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Diamond cowboy: Kris Kristofferson enters his 75th year

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Kris Kristofferson
Gary Miller/FilmMagic.com

On this day in 1936, a star was born. Over the past 75 years, it seems there have been very few areas in which Kris Kristofferson hasn’t excelled.

Born in Brownsville, Texas, to a major general in the U.S. Air Force father, as a teen, he tore up the field at rugby, football, and track. He graduated from Pomona College a member of Phi Beta Kappa and became a Rhodes Scholar. His travels actually led to his singing career, when he decided to make a go of songwriting while studying at Oxford.

His family ultimately pressured him to give up music to join the military, but it was a fortunate change, because the flight training he received in the military eventually scored him a chance to shock an icon into listening to his songs. As the story goes, Kristofferson (who was working as a janitor for Nashville’s Columbia Studios — street cred!) flew a helicopter into Johnny Cash’s yard and presented the Man in Black with a few of his songs. That kind of moxy makes Kristofferson the icon he has become over the years. 

His songwriting career soon took off, then he overcame (thought admittedly mainly through drinking) his stage fright to become a celebrated performer. This, in turn, launched his acting career. After a few bit parts in smaller films, Sam Peckinpah — who became a good friend — saw Kristofferson performing at The Troubadour in Los Angeles and decided to cast him as Billy the Kid in 1973’s Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid. Of course that’s only after he wrote “Me and Bobbie (later Bobby) McGee,” which was taken to the top of the charts by Janis Joplin, who was — you guessed it — his girlfriend.

It’s no surprise Kristofferson keeps such good company. In addition to being a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame (inducted in 2004) and the Songwriters Hall of Fame (1985), he counts among his friends Jeff Bridges, Tommy Lee Jones, Sam Peckinpah, Burt Reynolds, Muhammad Ali and Willie Nelson

Kristofferson once told an interviewer, “Never give up, which is the lesson I learned from boxing.” Yes, boxing. Another thing at which he is awesome. Of course, even a Golden Globe winner (1976’s A Star Is Born) has his flops. But it seems even the times when Kristofferson faltered, he did it with panache — hello back-to-back Razzie nominations for 1980’s Heaven’s Gate and 1981’s Rollover. Hey there, Big-Top Pee-wee. Howdy, sassy Playgirl (and Playboy!) spread.

Now, on his diamond birthday, and with nearly 100 projects to his name (and that’s just as an actor), Kristofferson shows no signs of slowing down. He has seven projects coming out in the next two years with such co-stars as Morgan Freeman, Queen Latifah, Eric Bana, Olivia Wilde, and Dakota Fanning. Not that it seems Kristofferson has ever paced himself, but it seems certain he can teach these relative youngsters a few things about longevity.