolt, based on the events of the 1976 Operation Entebbe.
Kinski's work with director Werner Herzog brought him international recognition. They made five films together: Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972), Woyzeck (1978), Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979), Fitzcarraldo (1982) and Cobra Verde (1987). Despite their collaborations, Herzog had threatened, on occasion, to murder Kinski. In one incident, Kinski was said to have been saved by his dog who attacked Herzog as he crept up to supposedly burn down the actor's house. Herzog has refused to comment on his numerous other plans to kill Kinski. However, he did pull a gun on Kinski on the set of Aguirre, the Wrath of God, after the actor threatened to walk off the set.
In 1980, Kinski refused the lead villain role of Major Arnold Toht in Raiders of the Lost Ark, telling director Steven Spielberg, "This script is a yawn-making, boring pile of shit" and "moronically shitty". Kinski would go on to play Kurtz, an Israeli intelligence officer, in The Little Drummer Girl, a feature film by George Roy Hill in 1984. It also starred Diane Keaton as Charlie.
Kinski co-starred as an evil killer from the future in a 1987 Sci-Fi based TV film Timestalkers with William Devane and Lauren Hutton. His last film (which he wrote and directed) was Kinski Paganini (1989), in which he played the legendary violinist Niccolò Paganini.
Kinski was married three times. He married his first wife, singer Gislinde Kühlbeck, in 1952, the couple had a daughter Pola Kinski. They divorced in 1955. Five years later he married actress Ruth Brigitte Tocki. They divorced in 1971. Their daughter was Nastassja Kinski, born in January 1961. He married his third and final wife, model Minhoi Geneviève Loanic in 1971. Their son Nikolai Kinski was born in 1975. They divorced in 1979.
Kinski published his autobiography, All I Need Is Love, in 1988 (reprinted in 1996 as Kinski Uncut). The book infuriated many and prompted his second daughter Nastassja Kinski to file a libel suit against him, which she afterward withdrew.
In 1950, Kinski stayed in a psychiatric hospital for three days because he stalked his theatrical sponsor, on whom he had a one-sided crush, and eventually tried to strangle her. Medical records from the period listed a preliminary diagnosis of schizophrenia but the conclusion was psychopathy (antisocial personality disorder). Around this time Kinski became unable to secure film roles, and in 1955 he attempted suicide twice according to one source.
In 2013, more than 20 years after her father's death, Pola Kinski published an autobiography entitled Kindermund (or From a Child's Mouth), in which she claimed her father had sexually abused her from age five to 19.
In an interview published by the German tabloid Bild on 13 January 2013, Kinski's younger daughter, Nastassja, Pola's half-sister, said their father would embrace her in a sexual manner when she was 4-5 years old, but never had sex with her. Nastassja has expressed support for Pola and said that she was always afraid of their father, whom she described as an unpredictable tyrant.
Kinski was a complicated character. Herzog, in his 1999 documentary about Kinski entitled My Best Fiend (also called My Favorite Enemy), claimed Kinski had fabricated much of his autobiography, and told of the difficulties in their working relationship.
Director David Schmoeller released a short 1999 film entitled Please Kill Mr. Kinski, which examined the stories of Kinski's erratic and disruptive behavior on the set of his 1986 film Crawlspace. The film features behind-the-scenes footage of Kinski's various confrontations with director and crewmembers, along with Schmoeller's account of the events.
In 2006, Christian David published the first comprehensive biography of Kinski, based on newly discovered archived material, personal letters and interviews with the actor's friends and colleagues. Peter Geyer published a paperback book of essays on Kinski's life and work.