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Star Born: Happy Birthday Kris Kristofferson

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June 22, 2017
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Today we celebrate the life, career and service of an American legend and an American veteran on his birthday. Kris Kristofferson was born June 22, 1936 in Brownsville, Texas.His family was a military family, so Kris is what we would call a military brat. As most military families do, his family moved around frequently when he was a child. His father was an Air Force Major General and he pushed Kris toward a military career. Also of note, Kris’ paternal grandfather was an officer in the Swedish Army. Kristofferson graduated from high school in California and then went on to college at Pomona College, excelled at sports, and was a 'Golden Gloves' boxer. He earned a degree in literature in 1958.

Kristofferson then went on to study at Oxford on a Rhodes scholarship. It was in England when he began to write music. In 1960, he graduated with a second literature degree.Kris was and is the definition of a Renaissance man. After he earned his degrees, Kristofferson joined the United States Army. His service included becoming a Ranger and a helicopter pilot. In the 1960s, he was stationed in Alabama, and sent overseas to West Germany as a member of the 8th Infantry Division. While in Germany he formed a band began playing music again. His brother Kraigher also joined the military and served as a Navy Pilot in the Vietnam War.Kris said, “I grew up in a time when people believed in duty, honor, and country. Both of my grandfathers were officers. My father was a General in the Air Force. My brother and I both served. I’ve always felt a kinship with soldiers; I think it’s possible to support the warrior and be against the war.’ A lot of people probably think I'm a Marxist or something. Hell, I'm not even a good Democrat. I don't much care for politics. It's about doing what you think is right.”Kristofferson earned the rank of Captain while serving in the Army before retiring.

Once Kristofferson was honorably discharged from military service in 1965, he was asked to teach English Literature at West Point. He originally signed up for the deal, but then he declined only two weeks before classes were to begin. He instead chose to pursue a career in music, packed his bags and headed to Nashville. However, the move to Nashville wasn’t a big hit with his family. His mom seemed to take it the hardest as they did not exchange a word for 25 years.Once in Nashville, his first job was a floor sweeper for Columbia Studios. While sweeping the floors, he met Johnny Cash and handed him some songs. They were never recorded, but it kept Kristofferson trying. Kristofferson also got to see Bob Dylan record his famous song, “Blonde on Blonde” in 1966 while working at the studio.Kristofferson split his time between trying to make it in Nashville and working as a pilot for the petroleum industry. While he was on standby as a pilot, he worked on songs. He wrote many of his songs while sitting on the drilling platforms in the Gulf of Mexico including “Me and Bobby McGee." Over the weekends, he would sweep floors and pitch his various songs to music executives.His big break was not for his singing, but for his flying skills. His helicopter training served him well on more than one occasion. In a remarkable incident and in Music City true-to-life legend, he met up with Johnny Cash again when he was tired of being rebuffed. During a National Guard training flight he took his helicopter and made a slight detour. He landed it in Johnny Cash’s back yard. Cash recognized Kristofferson and agreed to listen to a tune called “Sunday Morning Coming Down.” Johnny Cash, before he was the “Man in Black,” was known as the “Man in Blue” being a veteran of the U.S. Air Force himself.

I have often thought it would be a great thing if the Country Music Hall of Fame would have an exhibit of all the famous singers that served in the military and include their stories of service. How many of us would love to see something as spectacular as that? I even wrote a book about all of them myself and pitched it to them but I haven’t gotten an answer back. I don’t have a helicopters license so I can’t replicate Kris’ spectacular show of determination. Johnny Cash turned “Sunday Morning Coming Down” into a number one song that started a long line of hits for Kristofferson and earned him a total of five Grammys during his career. Kristofferson is a member of the Songwriters Hall of Fame, a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, and he was named Veteran of the Year by the American Veterans Awards in 2002 being introduced by his long-time friend and fellow veteran Willie Nelson.Kris Kristofferson was probably the very first Ranger (Operator) to sport a beard and make it a fashion statement. Kristofferson and Willie Nelson, a U.S. Air Force veteran, are the best of friends and this is what Kris had to say about Willie and beards. “He was my hero when I came into town in '65, and he is probably my closest friend right now. You know, he didn’t even have a beard back then. I had the very first beard in all of country music. And he used to give me a lot of shit for it!”The beard was actually an accident though, Kristofferson says, “I had pneumonia and I had to go to the hospital for a week, didn’t shave the whole time. And when I came out, some magazine took a picture of me and called it ‘the new face of country music’. Ever since then Willie too, has looked as wild as heck.”Besides music, Kristofferson has a love of acting. He took a leave from music and went on to star in some low budget movies and has acted in over 90 films throughout his career. His other big break came when he starred with Barbara Streisand in "A Star Is Born." He received a Golden Globe Award in the Best Actor category for his role.

Kristofferson has been married 3 times and has eight children. Mr. Kristofferson is a living legend and widely respected in the veteran community. He served his country well in so many ways. Please join me and raise your glasses high to this American Icon. Happy birthday Mr. Kristofferson! Cheers!

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