An actor known for his intense persona on-screen and off, Klaus Kinski was born on October 8, 1926. He grew up in poverty and was drafted into the Germany army at 16, serving briefly in World War II. After the war, Kinski started acting. His most famous roles were in Aguirre (1972), Nosferatu (1979), and Fitzcarraldo (1982). Kinski died on November 25, 1991.
Known for his intense portrayals of unusual characters, Klaus Kinski grew up in the midst of a grim fairy tale. He and his family moved from Poland to Berlin, Germany, when he was a young child. They hoped for a better life, but they experienced extreme poverty instead. For years, Kinski struggled to get food for himself and his parents.
At the age of 16, Kinski was drafted into the Germany army. He only served two days in combat before being captured by English troops. For the remainder of World War II, Kinski was held as a prisoner of war. However, it was at a British P.O.W. camp that he had his first taste of acting. There Kinski performed in shows that were staged by the prisoners for the prisoners.
After the war, Kinski pursued acting in Germany. He landed parts on the stage and in films, but they were primarily small roles. His trademark sharp features and dramatic-looking eyes, though, made him the ideal villain.
By the 1960s, Kinski was becoming known by a wider audience through his work on some international films. He made a brief appearance in Doctor Zhivago (1965), starring Omar Sharif and Julie Christie. Around this time, he also had roles in a number of spaghetti westerns, including Sergio Leone's For a Few Dollars More (1965) and Damiano Damiani's A Bullet for the General (1966).
Kinski delivered his best performances in his work with director Werner Herzog. Despite their turbulent and combative relationship, Kinski and Herzog made some impressive films together. Their first collaboration, Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972), featured Kinski as a conquistador on a quest for gold in the Inca Empire. The film brought Kinski international acclaim.
Kinski and Herzog worked together on several more films, including 1979's Nosferatu, a remake of the F.W. Murnau horror classic. In the film, Kinski played vampire Count Orlok, a role originated by Max Schreck. The two also worked on the epic tale Fitzcarraldo (1982) about a man who wants to build an opera house in the jungle. Making the movie was an enormous struggle that stretched on for years. Their last film together was 1987's Cobra Verde. In nearly all of their collaborations, Kinski played characters so intense and driven they seem to cross into the border of madness.
Known for being difficult and eccentric off-screen, Kinski became his own boss for his final project. He wrote and directed Kinski Paganini (1989), in which he compared his life to the violinist Niccolo Paganini. The quasi-biographical film was never released in the United States, where the actor spent the final years of his life. Kinski died of natural causes on November 23, 1991, in Lagunitas, California.
Years after his death, however, American readers got a glimpse into Kinski's life with the publication of Kinski Uncut (1996). This disturbing memoir focused many of its pages on Kinski's sexual exploits, including alleged incestuous encounters with his own mother and daughter Nastassja. He also insulted many of his co-stars and directors, including Herzog, in the work.
Kinski had three children, one from each of his marriage. All three of them followed their father into acting. Oldest daughter Pola Kinski has appeared in several German television programs. Daughter Nastassja Kinski has starred in several movies, including Roman Polanski's Tess (1979). Son Nikolai Kinski has worked on such feature films as Aeon Flux (2005) and Klimt (2006).
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