Klaus Kinski

Klaus Kinski

At the Cannes Film Festival, late 1980s
Born Klaus Günter Karl Nakszynski
(1926-10-18)18 October 1926
Zoppot, Free City of Danzig (present-day Sopot, Poland)
Died 23 November 1991(1991-11-23) (aged 65)
Lagunitas, California, U.S.
Occupation Actor
Years active 1948–1989
Spouse(s) Gislinde Kühbeck (1952–1955; divorced; 1 child)
Brigitte Ruth Tocki (1960–1971; divorced; 1 child)
Minhoi Geneviève Loanic (1971–1979; divorced; 1 child)
Debora Caprioglio (1987–1989; divorced)
Children Nastassja, Pola, and Nikolai Kinski
Website Kinski fanpage

Klaus Kinski (born Klaus Günter Karl Nakszynski;[1] 18 October 1926 – 23 November 1991) was a German actor.[2][3][4][5] 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). A controversial figure in Germany, some of Kinski's violent outbursts on set were filmed in Herzog's documentary My Best Fiend.[6]

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, primarily in film and TV.

Early life

Klaus Kinski's parental home

Klaus Kinski was born to German nationals in Zoppot in what was from 1920–1939, under League of Nations supervision, the Free City of Danzig (it is now Sopot, Poland). His father, Bruno Nakszynski, a German of Polish descent,[7] was a failed opera singer turned pharmacist; his mother, Susanne (née Lutze), was a nurse and the daughter of a local pastor.[8] Klaus had three older siblings: Inge, Arne and Hans-Joachim.

Because of the Great Depression, the family was unable to make a living in Danzig and moved to Berlin in 1931, where they also struggled.[8] They settled in a flat in the Wartburgstraße 3, in the district of Schöneberg, and took German citizenship.[8] From 1936 on, Kinski attended the Prinz-Heinrich-Gymnasium in Schöneberg.[9]


Military service during the Second World War

Kinski was conscripted at the age of 17 into the German Wehrmacht some time in 1943, and served in the army.[10] He saw no action until the winter of 1944, when his unit was transferred to the Netherlands.[10] He was wounded and captured by the British on his second day of combat.[11]

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. He finally surrendered to a British patrol, which had wounded him in the arm before taking him captive. After being treated for his injuries and interrogated, Kinski was transferred to 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.[10][12]

There he played his first roles on stage, taking part in shows intended to maintain morale among the prisoners.[10][12] 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 but finally was returned to Germany in 1946, after spending a year and four months in captivity.[10]

Arriving in Berlin, he saw how the once modern city had been reduced to ruins and was occupied by Allied troops. Kinski learned his father had died during the war, and his mother had been killed in an Allied air attack on the city.[10]

Plaque marking Kinski's birthplace in Sopot

Theatrical career

After his return to Germany, Kinski started out as an actor,[13] 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 in 1947 due to his unpredictable behavior.[14]

Other companies followed, but his unconventional and emotionally volatile behavior regularly got him into trouble.[15] In 1950, Kinski stayed in a psychiatric hospital for three days because he stalked his 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.[16]

Around this time Kinski became unable to secure film roles, and, in 1955, he reportedly attempted suicide twice.[17] The same year, for three months, 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 reduced everything to bits.

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.[18]

Living jobless in Vienna, Kinski reinvented himself as a monologuist and spoken word artist.[19] 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.[20]

Film work and later life

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) and A Time to Love and a Time to Die (1958). He starred as the doomed Jewish refugee in The Counterfeit Traitor with William Holden. 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.[21]

During the 1960s/70s, he appeared in various European exploitation film genres, as well as more acclaimed works such as Doctor Zhivago (1965), wherein he 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), and A Genius, Two Partners and a Dupe (1975). He turned down a role in Raiders of the Lost Ark, describing the script as "moronically shitty".[22] In 1977 he starred as the guerrillero Wilfried Böse in Operation Thunderbolt, based on the events of the 1976 Operation Entebbe.

Kinski began to work with director Werner Herzog. Eventually, their collaboration 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). He was a controversial figure in Germany, as his emotional volatility was notorious, as were rumors of his numerous affairs with women.[6]

Kinski played 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.[23] He reinforced his wild image by his accounts in his 1988 autobiography, All I Need Is Love (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 soon withdrew.[24]

For many years, his own writings were the only source for facts about his life and were not questioned or doubted by independent analysts. In his retrospective film on Kinski, My Best Fiend (also called My Favorite Enemy, 1999), Herzog said that Kinski had fabricated much of his autobiography. The two even collaborated on the insults Kinski included about the director. In his film, Herzog showed lighter and humorous aspects of Kinski's personality, although he describes difficulties in their working relationship. Also in 1999, director David Schmoeller released a short film entitled Please Kill Mr. Kinski, which relates 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.[25]

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.


Kinski married three times, having a child with each wife.

The children had little contact with each other while growing up.

Sexual abuse of daughters

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 revealed her father had sexually abused her from the ages of 5 to 19.[6][27] Kinski's younger daughter Nastassja, who is Pola's half-sister, was questioned about the matter. In her interview published in the online issue of the German tabloid Bild on 13 January 2013, she said that Kinski 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 told she was always afraid of her father because he was an unpredictable tyrant.[28]


Klaus Kinski died on 23 November 1991, of a sudden heart attack at his home in Lagunitas, California, at the age of 65.[23] His body was cremated and his ashes were scattered into the Pacific Ocean.[29] He was survived by his daughters, Pola and Nastassja, and his son, Nikolai. Only Nikolai attended his father's funeral.[30]

Filmography and discography


  1. Halliwell, Laurie (1997). Halliwell's filmgoer's companion (12th ed.). London, UK: HarperCollins. ISBN 9780002557986.
  2. Kinski, Klaus (1988). All I Need Is Love (1st ed.). Random House. ISBN 0-394-54916-3. OCLC 18379547.
  3. David, Christian (2008). Kinski. Die Biographie. Berlin: Aufbau-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-7466-2434-1. OCLC 244018538.
  4. Geyer, Peter (2006). Klaus Kinski: Leben, Werk, Wirkung. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp. ISBN 3-518-18220-X.
  5. Wise, James E. Jr.; Baron, Scott (2002). International Stars at War. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press. pp. 105–107. ISBN 1-55750-965-4.
  6. 1 2 3 Jackson, Patrick. "German actor Klaus Kinski 'abused his daughter Pola'". BBC News Online. Retrieved 19 July 2015.
  7. Encyclopædia Britannica
  8. 1 2 3 Wise & Baron 2002, p. 105
  9. David 2008, pp. 10–13
  10. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Wise & Baron 2002, p. 106
  11. "Klaus Kinski", Variety, 1991
  12. 1 2 David 2008, pp. 14–16
  13. Herzog, My Best Fiend, said that Kinski was self-taught as an actor.
  14. David 2008, pp. 16–20
  15. David 2008, pp. 22–25
  16. "Asylum records confirm Klaus Kinski's madness". www.thelocal.de. 2008-07-22. Retrieved 2016-05-16.
  17. David 2008, pp. 41–42
  18. David 2008, pp. 48–59
  19. David 2008, pp. 60–61
  20. David 2008, pp. 97–102
  21. David 2008, pp. 113–119, 136–141
  22. Kinski, Klaus (1996). Kinski Uncut. Joachim Neugröschel (trans.). London: Bloomsbury. p. 294. ISBN 0-7475-2978-7.
  23. 1 2 Klaus Kinski at the Internet Movie Database
  24. Wise & Baron 2002, p. 107
  25. "Please Kill Mr Kinski – an interview with film director David Schmoeller". Retrieved 4 December 2014.
  26. Welsh, James Michael; Gene D. Phillips; Rodney Hill. The Francis Ford Coppola Encyclopedia, Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press Inc., 2010, p. 154
  27. Roxborough, Scott. "Klaus Kinski's Daughter Claims He Sexually Abused Her". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved 19 July 2015.
  28. Biss, Malta. "Jetzt spricht Nastassja". Bild. Retrieved 19 July 2015.
  29. David 2008, pp. 353–354
  30. Edwards, Matthew [Ed.] (2016). Klaus Kinski, Beast of Cinema: Critical Essays and Fellow Filmmaker Interviews. p. 174. McFarland & Company, Inc, Publishers. ISBN 978-0-7864-9897-0 (e-book ISBN 978-1-4766-2508-9)
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