Kris Kristofferson – Partly truth and partly fiction
That night at the Austin Opry House, Kris and his wife went to split. She brought back to backstage a big green parrot, said it was under their van. The parrot grabbed her forearm as she tried to give it to anybody. That parrot bit everyone she offered it to. I figured the parrot wanted to go home with a movie star instead of with backstage trash.
I once asked Rip Torn why he wanted to be a movie star. I met Rip in the San Francisco airport when he had flown in to go fishing with Richard Brautigan and Bruce Dunn, Bruce being the younger brother of Price Dunn, who was A Confederate General From Big Sur. Rip lost his aluminum fishing rod case to the airline. He was much disturbed. I always suspected there was something beyond a rod and reel in that case.
Months later, Rip came to Albuquerque to be in the David Bowie film The Man Who Fell To Earth. Rip spent a lot of time in the warehouse where Judy and I lived. When I asked him that question. Rip gave me his patented movie star frown and glare and said to the fool asking: “Everybody wants to be a movie star.”
Whether Kris knew it or not, he was starting to turn gold. He said Dennis Hopper heard Roger Miller doing “Me And Bobby McGee” and had someone call him for a movie, The Last Movie. Hopper still had power from Easy Rider. Kris went to Peru. At least one time the critics were right: The Last Movie was a horrible movie.
I don’t know what Kris did the next year. But in ’72, Harry Dean Stanton brought him a script Bill Norton, a film student, had written. It was called Dealer. The story was about a slick L.A. dope dealer. Kris read it and did whatever soon-to-be-movie-stars do. He was cast in the movie, which was gradually rewritten to be about Kristofferson walking his walk and talking his talk. He was a Texas musician forced to sell marijuana because music powers did not think he and his partner, Harry Dean, could sell records anymore. Harry Dean overdosed in the bathroom. Gene Hackman, who should have had nothing to do with such a movie, being already a Hollywood megastar, played a corrupt cop trying to get Kris to sell a load of dope. Hackman needed the money because his medical problems would get him fired and his retirement money was in question. Cisco Pike was, I think, the best movie ever made of that culture. Hell, I know. I lived there.
I have no idea how Sam Peckinpah got to Kris, but in ’73 the movie director made Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid, perhaps the best movie about Billy The Kid. Kris was at least ten years too old to play Billy; James Coburn was way to old to play Pat Garrett. A year later, Kris surprised me in a totally useless scene as a biker in Bring Me The Head Of Alfredo Garcia, probably Peckinpah’s best movie. Kris acted for the first time in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore; he still played Kris Kristofferson, but as a southwestern rancher. In ’76, he and Barbra Streisand were a fashion show in A Star Is Born; that’s about all. Kris wore a clip-on earring.
I was asleep in the backseat of Jack Steele’s car, headed home from L.A., when somebody bought a new copy of Playboy. I woke up enough to see a spread of Kris and Sarah Miles naked. The Sailor Who Fell From Grace With The Sea had fallen into Playboy. I thought the world is too strange for me and went back to sleep. I read someplace later that Sarah Miles got Kris drunk to do the shoot.
He led a convoy of truckers in Convoy, based on the old C.W. McCall pop song “Convoy”. They filmed the first scene at a bar called Ralphael’s Silvercloud north of Albuquerque. Ralph was a good friend of mine. He saved an old lady from a robber south of downtown Albuquerque. Somebody suggested he get an award from the cops. A cop said no deal; you don’t give awards to dope smugglers. Pilgrim’s pilgrim.
Heaven’s Gate (1981, directed by Michael Cimino) was the worst possible movie, not to mention most expensive, that could have been made about the Johnson County War in Wyoming. In 1984 came Flashpoint. I saw it at a dollar theater in the Pleasant Grove area of Dallas. Kris and Treat Williams were border patrolmen in South Texas. They found a jeep with a skeleton, a sniper rifle and a lot of money. Kris went to San Antonio after the Feds had closed off the area with helicopters and a SWAT team. He discovered on microfilm in a San Antonio library that the skeleton was the man who killed John F. Kennedy. FLASHPOINT! It was the Feds who did it. They wasted Treat Williams and Kris headed for the border with the money. After the Feds tried to kill him, that old movie star, Rip Torn, the local law, told Kris how to get to Mexico with the money. When the movie ended in Dallas, a beautiful young woman approached me in the lobby and asked if the thing meant the Feds killed Kennedy. I said yeah.
The political activist did not always do political movies. Maybe he needed the money, or maybe he just wanted to be a movie star. He actually did one with Pee Wee Herman. The series of movies with Willie, Waylon and the boys could be laughable. But I’m too old to laugh at bad art.
The political activist also told me I should mention Leonard. I’ll mention Leonard. Leonard Peltier has spent a lifetime in federal penitentiaries. Leonard Peltier is an Indian activist who was charged for killing two FBI agents on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. I wasn’t there, but I don’t believe he did it. The Feds just wanted somebody to fall. Kris said he had talked with Leonard on the phone. I’ve been to Leavenworth twice to visit Leonard. He reminds me of Freddy Fender. An article on the internet says Kris did a show wearing a sleeveless FREE LEONARD PELTIER T-shirt.
Neither Kris Kristofferson nor I can get Leonard Peltier out of jail. But the political activist has a lot more power than I do. Maybe if he goes to full-court press, he could have some affect. Get an Indian pilgrim out of jail.
In 1971, Kristofferson did an interview with Seventeen magazine. He told them he had called his parents, wanted to visit. His mama asked him how long his hair was. He said it’s longer than it was than when I was in the Army. She said don’t bother to come. Kris went. He said his parents wouldn’t look at him. After fifteen minutes, they said they had to go to a cocktail party, said make yourself at home. Kris said that’s a bucket full of laughs.
I asked him if he remembered the end of that interview. He had said he wanted Leonard Cohen on his tombstone. Like that bird on the wire he had tried in his way to be free. I’ve got another Leonard Cohen song I think is applicable. Watch out for turning into gold.
Pilgrims come, but I expect they don’t go till the music press forgets them. Faulkner says time starts when the clock stops.