Born: Nikolaus Günther Nakszynski in Sopot (Zoppot), Free State of Danzig (later Germany; now Gdansk, Poland), 8 October 1926; grew up in Berlin. Military Service: German Army, 1944; captured by the British on second day of combat, spending rest of war as POW. Family: Married first wife in 1950s, daughter: the actress Pola; 2) Ruth Brigitte Tocki, daughter: the actress Nastassja; 3) Minhoi Wiggers, son: Nanhoi. Career: After World War II, acted in theater companies in Tübingen and Baden-Baden; 1948—film debut in Morituri; 1950s and 1960s—appeared in dozens of films, gaining European stardom; 1973—appeared in Aguirre, the Wrath of God, first of several collaborations with the director Werner Herzog; 1989—directorial debut with Paganini. Awards: Deutscher filmpreis for Acting, for Nosferatu—Phantom der Nacht, 1979. Died: In Lagunitas, California, 23 November 1991.
Films as Actor:
Decision before Dawn (Litvak) (as whining soldier)
Ludwig II (Lanz und Elend eines Königs) (Käutner); Kinder, Mütter, und ein General (Hauen Sie ab mit Heldentum) (Benedek)
Sarajewo (Um Thron und Liebe) (Kortner); Hanussen (Fischer and Marischka)
Waldwinter (Liebeneiner) (as Otto Hartwig); Geliebte Corinna (von Borsody)
A Time to Love and a Time to Die (Sirk) (as Gestapo lieutenant)
Der Rächer (The Avenger) (Anton) (as Lorenz Voss)
Die toten Augen von London (Geheimnis von London; The Dead Eyes of London; Dark Eyes of London) (Vohrer) (as Edgar Strauss); Das Geheimnis der gelben Narzissen (The Devil's Daffodil; Daffodil Killer) (von Rathony) (as Peter Keene); Bankraub in der Rue Latour (Jürgens); Die seltsame Gräfin (The Strange Countess) (von Baky) (as Stuart Bresset); Das Rätsel der roten Orchidee (The Puzzle of the Red Orchid; Gangster in London) (Ashley) (as Steve); Die Kurve (Zadek—for TV)
Der rote Rausch (Schleif); Dir Tür mit den sieben Schlössern (Das Gasthaus an der Themse; The House with Seven Locks) (Vohrer) (as Gregor Gubanow); The Counterfeit Traitor (Seaton) (as Kindler)
Der schwarze Abt (The Black Abbot) (Gottlieb); Der Zinker (The Squeaker) (Vohrer); Die schwarze Kobra (Zehetgruber); Das indische Tuch (Vohrer); Scotland Yard jagt Doktor Mabuse (Die scharloachrote Dschunke; Scotland Yard Hunts Dr. Mabuse) (Paul May); Das Geheimnis der schwarzen Witwe (Secret of the Black Widow) (Gottlieb); Piccadilly null Uhr swölf (Zehetgruber); Kali-Yug, la dea della vendetta (Die Göttin der Rache) (Camerini); Il mistero del tempio indiano (Aufruhr in Indien; Das Geheimnis des indischen Tempels) (Camerini—this film and the previous edited into one version titled Kali-Yug, Goddess of Vengeance)
Die Gruft mit dem Räselschloss (Gottlieb); Wartezimmer zum Jenseits (Vohrer); Der letzte Ritt nach Santa Cruz (LastStage to Santa Cruz) (Olsen); Winnetou: II Teil (Giorni di fuoco; Le Tresor des montagnes bleues; Last of the Renegades) (Reinl) (as Luke); Das Geheimnis der chinesischen Nelke (Secret of the Chinese Carnation) (Zehetgruber)
Das Verratertor (Traitor's Gate) (Francis); The Pleasure Girls (Die Goldpuppen) (O'Hara) (as Nikko); Neues vom Hexer (Vohrer); La Guerre secrète (The Dirty Game) (Terence Young); Estambul 65 (Operación Istanbul; L'homme d'Istanbul; That Man in Istanbul) (Isasi-Isasmendi) (as Schenck); Doctor Zhivago (Lean) (as Kostoyed)
Per qualche dollaro in più (For a Few Dollars More) (Leone) (as hunchback); Our Man in Marrakesh (Bang! Bang! You're Dead) (Sharp) (as Jonquil); Das Geheimnis der gelben Mönche (Wie tötet man eine Dame; Target for Killing) (Köhler); Spie contro il mondo (Gern hab' ich die Frau'n gekillt; Spy against the World; Killers Carnival; Carnival of Killers) (Cardiff)
Quien sabe? (A Bullet for the General) (Damiani) (as El Santo); Circus of Fear (Psycho-Circus) (Moxey) (as Manfred); Die blaue Hand (Creature with the Blue Hand) (Vohrer); Carmen, Baby (Metzger); Su-muru (The Million Eyes of Su-muru) (Shonteff) (as President Boong); Five Golden Dragons (Summers) (as Gert); L'uomo, l'orgoglio, la vendetta (Man, Pride, and Vengeance; Mit Django kam der Tod) (Bazzoni); Coplan sauve sa peau (Les Jardins du diable; Requiem for a Snake; Devil's Garden) (Boisset); Mister Zehn Prozent—Miezen und Moneten (Sigpress contro Scotland Yard) (Zurli)
Ad ogni costo (Grand Slam; Top Job) (Montaldo) (as Erich Weiss); Ognuno per se (Das Gold von Sam Cooper; The Ruthless Four; Sam Cooper's Gold) (Holloway, i.e. Capitani) (as blond); Sartana (Se incontri Sartana, prega per la tua morte) (Kramer, i.e. Parolini); A qualsiasi prezzo (Vatican Story) (Miraglia); Due volte Giuda (Cicero); Cinque per l'inferno (Five into Hell) (Kramer, i.e. Parolini); Il grande silenzio (La grand Silence) (Corbucci); Marquis de Sade: Justine (Justine and Juliet; Justine) (Franco)
I bastardi (I gatti; Sons of Satan; The Cats) (Tessari) (as Adam); Il dito nell piaga (Salt in the Wound; The Dirty Two) (Ricci); La legge dei gangsters (Quintero) (Marcellini); Double Face (Das Gesicht im Dunkeln; A doppia faccia; Puzzle of horrors) (Hampton, i.e. Freda); Sono Sartana, ilvostro bechino (I'll Dig Your Grave) (Ascott, i.e. Carnimeo); Paroxismus (Black Angel; Venus in Furs) (Biliam and Franco) (as Ahmed); La Peau de Torpédo (Children of Mata Hari; Pill of Death) (Delannoy); E Dio disse a Caino . . . (And God Said to Cain) (Dawson, i.e. Margheriti)
Wie dommt ein so reizendes Mädchen zu diesem Gewerbe? (Mir hat es immer Spass gemacht; How Did a Nice Girl Like You Get into This Business?) (Tremper); Per una bara piena di dollari (Nevada Kid; A Barrel Full of Dollars; Adios companeros) (Deem, i.e. Fidani); La belva (Costa); Prega il morte e ammazza il vivo (Warren, i.e. Vari); Giù le mani . . . carogna (Fidani); Appuntamento col disonore (Rendezvous with Dishonor; The Night of the Assassins) (Bolzoni); I leopardi di Churchill (Commando Attack) (Pradeaux)
El Conde Dracula (Count Dracula) (Franco); Nella stretta morsa del ragno (Dracula im Schloss des Schreckens; Web of the Spider; And Comes the Dawn . . . but Colored Red) (Dawson, i.e. Margheriti) (as Edgar Allan Poe); La bestia uccide a sangue freddo (Der Triebmörder; The Cold-blooded Beast; Slaughter Hotel; Asylum Erotica) (Di Leo); Lo chiamavano King . . . (Reynolds, i.e. Romitelli); Black Killer (Moore, i.e. Oroccolo); L'occhio del ragno (Eye of the Spider) (Bianchi-Montero); La vendetta e un piatto che si serve freddo (Vengeance Trail) (William Redford, i.e. Squitier); La mano nascosta di Dio (Palli)
Il venditore di morte (The Price of Death) (Thomas, i.e. Alberto); Doppia taglia per Monnesota Stinky (Deem, i.e. Fidani); Il ritorno di Clint il solitario (Ti attende una corda . . . Ringo) (Bagram, i.e. Balcazar)
Aguirre, der Zorn Göttes (Aguirre, the Wrath of God) (Herzog) (title role); Il mio nome è Shanghai Joe (Mezzogiorno di fuoco par Lin-Hao; Cinque pistole di violenca; To Kill or to Die) (Caiano); La mano spietat della legge (The Bloody Hands of the Law) (Gariazzo); La morte sorride all'assassino (Sette strani cadaveri) (Massacesi); Imperativo categorio: control il crimine con rabbia (Gariazzo); La mano che nutre la morte (Garrone)
Le orme (Footprints) (Bazzoni); Le amanti del mostro (Garrone); Who Stole the Shah's Jewels? (Leoni)
L'important c'est d'aimer (The Most Important Thing Is Love; The Main Thing Is to Love) (Zulawski) (as Karl); Lifespan (Whitelaw) (as Industrialist); Un genio, due compari, un pollo (The Genius) (Damiani) (as Doc Foster); Das Netz (The Web) (Purzer)
Jack the Ripper (Der Dirnenmörder von London) (Franco); Madame Claude (Jaeckin)
Nuit d'or (Maoti); Entebbe: Operation Thunderbolt (Golan); Mort d'un pourri (Lautner)
La Chanson de Roland (Cassenti); Zoo zéro (Fleischer)
Nosferatu—Phantom der Nacht (Nosferatu—The Vampire) (Herzog) (as Count Dracula); Woyzeck (Herzog) (title role); Haine (Traquenard) (Goult)
Schizoid (Murder by Mail) (Paulsen) (as Dr. Pieter Fales)
Buddy Buddy (Wilder) (as Dr. Zuckerbrot)
Fitzcarraldo (Herzog) (as Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald/title role); The Soldier (Codename: The Soldier) (Glickenhaus) (as Dracha); Venom (Haggard) (as Jacmel); Love and Money (Toback) (as Frederick Stockheinz); La Femme enfant (Billetdoux) (as Marcel); Fruits of Passion (Terayama) (as Sir Stephen); Burden of Dreams (Blank—doc on making of Fitzcarraldo); Android (Lipstadt) (as Dr. Daniel)
Beauty and the Beast (Vadim—for TV)
The Little Drummer Girl (George Roy Hill) (as Kurtz); The Secret Diary of Sigmund Freud (Danford B. Greene) (as Dr. Max Bauer); Titan Find (Creature) (Malone) (as Hans Rudy Hofner); Hitchhiker (Hodges and Zetterling); Codename Wildgeese (Geheimecode Wildganse) (Dawson, i.e. Margheriti) (as Charlton)
Kommando Leopard (Commando Leopard) (Dawson) (as Silveira); Creature (Malone) (as Hofner); El Caballero del dragon (The Knight of the Dragon; Star Knight) (Colomo) (as Boetius); Revenge of the Stolen Stars (Lommel) (as Duncan McBride)
Crawlspace (Schmoeller) (as Dr. Karl Gunther)
Timestalkers (Schultz—for TV) (as Dr. Joseph Cole); Cobra Verde (Herzog); Rough Justice (Costa)
Nosferatu a Venezia: Il ritorno di Nosferatu (Caminito)
Film as Actor, Director, and Scriptwriter:
Paganini (title role)
By KINSKI: books—
Ich bin so wild nach deinem Erdbeermund, Munich, 1975.
All I Need Is Love: A Memoir, New York, 1988 (withdrawn for legal reasons).
Kinski Uncut: The Autobiography of Klaus Kinski, New York, 1996.
By KINSKI: article—
Interview in Image et Son (Paris), July 1976.
On KINSKI: books—
Sabatier, J. M., Klaus Kinski, Paris, 1979.
Setbon, Philippe, Klaus Kinski, Paris, 1979.
Rège, Philippe, Klaus Kinski, Paris, 1987.
On KINSKI: articles—
Thomson, David, "The Many Faces of Klaus Kinski," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), May 1980.
Goodwin, Michael, "Herzog: The God of Wrath," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), June 1982.
"Klaus Kinski," in Film Dope (London), September 1984.
Obituary in New York Times, 26 November 1991.
Obituary in Variety (New York), 2 December 1991.
Stars (Mariembourg), Summer 1996.
Slatter, W.J., "Inane Success, Insatiable Excess," in Audience (Simi Valley), October/November 1996.
On KINKSKI: film—
Mein liebster Fiend—Klaus Kinski, documentary, directed by Werner Herzog, 1999.
* * *
Klaus Kinski's screen career began 25 years before his performance in Werner Herzog's remarkable Aguirre, the Wrath of God. Yet, of the numerous directors with whom Kinski worked, only Herzog captured the full range and originality of the actor's talents. In their films together, Kinski's passion and power became the brush with which Herzog painted his vivid portraits; it was an inspired wedding of an actor's style and a director's vision.
The Polish-born Kinski was a renowned and often controversial stage actor in Germany as a young man, but his work in films consisted almost entirely of well-paid roles in second-rate European features. There were a few memorable exceptions to this pattern—he appears briefly in Doctor Zhivago as a passenger on the long train ride, and as a villain in Leone's For a Few Dollars More—but not until 1973 and Aguirre did a film role reveal the true measure of Kinski's menacing power and maniacal fervor.
As a Spanish conquistador going slowly mad in the jungles of South America, Kinski is the personification of Herzog's theme of the destructiveness of absolute power. Yet Kinski is also a strangely heroic figure, a man obsessed with his fantasies and, in his own mind, the instrument of an angry God. There is a romantic bravura to Kinski's performance that is the antithesis of the naturalistic style of acting so prevalent in recent years, and its tone is exactly right for Herzog's epic tale.
In Nosferatu—Phantom der Nacht, Herzog's eerie, philosophical retelling of the classic vampire story, Kinski is again an obsessive, terrifying character. The richly atmospheric film pays homage to the great tradition of the German silent era, and Kinski is made up to resemble Max Schreck in Murnau's 1922 Nosferatu. Despite ashen face, sunken eyes, and razor-sharp fangs, Kinski's performance conveys the powerful eroticism inherent in the vampire legends, and it is this blend of oppressive horror and sexuality that sets the tone for Herzog's film.
In Woyzeck Herzog again makes use of Kinski's compelling intensity this time channeling it through a powerless character driven to an act of terrible violence. As the soldier whose sanity snaps under the crushing circumstances of his life—in a role that was perhaps frighteningly close to the actor's own experience as a prisoner of war during World War II—Kinski reveals a vulnerability as raw and dangerous as an exposed nerve. His final explosion is an agonizing release from the pain and helplessness that has marked the character's life.
Fitzcarraldo returns to the South American settings of Aguirre, and once more Kinski was cast (in place of the originally slated Jason Robards) as a man who becomes heroic through his willingness to sacrifice everything to achieve his dream. Yet the dream here is a benign and curiously joyful one, not the expression of a lust for power, but a desire to bring opera to a remote jungle town. Kinski's portrayal of the man in pursuit of this mad fantasy has the now familiar gleam of obsessive zeal, but the threatening quality has gone, leaving in its place a character who is driven but also possessed of a childlike innocence. The vital role that dreams and impossible quests play in our lives has been a pervasive theme in Herzog's work, and never has it been more eloquently articulated than by Kinski's performance in Fitzcarraldo.
Kinski's work with Herzog won him international recognition, as well as roles in films by other well-known directors, most notably James Toback's Love and Money and George Roy Hill's The Little Drummer Girl, in which he gives a memorable performance as Kurtz, the complex, charismatic Israeli spymaster. Kinski appeared in one final Herzog film, Cobra Verde, in 1987. He then made his directorial debut two years later with Paganini, which he also wrote and played the title role in. Critic David Thomson called the sexually explicit and intense screen biography of the violinist and composer "close to unwatchable." It ironically became Kinski's final film credit after he died two years later, ending a 43-year movie career.
Kinski will certainly be best remembered, however, for his roles in Herzog films; it was in these few films that Kinski enjoyed his finest moments on screen. In bringing Herzog's very personal visions to life, Kinski achieved the highest expression of his own unique abilities.
—Janet E. Lorenz, updated by David E. Salamie