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Kris Kristofferson revisits his old hits and troubled past

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Kris Kristofferson
Christopher Kolk/Corbis-Outline

On his new release, ”The Austin Sessions,” outlaw country singer Kris Kristofferson breaks a three-year silence with an album of rerecordings of his biggest hits. But fans eager to hear new versions of ”Sunday Morning Coming Down” and ”Me and Bobby McGee” might have waited a whole lot longer for this CD if the 63-year-old star hadn’t been lured back into the studio by ”Austin”’s producers. ”I was kind of burned out,” Kristofferson tells EW Online. ”I got tired of touring without any real reason to go out there. And Christ, after I’ve passed 60 years, I don’t have to do anything I don’t want to do.”

Kristofferson, who recently had elective heart bypass surgery, says that what he wants to do these days is put his hard-drinking, hard-loving past behind him, choosing to spend time with his kids and golf buddy Willie Nelson. But he’s hardly Mr. Mom. He recently finished the thriller ”Detox” with Sylvester Stallone and has plans to write an autobiography some day. ”I’m gonna be kind of slow on that,” he cautions. ”It’s like I told my wife, ‘Hell, I spent most of my life trying to forget all this s—. I don’t want to remember it and write it down!”’

But Kristofferson isn’t shy about discussing some of the sore points of his 30-year career. He admits that he still hasn’t recovered from the stage fright that once spurred his alcoholism. ”I don’t think that will ever leave,” he says of his preshow shyness. ”But I think that I know, as uncomfortable as I feel, that I’m going to do it better sober than if I’m not.” He also acknowledges that his strong left-wing political beliefs have cost him record sales and fans in recent years. ”I’m sure [1990’s] ‘Third World Warrior’ got me dropped off the label I was on,” he says of the album (on Mercury) which supported the causes of Nelson Mandela and Leonard Peltier. ”But I absolutely feel I made the right choice to be outspoken.”

With his new CD, Kristofferson’s politics and troubled past are finally overshadowed by the three-decade demonstration of his brilliant, unconventional songwriting. But even he isn’t convinced critics (or even his friends) are ever going to warm up to him as a crooner. ”I have no illusions about my voice,” says Kristofferson, who’s termed his gruff delivery ”froggy.” ”I think I can sing better than I used to, but I don’t know that anyone else thinks that. And I know Willie [Nelson] sure doesn’t. But his opinion of my singing has never affected our friendship.”

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