Klaus Kinski

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Klaus Kinski
Klaus Kinski Cannes-(retouched-cropped).jpg
Kinski at the 1988 Cannes Film Festival
Klaus Günter Karl Nakszynski[1]

(1926-10-18)18 October 1926
Died23 November 1991(1991-11-23) (aged 65)
Years active1948–1989
  • Gislinde Kühbeck
    (m. 1952; div. 1955)
  • Brigitte Ruth Tocki
    (m. 1960; div. 1971)
  • Minhoi Geneviève Loanic
    (m. 1971; div. 1979)

Klaus Kinski (German: [klaʊs ˈkɪnskiː] (listen), born Klaus Günter Karl Nakszynski[2] 18 October 1926 – 23 November 1991)[3] was a German actor,[4] equally renowned for his intense performance style and notorious for his volatile personality.[5][6][7] He appeared in over 130 film roles in a career that spanned 40 years, from 1948 to 1988. He played leading parts in five films directed by Werner Herzog (Aguirre, the Wrath of God, 1972; Nosferatu the Vampyre, 1979; Woyzeck, also 1979; Fitzcarraldo, 1982; Cobra Verde, 1987), who later chronicled their tumultuous relationship in the documentary My Best Fiend (1999).[8]

Kinski's roles spanned multiple genres, languages, and nationalities, including 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), horror films, war movies, dramas, and Edgar Wallace krimi pictures. His infamy was elevated by a number of eccentric creative endeavors, including a one-man show based on the life of Jesus Christ,[9] a self-directed biographical film of violinist Niccolò Paganini, and over 20 spoken word albums.[10]

During his lifetime, Kinski was a controversial and aggressive figure, prone to emotional and often violent outbursts aimed at his directors and fellow cast members, issues further complicated by a history of mental illness. Herzog described him as "one of the greatest actors of the century, but also a monster and a great pestilence."[11][12] Posthumously, his legacy has been further tangled by accusations of physical and sexual abuse of his daughters Pola[8][13] and Nastassja,[14][15] themselves actresses. His notoriety and prolific output has developed into a widespread cult following[16][17] and a reputation as a popular icon.[18]

Early life[edit]

Kinski's birthplace in Sopot, Poland

Klaus Günter Karl Nakszynski was born on 18 October 1926 in Zoppot, Danzig to Polish-German parents. His father, Bruno Nakszynski, worked as an opera singer before becoming a pharmacist, while his mother, Susanne Lutze, was a nurse and the daughter of a local pastor. He had three older siblings; Inge, Arne and Hans-Joachim.[19] Due to the Great Depression, his family was unable to make a living in Danzig and moved to Berlin in 1931, where they also experienced financial difficulties. The family settled in an apartment in the Schöneberg district of the city and acquired German citizenship.[19] In 1936, he began attending the Prinz-Heinrich-Gymnasium in Schöneberg.[20]

During World War II, he was conscripted into the Wehrmacht in 1943 at the age of 17, serving in a Fallschirmjäger unit.[21][22] He saw no action until the winter of 1944, when his unit was transferred to the German-occupied Netherlands and he was captured by the British Army on his second day of combat.[21][23] Expanding upon his capture in his 1988 autobiography, he claimed that he had decided to desert from the Wehrmacht and had been recaptured by German forces and sentenced to death in a court-martial before escaping and hiding in the woods, subsequently encountering a British patrol which shot and wounded him in the arm before capturing him.[21]

After being treated for his wounds and interrogated, he was transferred to a prisoner-of-war camp in the United Kingdom; the ship transporting him to Britain was torpedoed by a German U-boat but arrived safely. In England, he was held at Camp 186 in Colchester, Essex.[21][24] In his 1999 documentary My Best Fiend, Werner Herzog claimed that he had fabricated much of his 1988 autobiography, including claims of maternal sexual abuse, incest, and childhood poverty. According to Herzog, he was actually raised in a financially stable upper middle class family.[25]


While in Berechurch Hall, Kinski played his first roles on stage, taking part in variety shows intended to maintain morale among the prisoners.[21][24] 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.[21]

Arriving in Berlin, he learned his father had died during the war, and his mother had been killed in an Allied air attack on the city.[21]

Plaque marking Kinski's birthplace in Sopot

Theatrical career[edit]

After his return to Germany, Kinski started out as an actor,[26] 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.[27] Other companies followed, but his unconventional and emotionally volatile behavior regularly got him into trouble.[28]

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.[29]

Living jobless in Vienna, Kinski reinvented himself as a monologist and spoken word artist.[10] He presented the prose and verse of François Villon, William Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde, amongst others. He established himself as an actor touring Austria, Germany, and Switzerland with his shows.[30]

Film work[edit]

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.[31]

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.[32] Herzog has refused to comment on his numerous other plans to kill Kinski. However, he did pull a gun on Kinski, or at least threatened to do so, on the set of Aguirre, the Wrath of God, after the actor threatened to walk off the set.[32]

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"[32] and "moronically shitty".[33] 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.

Personal life[edit]

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 Nastassja Kinski was born in January 1961.[34] He married his third and final wife, model Minhoi Geneviève Loanic, in 1971.[35] Their son Nikolai Kinski was born in 1976. 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.[36]

Mental illness[edit]

In 1950, Kinski stayed in Karl-Bonhoeffer-Nervenklinik (de), a psychiatric hospital, for three days because he stalked his theatrical sponsor and eventually tried to strangle her.[37] Medical records from the period listed a preliminary diagnosis of schizophrenia but the conclusion was psychopathy[38] (antisocial personality disorder). Around this time Kinski became unable to secure film roles, and in 1955 he attempted suicide twice according to one source.[29]

Sexual abuse[edit]

In 2013, more than 20 years after her father's death, Pola Kinski published an autobiography titled Kindermund (or From a Child's Mouth), in which she claimed her father had sexually abused her from the age of 5 to 19.[8][13]

In an interview published by the German tabloid Bild on 13 January 2013, Kinski's younger daughter and Pola's half-sister, Nastassja, 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.[15]


Kinski died on 23 November 1991 of a sudden heart attack at his home in Lagunitas, California[39] at age 65.[40] His body was cremated and his ashes were scattered into the Pacific Ocean.[41]

Of his three children, only his son Nikolai attended the funeral.[42]


Klaus Kinski in a caricature by Hans Pfannmüller

Werner Herzog, in his 1999 documentary about Kinski titled My Best Fiend, claimed that Kinski had fabricated much of his autobiography, and told of the difficulties in their working relationship. Director David Schmoeller released a short 1999 film titled 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 which he claims a producer offered to murder Kinski for his life insurance money.[43]

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.

In popular culture[edit]

Filmography and discography[edit]


  • Ich bin so wild nach deinem Erdbeermund. München: de:Rogner & Bernhard 1975 ISBN 3-8077-0050-1
  • All I need is love. New York : Random House, 1988. OCLC 924569732
  • Paganini. München: Heyne Verlag 1992 ISBN 3-453-05637-X[47]
  • Kinski uncut the autobiography of Klaus Kinski. London: Bloomsbury 1997 OCLC 722391492[48]
  • (with Peter Geyer) Jesus Christus Erlöser und Fieber – Tagebuch eines Aussätzigen. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 2006 ISBN 3-518-45813-2


  1. ^ Birth certificate, klaus-kinski.de. Retrieved 24 November 2017.(in Polish)
  2. ^ Halliwell, Laurie (1997). Halliwell's filmgoer's companion (12th ed.). London, UK: HarperCollins. ISBN 9780002557986.
  3. ^ IMDb database. Retrieved 21 October 2017
  4. ^ Kinski, Klaus (1988). All I Need Is Love (1st ed.). Random House. ISBN 0-394-54916-3. OCLC 18379547.
  5. ^ David, Christian (2008). Kinski. Die Biographie. Berlin, Germany: Aufbau-Verlag. ISBN 978-3-7466-2434-1. OCLC 244018538.
  6. ^ Geyer, Peter (2006). Klaus Kinski: Leben, Werk, Wirkung (in German). Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp. ISBN 3-518-18220-X.
  7. ^ Wise, James E. Jr.; Baron, Scott (2002). International Stars at War. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press. pp. 105–107. ISBN 1-55750-965-4.
  8. ^ a b c Jackson, Patrick (9 January 2013). "German actor Klaus Kinski 'abused his daughter Pola'". BBC News. Retrieved 19 July 2015.
  9. ^ Brehm, Reviews (28 April 2014). "Jesus Christus Erloser". Fuller Studio. Retrieved 9 November 2021.
  10. ^ a b David 2008, pp. 60–61
  11. ^ "Murderous feud on the film set". The Guardian. 21 May 1999. Retrieved 9 November 2021.
  12. ^ "Hideous Kinski". The Guardian. 5 March 2000. Retrieved 9 November 2021.
  13. ^ a b Roxborough, Scott (9 January 2013). "Klaus Kinski's Daughter Claims He Sexually Abused Her". The Hollywood Reporter. Los Angeles, California: Eldridge Industries. Retrieved 19 July 2015.
  14. ^ Biss, Malta (13 January 2013). "Jetzt spricht Nastassja". Bild (in German). Berlin, Germany: Axel Springer AG. Retrieved 19 July 2015.
  15. ^ a b "Nastassja Kinski praises sister for reporting sex abuse". BBC News. 11 January 2013. Retrieved 18 March 2021.
  16. ^ "Cult hero: Klaus Kinski". The Irish Times. Retrieved 8 November 2021.
  17. ^ Perez, Gilberto (7 November 1999). "FILM; An Actor and a Director Whose Bond Was, Well, Mad". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 8 November 2021.
  18. ^ "'I am not your Superstar': Klaus Kinski as Jesus Christ". DangerousMinds. 15 January 2011. Retrieved 8 November 2021.
  19. ^ a b Wise & Baron 2002, p. 105
  20. ^ David 2008, pp. 10–13
  21. ^ a b c d e f g Wise & Baron 2002, p. 106
  22. ^ Klaus Kinski – Biographie 1926–1949
  23. ^ "Klaus Kinski", Variety, 1991
  24. ^ a b David 2008, pp. 14–16
  25. ^ Decloux, Justin (25 June 2019). "Klaus Kinski – The Important Cinema Club Podcast". Film Trap. Retrieved 8 November 2021.
  26. ^ Herzog, My Best Fiend, said that Kinski was self-taught as an actor.
  27. ^ David 2008, pp. 16–20
  28. ^ David 2008, pp. 22–25
  29. ^ a b David 2008, pp. 48–59
  30. ^ David 2008, pp. 97–102
  31. ^ David 2008, pp. 113–19, 136–41
  32. ^ a b c Gibbons, Fiachra (21 May 1999). "Murderous feud on the film set". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 May 2019.
  33. ^ Kinski, Klaus (1996). Kinski Uncut. Joachim Neugröschel (trans.). London: Bloomsbury. p. 294. ISBN 0-7475-2978-7.
  34. ^ Welsh, James Michael; Gene D. Phillips; Rodney Hill (2010). The Francis Ford Coppola Encyclopedia. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press Inc. p. 154.
  35. ^ Deutsche Presse-Agentur (19 November 1971). "Klaus Kinski and wife". AP Images. Associated Press. Retrieved 16 June 2021. German actor Klaus Kinski puts his arm around his third wife, Vietnamese Genevieve Minhoi, during a walk in West Berlin, 19 November 1971.
  36. ^ Wise & Baron 2002, p. 107
  37. ^ "The Psychiatric Files: Klaus Kinski's Widow Files Charges against Berlin, Clinic". Der Spiegel (online). smd/ap/afp. 29 July 2008. Retrieved 16 June 2021. Minhaoi Loanic, Kinski's third wife, is going after the archive for releasing Kinski's patient file from the time he was admitted to the Karl Bonhoeffer Nerve Clinic in September, 1950. The records were among thousands that Vivantes, the company that runs the clinic, handed over to the city's archives last week. The mass circulation daily Bild published details from Kinski's file last week.
  38. ^ "Asylum records confirm Klaus Kinski's madness". thelocal.de. 22 July 2008. Retrieved 16 May 2016.
  39. ^
  40. ^ James, Caryn (27 November 1991). "Klaus Kinski, 65, Actor Known For His Portraits of the Obsessed". The New York Times. New York City.
  41. ^ David 2008, pp. 353–54
  42. ^ Edwards, Matthew, ed. (2016). Klaus Kinski, Beast of Cinema: Critical Essays and Fellow Filmmaker Interviews. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. p. 174. ISBN 978-0-7864-9897-0.
  43. ^ "Please Kill Mr Kinski – an interview with film director David Schmoeller". Du dumme Sau – a Kinski Blog. 2 March 2011. Retrieved 4 December 2014.
  44. ^ Watch: Blind Date Dinner: Comedy Short Film; 'My Dinner with Werner' by Alex Billington, 3 February 2022.
  45. ^ Watch: Max Giermann at Deutscher Comedypreis, 20th March 2023
  46. ^ Watch: Max Giermann at Goldene Kamera, 20th March 2023
  47. ^ "KLAUS KINSKI – Actor, Director and Fruitcake with Extra Nuts". Streamline | The Official Filmstruck Blog. Filmstruck. Archived from the original on 6 September 2019. Retrieved 16 June 2021. Kinski is in almost every scene, chewing up the scenery and his co-stars with wild abandon. But if you think he looks wild-eyed and possessed by the devil as the legendary violin virtuosi, you need to check out the behind-the-scenes featurettes on the making of KINSKI PAGANINI, because that is proof that he really was the wild man he often appeared to be.
  48. ^ Ross, Alex (20 August 1996). "Auto-da-fé". Slate. Retrieved 16 June 2021. Klaus Kinski's self-immolating screed.....In the end, the book is another performance, another ranting Kinski creation. If asked for a Siskel-and-Ebert yea or nay, I wouldn't know what to say: It can be recommended only to certain tastes. Amateur psychologists may enjoy it as a sort of high-level Nintendo game of bombarding sexual neuroses. Students of human misery can savor its underlying sadness and futility. And as always with Kinski, there's a taunting taste of comedy; the tears on his cheeks are from laughter. As I put this wretched book down, I thought I heard a cackle from somewhere, and a man with red eyes rasping, "Idioten!"

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