Kris Kristofferson was born in Brownsville, Texas. When Kristofferson was a child, his father pushed him toward a military career. Kristofferson earned a Rhodes Scholarship to the University of Oxford. While at Oxford he was awarded his blue for boxing and began writing songs. With the help of his manager, Larry Parnes, he recorded for Top Rank Records under the name Kris Carson.
In 1960, Kristofferson graduated and pressured by his family, joined the U.S. Army and achieved the rank of Captain. He became a helicopter pilot and was stationed in West Germany where he resumed his music career and formed a band. In 1965, when his tour of duty ended, Kristofferson was offered a position as a professor of English Literature at West Point. Instead, he decided to leave the Army and pursue songwriting. His family disowned him and they never reconciled with him.
After being discharged from the Army in 1965, Kristofferson moved to Nashville and worked at a variety of odd jobs while struggling for success in music. He got a job sweeping floors at Columbia Studios in Nashville. There he met Johnny Cash, who initially accepted some of Kristofferson's songs but chose not to use them.
He also worked as a commercial helicopter pilot at that time for a south Louisiana firm called Petroleum Helicopters International (PHI), based in Lafayette, Louisiana. Kristofferson recalled of his days as a pilot, "... I would work a week down here [in south Louisiana] for PHI, sitting on an oil platform and flying helicopters. Then I'd go back to Nashville at the end of the week and spend a week up there trying to pitch the songs, then come back down and write songs for another week ... I can remember 'Help Me Make It Through The Night' I wrote sitting on top of an oil platform. I wrote 'Bobby McGee' down here...."
Within the next few years, more Kristofferson originals hit the charts, performed by Roy Drusky, Billy Walker & the Tennessee Walkers, Ray Stevens, Jerry Lee Lewis, Faron Young and Roger Miller.
In a strange incident, Kristofferson grabbed Cash's attention when he unexpectedly landed his helicopter in Cash's yard and gave him some tapes.
Kristofferson signed with Monument Records as a recording artist. His debut album for Monument in 1970 was Kristofferson, which included a few new songs as well as many of his previous hits. Sales were poor, although this debut album would become a success the following year when it was re-released under the title Me & Bobby McGee.
Kristofferson's compositions were still in high demand. Ray Price ("For the Good Times"), Waylon Jennings ("The Taker"), Bobby Bare ("Come Sundown"), Johnny Cash ("Sunday Morning Coming Down") and Sammi Smith ("Help Me Make It Through the Night") all recorded successful versions of his songs in the early 1970s.
"For the Good Times" (Ray Price) won "Song of the Year" in 1970 from the Academy of Country Music, while "Sunday Morning Coming Down" (Johnny Cash) won the same award from the Country Music Association in the same year. This is the only time an individual received the same award from these two organizations in the same year for different songs.
In 1971, Janis Joplin, who dated Kristofferson for some time until her death, had a number 1 hit with "Me and Bobby McGee" from her posthumous Pearl. When released, it stayed on the number one spot on the charts for weeks. More hits followed from others.
Kristofferson released his second album, The Silver Tongued Devil and I in 1971; the album was a success and established Kristofferson's career as a recording artist in his own right. Soon after, Kristofferson made his acting debut in The Last Movie and appeared at the Isle of Wight Festival. In 1971, he acted in Cisco Pike and released his third album, Border Lord; the album was all-new material and sales were sluggish.
He also swept the Grammy Awards that year with numerous songs nominated, winning country song of the year for "Help Me Make It Through the Night." Kristofferson's 1972 fourth album, Jesus Was a Capricorn initially had slow sales, but the third single, "Why Me," was a success and significantly increased album sales.
In 1973, Kristofferson married singer Rita Coolidge, and released an album titled Full Moon, another success buoyed by numerous hit singles and Grammy nominations.
However, his fifth album, Spooky Lady's Sideshow, released in 1974, was a commercial failure, setting the trend for most of the rest of his career. Artists such as Ronnie Milsap and Johnny Duncan continued to record Kristofferson's material with much success, but his distinctively rough voice and anti-pop sound kept his own audience to a minimum. Meanwhile, more artists took his songs to the top of the charts, including Willie Nelson, whose 1979 LP release of Willie Nelson Sings Kris Kristofferson was a huge success.
Kristofferson released a new album of original songs entitled Closer to the Bone on September 29, 2009. It is produced by Don Was on the New West label. Previous to the release, Kristofferson remarked: "I like the intimacy of the new album. It has a general mood of reflecting on where we all are at this time of life."
On November 10, 2009, Kristofferson was honored as a BMI Icon at the 57th annual BMI Country Awards. Throughout his career, Kristofferson's songwriting has garnered 48 BMI Country and Pop Awards.
On May 11, 2010 Light In The Attic Records is releasing demos that were recorded during Kristofferson's janitorial stint at Columbia. Please Don't Tell Me How The Story Ends: The Publishing Demos, is the first time these recordings have been released.