Kris Kristofferson is a country music legend, slaying in Nashville with the likes of Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, and Waylon Jennings in the outlaw country supergroup, The Highwaymen. His songs "Help Me Make it Through the Night," "For the Good Times," "Why Me" and "Sunday Morning Coming Down" are country standards and "Me and Bobby McGee," recorded by Janis Joplin, is one of the most beloved tunes in the American songbook. In fact, the singer-songwriter had such a successful career that he is not only a Grammy winner but was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame.
To celebrate this American icon, here are eight things you might not have known about the This Old Road singer.
1. He's a Military Brat and a Veteran
Long before he made it to the Music City, he was born in the Lone Star State. Kristofferson was born in Brownsville, Texas, and raised in San Mateo, California. His father was in the Army Air Corps (later the U.S. Air Force), where he ultimately rose to the rank of Major General.
As a high ranking officer, Kristofferson's father pressured his son to pursue the same career path, and, for a while, he did. Kris Kristofferson rose to the rank of captain in the U.S. Army as a helicopter pilot. While stationed in West Germany, Kristofferson began to write music again.
2. His Family Disowned Him For Choosing Art Over the Army
Ultimately, Kristofferson didn't want to pursue a lifelong career in the military, turning down a post to teach literature at West Point. According to an interview with Rolling Stone, Kristofferson's parents disowned their son for going against everything the family stood for. It's unclear if they ever reconciled.
3. He's Kind of a Genius
Kris Kristofferson attended Pomona College for his undergraduate studies where he graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in literature. In his junior year, he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and, after graduation, Kristofferson earned a Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford University, where he studied at Merton College. So, his genius goes well beyond his songwriting acumen.
4. He Was an Awesome Rugby Player
Kris Kristofferson and his classmates at Pomona College resurrected the Claremont Colleges Rugby Club, which is still a highly regarded Rugby club in Southern California today. Kristofferson also played rugby at Oxford.
If that's not enough, he was at least a two-sport athlete, Bo Jackson style, as a Golden Gloves-winning amateur boxer.
Read More: Kris Kristofferson: A Modern Renaissance Man
5. He's a Star in Nashville AND Hollywood
Kristofferson won a Golden Globe for his role in the 1976 version of A Star is Born, which co-starred Barbra Streisand. He's also known for his roles in Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, Blade, Lone Star, A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries and Heaven's Gate. He was also in the Dolphin Tale movies but... we don't have to talk about that.
6. He's Still Racking Up Grammy Nominations
In 2016 his album The Cedar Creek Sessions, which he recorded in Austin, Texas, was nominated for Best Americana Album at the Grammy Awards.
7. He Wrote a Song About Jesus That Was Later Covered by Bob Dylan
The song, entitled, "They Killed Him" was a tribute to Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy.
8. He Once Landed a Helicopter on Johnny Cash's Lawn
In 1969, Kristofferson was already a brilliant songwriter, but he was still struggling to get noticed in Music City. While working as a janitor at the Columbia Records offices in Nashville, he befriended June Carter, who would pass on demos of Kristofferson tunes on to her husband, Johnny Cash. But as the story goes, Kristofferson took a much broader gesture to really get the attention of the Man in Black.
While working part-time as a helicopter pilot for the Army Reserve, Kristofferson flew a chopper to Cash's house, landed on the lawn and walked right up to the singer to hand him a demo of "Sunday Morning Coming Down." We're not sure how much of the story is country lore and how much is the truth, but Cash would go on to record "Sunday Morning Coming Down" and become a close friend and collaborator of Kristofferson. And the story of Kristofferson's wild ride would go down in the pages of country music history.
This story originally ran on Dec. 15, 2019.