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Klaus Kinski

Kinski in middle age
Born Nikolaus Karl Günther Nakszyński
October 18, 1926(1926-10-18)
Sopot, Free City of Danzig
Died 23 November 1991 (aged 65)
Lagunitas, California, U.S.
Occupation Actor
Years active 1948–1989

Nikolaus Karl Günther Nakszyński, best known as Klaus Kinski (18 October 1926 – 23 November 1991), was a German actor. He appeared in over 130 films, and is perhaps best-remembered for his collaborations with writer/director Werner Herzog.


Life and work

Early life

Plaque marking Kinski's birthplace in Sopot

Klaus Kinski was born in Sopot, in the Free City of Danzig. He was the son of a German father of Polish descent,[1] Bruno Nakszyński, a pharmacist and a German mother Susanne (née Lutze), a nurse. He had three older siblings: Inge, Arne and Hans-Joachim. Around 1931 the family moved to Berlin and settled in a flat in the Wartburgstraße 3, in the suburb of Schöneberg. From 1936 on, Kinski attended the Prinz-Heinrich-Gymnasium in Schöneberg.[2]

During World War II Kinski was conscripted into the German Wehrmacht and was captured by the British in the Netherlands in late 1944. After being transferred to the prisoner of war "Camp 186" in Berechurch Hall in Colchester, Essex, he played his first theatre roles on stage.[3]

Theatrical career

Returning to Germany, and without having ever attended any professional training (Herzog noted in My Best Fiend that Kinski was self-taught), Kinski started out as an actor, first at a small touring company in Offenburg and already using his new name Klaus Kinski. In 1946, he was hired by the renowned Schlosspark-Theater in Berlin, but was fired by the manager in 1947 due to his unpredictable behavior.[4]

Other companies followed, but his already wild and unconventional behavior regularly got him into trouble.[5] In 1950, Kinski stayed in a psychiatric hospital for three days; medical records from the period listed a preliminary diagnosis of schizophrenia.[6] Around this time he became unable to secure film roles, and in 1955 Kinski twice tried to commit suicide.[7] In March 1956 he made one 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's hope to get a permanent contract was not fulfilled, as the Burgtheater's management ultimately became aware of the actor's earlier difficulties in Germany. He unsuccessfully tried to sue the company.[8]

Living jobless in Vienna, and without any prospects for his future, Kinski reinvented himself as a monologist and spoken word artist.[9] He presented the prose and verse of François Villon, William Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde among others. Thus he managed to establish himself as a well-known actor touring Austria, Germany, and Switzerland with his shows.[10]

Film work and later life

Kinski appeared in several German Edgar Wallace movies. 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 the post-war Germans' reluctance to take responsibility for what had happened during World War II.[11]

During the 1960s and 70s, Kinski appeared in various European exploitation film genres, as well as more acclaimed works such as Doctor Zhivago (1965). 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), and A Genius, Two Partners and a Dupe (1975).

At the Cannes Film Festival, late 1980s

Eventually, his collaborations with director Werner Herzog brought him to international recognition. In all, they made five films together: Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972), Woyzeck (1978), Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979), Fitzcarraldo (1982), and finally Cobra Verde (1987). In 1977 he starred as terrorist Wilfried Böse in the Israeli movie Operation Thunderbolt, based on the events of the 1976 Operation Entebbe. His last film (which he also wrote and directed) was Kinski Paganini (1989), in which he played the legendary violinist Niccolò Paganini.

Kinski died of a heart attack in Lagunitas, California at age 65. His ashes were strewn in the Pacific Ocean.[12]

Public image

Kinski established his image as a wild-eyed, sex-crazed maniac in the autobiography, Kinski: All I Need Is Love, which was largely fabricated to generate sales, according to Herzog's documentary film My Best Fiend. For many years to come, Kinski's own writings were the only source for facts about his life and were not questioned or doubted by independent analysts. This situation changed with Herzog's retrospective on his work with Kinski, My Best Fiend (1999), in which the director also showed lighter and humorous aspects of Kinski's personality. The American antifolk music group Elastic No-No Band created a song called "I Am Klaus Kinski (And This Is My Song)", which is an imaginary response by Kinski to Herzog's film. Finally, in 2006 Christian David published the first comprehensive biography based on newly discovered archived material, personal letters and interviews with Kinski's friends and colleagues. This was followed by a paperback book by Peter Geyer containing essays on Kinski's life and work.


Filmography and discography


  1. ^ Encyclopedia Britannica
  2. ^ David 2008, pp. 10–13
  3. ^ David 2008, pp. 14–16
  4. ^ David 2008, pp. 16–20
  5. ^ David 2008, pp. 22–25
  6. ^ Psycho-Akte von Klaus Kinski entdeckt, Bild, 22 July 2008. (German)
  7. ^ David 2008, pp. 41–42
  8. ^ David 2008, pp. 48–59
  9. ^ David 2008, pp. 60–61
  10. ^ David 2008, pp. 97–102
  11. ^ David 2008, pp. 113–119, 136–141
  12. ^ David 2008, pp. 353–354


  • Kinski, Klaus (1988). All I Need Is Love. ISBN 0-394-54916-3. 
  • David, Christian (2008). Kinski. Die Biographie. Berlin: Aufbau-Verlag. ISBN 9783746624341. OCLC 244018538. 
  • Geyer, Peter (2006). Klaus Kinski: Leben, Werk, Wirkung. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp. ISBN 351818220X. 

External links

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