Stalking Klaus Kinski or How I Worshiped a Madman

Klaus Kinski b. October 18, 1926 – d. November 23, 1991

Today would have been Klaus Kinski’s 83rd birthday and in honor of the event I thought I’d share something I originally wrote about the actor back in 2003 on Valentine’s Day but have since expanded on.*

One should judge a man mainly from his depravities. Virtues can be faked. Depravities are real.” – Klaus Kinski

I don’t get star-struck often. There are only a few celebrities that can make me weak-kneed and slack-jawed and one of them is the deceased, but not forgotten actor, Klaus Kinski.

When Klaus appears in a film it’s impossible to take your eyes off of him. He always manages to steal whatever scene he’s in. He’s not conventionally beautiful or typically handsome but his face is a remarkable canvas that seems to exude life itself. You can see the poverty Klaus suffered as a child, the time he spent in asylums and prisons, his unhinged sexuality, passion for life and unbridled anger pouring out of his eyes and every pore of his ragged skin. Real or imagined, this is a man with an appetite for destruction who lived and loved life. The myth of Klaus Kinski the actor and Klaus Kinski the man are one and the same. And I fell in-love with the whole package.

I watched Klaus in many movies while I was growing up and I was always drawn in by his presence. He appeared in countless horror films, thrillers and great spaghetti westerns throughout the 1960s and 1970s that ran on television when I was a kid and I couldn’t help but notice him. He was unlike anyone else on my TV. By the time I was a teenager I had seen at least 10 or 12 of Kinski’s films and I knew him by name. Klaus became one of my favorite performers and I started to actively seek out the movies he had appeared in whenever they played on television.

When I discovered Werner Herzog’s films in the late 1980s my interest in Klaus Kinski turned into a full blown obsession. Herzog is an amazing director and his films with Kinski such as Aguirre, Wrath of God (1972), Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979), Woyzeck (1979), Fitzcarraldo (1982) and Cobra Verde (1987) are all incredible movies that managed to capture Kinski’s unrestrained personality and exploit his acting talents to their fullest. I was also lucky enough to get my hands on a copy of Kinski’s autobiography in the late 80s. Reading about the actor in his own words was an eye-opening experience. His autobiography is a fascinating, lust-filled rant that is impossible to forget.

I didn’t have access to the internet or eBay back then so I had to satisfy my cravings for more Kinski by trying to locate the films he had appeared in on video at local rental shops or through mail-order catalogs. I also tried to buy posters for films that Klaus appeared in but that wasn’t an easy task. I did manage to get my hands on a poster for Aguirre, Wrath of God, which hung proudly on my wall announcing to anyone who noticed it that I was a card-carrying member of the Klaus Kinski fanclub.

In the summer of 1991 I was an impetuous and slightly naive young woman living with two friends who both worked at a local video store. I occasionally did part-time work there myself whenever I needed a few extra bucks. It was a popular place for film fanatics and it had one of the best selections of videos for rent in the entire Bay Area. Notable locals like director George Lucas and Terry Zwigoff were regular customers and filmmakers like Les Blank often visited the store when they were doing research. When news got to me that Les Blank had started visiting the store I got really excited. I knew Les had worked with both Herzog and Kinski so I tried bumping into Les Blank on the days the staff thought he might show up but it never happened. I didn’t have a car so when I got a call telling me Les was at the video store I could never get their quickly enough. Finally I got word that Les Blank had casually mentioned Klaus Kinski was staying in the area for awhile. Then another customer who owned an art supply store in town started casually mentioning that a “creepy” German actor named Kinski was coming in regularly to buy art supplies at her shop. When this all got reported back to me I flipped out! In his later years Klaus apparently spent a lot of his free time in the Bay Area focusing on his art. With this new information handed to me I became determined to meet Mr. Kinski.

I started going to the art supply store where Klaus Kinski was a regular customer whenever I could. I hung around aimlessly thumbing through books like How to Sketch a Nude for hours hoping that Klaus would suddenly appear. I don’t know what I expected to happen if I did see him. I imagined throwing myself at his feet and telling him how much I admired him even though I was sure that he would laugh at my groveling behavior. Maybe I hoped we’d end up at his Lagunitas home and get drunk on too much red wine while we talked for hours about art and cinema? Most likely I just wished that he would make crazy violent love to me right there in the art supply store and at the end of our passionate encounter we’d be covered in paints, pastels and charcoal while the other customers looked on in disbelief. Unfortunately whatever I dreamed up in my wild imagination never happened.

For a month I aimlessly hung around the art supply store waiting for Klaus to show up. The store owner was tolerant of me since I was the only person in her small shop most of the time and she was somewhat aware of my fascination with “creepy” Kinski. On one occasion I was told I had missed him by only 20 minutes. On another day I was told he had come in a day earlier. Then one afternoon the shop owner finally told me that she had not seen Kinski for a few weeks and thought he might have left town. I was devastated. But I didn’t give up and throughout the rest of the summer I occasionally stopped by the art supply store hoping Klaus would suddenly materialize there. I was sure that something of him had stayed behind amid the paint fumes and paper remnants. A hair strand? A fingerprint? A memory?

My quest to meet the elusive actor finally came to a sad end when I got word that he had died on November 23, 1991. It really pained me at the time since only weeks before I had been so close to meeting him. But now I knew that was never going to happen. I still feel close to Klaus whenever I see one of his films or watch him go head-to-head with Werner Herzog in My Best Fiend. Maybe it’s because I nearly met him? Or maybe it’s because I can understand Herzog’s appreciation and fascination with his friend since in some very small way I experienced it myself?

I’ve never stalked a celebrity before and I will never do it again. It’s not something I advocate or recommend but young women (and men) often do impulsive and silly things when they’re obsessed with a boy (or girl). That said, I have no regrets about trying to meet Klaus Kinski during that long hot summer of ’91. I think Klaus would have appreciated my harmless determination and mad devotion.

There is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness.” – Nietzsche

Klaus Kinski in San Francisco

For more on Klaus Kinski I highly recommend visiting Dan Taylor’s terrific site The On-Line Guide to Klaus Kinski!

* An edited version of this piece was originally published in my Livejournal blog on Feb. 14, 2003.

13 thoughts on “Stalking Klaus Kinski or How I Worshiped a Madman

  1. sorry you never met kinski

    my wife worked with him on nosferatu

    i met him on the set of operation entebbe … we spent an afternoon and he initially affected an air of hostiiity but it was only a front

    subsequently we were sporadically see him in los angeles and what my wife and i remember is that behind a madness that he obviously possessed there was an incredible sweetness

    best regards

  2. Having had the opportunity to meet a lot of celebs, I think it’s probably better that I only got to admire Kinski from a distance. He could have never lived up to my ridiculous expectations.

    But thanks for sharing your story, spider. I really love Herzog’s Nosferatu remake!

  3. Great story Kim. My buddy and I were lamenting the fact that we lost Klaus far too early. Luckily he left behind a great cinematic legacy for us too enjoy. To Klaus!

  4. Glad you enjoy it, Dan. It is a shame that Kinski passed away when he was only 65. When you consider that actors like the great Max von Sydow are still alive & working, it makes you wonder what Kinski would have done with some extra years on earth.

    Cheers to Kinski!

  5. Kimberly, a great story. I think the story of Kinski and Herzog’s collaboration might be the greatest in film. What director and actor better complimented each other?

  6. Thanks a lot, Rick! Kinski and Herzog definitely had one of the most intense actor/director relationships that I can think of. Their love and hate for one another manifested itself in profound ways. I always find watching My Best Fiend a fascinating experience since so much of what Herzog and others say about Kinski is often contradicted by the images shown on screen.

  7. I remember the first time I saw Kinski was his cameo as the anarchist in Dr. Zhivago. I was stuck by this madman with the long blonde hair who completely stole the scene and made such a powerful impression. I next saw him in El Conde Dracula, by which time I had become aware of Kinski, and would seek out films with him, since I knew that even if the film itself was mediocre, Kinski’s acting (or was it really acting?) would make it worthwhile. I also picked up a copy of his autobiography. While most are a good read even though they are almost always self-serving (I’m thinking Roman by Polanski, with the chapter about his statutory rape of a 12 year old), I doubt this was the case with Kinski. His book is not an attempt to spin the facts or sugar coat his life. His willingness to write things about himself which are not flattering leads me to believe that much it was honest. Thanks for posting this. I’m sorry you missed out on meeting him.

  8. Thanks so much for this post about Kinski. I have always admired him, but because of your post, I watched My Best Fiend last night and it definitely made me want to see the rest of the Herzog/Kinski movies (I’ve only seen Nosferatu and Aguirre so far). I’m going to watch them on Netflix instant watch in the next couple of days. I also purchased his autobiography from the Amazon marketplace today, and I can’t wait to read it!

    Have you ever read the interview with Kinski in Fangoria magazine? I believe it was published in the mid 80s. If you haven’t, maybe I’ll dig out my copy and type it up for you.

  9. Fred – Glad you enjoyed the post. Dr. Zhivago was one of the earliest Kinski films I remember seeing as well. It was one of my moms favorite films and we used to watch it together every time it played on TV. even though his part is small, Kinski is really memeorable in the film.

    Ryan – Thanks a lot and I’m glad you enjoyed watching My Best Fiend. It’s a terrific and really touching film. I hope you enjoy Kinski’s bio when you get a chance to read it! I have a ton of old Fangoria mags myself but they’ve been stuck in storage for years. I honestly can’t remember if I’ve read the Kinski interview or not but it’s highly likely that I have. If you’d like to scan it I’d be happy to post a link to it here so others can enjoy it too!

  10. I had to laugh reading this. I am not alone! We are certainly kindred spirits in our mutual obsession/admiration/infactuation with Kinski. I would have been right there with you in that art supply store every damn day…

  11. Love this story, Kimberly, and I completely understand. I am new to Klaus and find the man simply amazing. I thought I would share this link just in case you haven’t seen it (and, if you have, it is worth a second helping, right?):

    I know Herzog complains about Kinski in Cobra Verde but I really loved his performance.

Comments are closed.