Klaus Kinski (1926-1991) was one of the most controversial German artists of all time. He was born in Poland, but moved to Germany with his parents when he was young, and began his acting career shortly after serving in WWII. As an actor, he was considered a genius. Nobody had the manic passion Kinski exuded. Because of that mania, he was a challenge with which to work. There's eccentric actors, then there's Klaus Kinski. As these Klaus Kinski stories will show, he was one of the strangest thespians in the history of cinema.
Only one director could bear to collaborate with Kinski more than once: Werner Herzog. Herzog and Kinski did a total of five films together: Aguirre, The Wrath of God (1972), Nosferatu (1979), Woyzeck (1979), Fitzcarraldo (1982) and Cobra Verde (1987). Their frenemy relationship produced some of the weirdest stories about Kinski’s life, many of which were highlighted in Herzog’s posthumous documentary tribute to Kinski, My Best Fiend (1999).
Kinski by no means was a good man, as insane celebrities rarely are. He was loathed by many, including his own family. Yet, no other thespian brought intensity to a character like he did. Below are some facts and stories about this wild man definitely worth checking out. Some spoilers are ahead if you’re not caught up on your Herzog films.
The most egregious accusations against Kinski comes from his own daughters. Nearly 12 years after his passing, his eldest daughter, Pola Kinski, accused him of repeatedly abusing her as a child in her book, Kindermund or From A Child’s Mouth. She claimed it started when she was 5, and he assaulted her for the first time when she was 9.
“I’ve written a book about it because I can no longer bear the fact that a person whose halo gets bigger from year to year is being glorified in this way,” Pola said in an interview with Stern magazine.
Pola’s half-sister, actress Nastassja Kinski, supported her sister’s claims, saying her father was also inappropriate with her.
The making of Aguirre, Wrath of God was infamously harried. Director Werner Herzog took camera equipment for the movie from the Munich Film School, and paid local trappers to capture 400 monkeys, which they then tried to sell to someone in the United States. Herzog went to the airport pretending to be a veterinarian and got the monkeys back just before they were flown out of the country.
But that's not as bad as Kinski accidentially injuring an extra. While in the middle of a tantrum, the actor was irritated by noises coming from a hut where extras and crew members were playing cards. Kinski fired at the hut and took the top of an extra's finger.
Kinski was known to throw hours-long tantrums on set. At one point while filming Fitzcarraldo (1982), Herzog reached his boiling point with Kinski’s antics. He planned to set Kinski’s cabin ablaze while he was asleep inside. He would have done it if it weren’t for Kinski’s vigilant dog, who barked at the director as he approached the house.
"We had a great love, a great bond, but both of us planned to [take each other out],” Herzog said of the late actor at the premier of My Best Fiend at Cannes. “Klaus was one of the greatest actors of the century, but he was also a monster and a great pestilence. Every single day I had to think of new ways of domesticating the beast."
As Werner Herzog relates in My Best Fiend, Kinski once threw two potatoes and whatever cutlery he could find at a theater critic during a formal dinner. According to Herzog, Kinski took offense to the critic praising a small role of the actor's in a play as "outstanding and extraordinary."
After chucking root vegetables and flatware at the man, Kinski shouted "I was not excellent! I was not extraordinary! I was monumental! I was epochal!"