By Lakin Allen
Kris Kristofferson is a man who has truly done it all. After graduating Phi Beta Kappa with a Bachelor of Arts in creative writing from Pomona College in California, Kristofferson earned a prestigious Rhodes scholarship to study literature at the University of Oxford. While in England, he competed on the rugby team, boxed, and pursued his music. After earning his post-graduate degree in philosophy, Kristofferson served in the army as a ranger helicopter pilot and eventually attained the rank of captain.
Captivated by the sounds of artists such as Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson, Kristofferson moved to Nashville to pursue his musical dreams. It wasn’t until the beginning of the 1970s, however, when the songwriter’s career took off. Kristofferson’s compositions were being recorded by more than 450 country music artists when he eventually launched his own performing career. The three-time Grammy award winner has recorded 29 albums and spent three decades performing concerts all over the world.
Kristofferson was also a member of the Highwaymen, an American country music supergroup, composed of himself, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, and Willie Nelson. The musician never imagined working with some of the biggest industry artists. In a 2013 interview he claims that Willie Nelson “was my hero years before I ever met him,” and Johnny Cash “was never life-sized to me…he always seemed like something off Mount Rushmore.”
In a conversation with Cleveland.com, Kristofferson says, “one of the things I have to shake my head and look back on are all the people who were my heroes that I’ve become close with, from Roger Miller, the Highwaymen, Muhammad Ali — all people I greatly respect that I’m still close to. It’s amazing to me to look back on my life and see that.” However, the man who wrote “Me and Bobby McGee” has now outlived many of his heroes.
In addition to his music career, Kristofferson’s renown brought him to the attention of the film industry. Besides winning the 1977 Golden Globe award for Best Actor in A Star is Born, the jack of many trades has acted in more than 70 films. More recently, he was honored with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014.
Since then, the 83-year-old hasn’t skipped a beat, still traveling the country playing to sold-out crowds. He last performed on November 17 in Cleveland, Ohio.
The singer-songwriter has truly lived out his dreams. From the man who once landed a helicopter on Johnny Cash’s property to ask him to record one of his songs to the humble man still writing music in his home on the Hawaiian island of Maui, the Country Music Hall of Fame member states that he’s “tried to live a good one [life], a full one. I just think the more honest your expression, the better your creative work is.” His songs reflect an inherent authenticity. By uniting his degrees in philosophy and creative writing with a love for music, the natural overlap was to become a songwriter.
In 2020, Kristofferson will be the recipient of the Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award at the Country Music Awards. This award is given in recognition of an artist’s historical impact on fans and industry professionals alike. Previous recipients include Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton, among others. Kristofferson’s curious and open mind has led him to live a life filled with diverse experiences, and he is now, as his long-time producer Don Was says, “aging with grace, acceptance, and gratitude, while maintaining a fierce independence.”
ΦBK member Lakin Allen is a senior at the University of Kansas majoring in journalism with minors in Spanish and Italian. She loves traveling the world and meeting new people over a good cup of coffee (or gelato!). She hopes to use her degree to continue learning from and sharing people’s stories. The University of Kansas is home to the Alpha of Kansas Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.