Sports heroes who served: Singer, songwriter, actor Kris Kristofferson is also an Army veteran

Kris Kristofferson is a famous singer-songwriter and actor. He is also an award-winning college athlete, a Rhodes Scholar and an Army veteran. 

Although Kristofferson is a singer, he’s more famous for the songs he wrote but were covered by others, such as: “Me and Bobby McGee,” “For the Good Times,” “Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down” and “Help Me Make It Through the Night.”

As an actor, he starred in a number of films including: “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore,” “A Star is Born,” “Convoy,” “Heaven’s Gate,” “Stagecoach,” “Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia,” “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid” and “Blade.”

While he is known for his exploits on stage and the big screen, other parts of his life are less well known. Before his singing and acting career, Kristofferson was a talented athlete in a number of sports. 

Kris Kristofferson, poses in his Army uniform sometime in the early 1960s. (Army photograph)

In 1958, Kristofferson attended Pomona College in California, where he excelled in rugby, football and track and field. He became so famous that he appeared in Sports Illustrated magazine’s “Faces in the Crowd” that year.

Clearly, his grades didn’t suffer from time spent on the athletic field; he graduated summa cum laude in literature. He also earned a Rhodes Scholarship to the University of Oxford, England.

At Oxford, he was awarded the Blue for boxing, which honors athletes who are at the top of their game. The Blue, the highest honor granted to individual sportspeople at the University of Oxford, depends on very specific criteria within that sport and is a highly sought-after achievement for Oxford student athletes.

Kristofferson also was on the university’s rugby team.

Lars Henry, Kristofferson’s father, was an Air Force pilot, who would eventually retire as a major general. Henry urged Kristofferson to enter the military after college, which he did.

After joining the Army, Kristofferson received flight instruction at Fort Rucker, Ala., and became a helicopter pilot. He also successfully completed one of the military’s most physically challenging courses: Ranger School.

Singer, actor and songwriter Kris Kristofferson hands Jesse Kristofferson, his son, a certificate during the graduation ceremony of Alpha-190 at U.S. Coast Guard Training Center Cape May, N.J., Aug. 15, 2014. Kristofferson’s son was one of 78 graduates to enter the Coast Guard enlisted workforce where they will be stationed all over the country performing duties ranging from maritime law enforcement to search and rescue. (Coast Guard photograph by Chief Warrant Officer John Edwards)

In the early 1960s, he was stationed with the 8th Infantry Division in West Germany, where he formed a band.

After serving overseas, Kristofferson was offered an Army job, teaching English literature at the U.S. Military Academy.

However, Kristofferson’s interests were in music, and he decided to leave the Army in 1965 to pursue songwriting. It is said that his decision to leave the military was a blow to his family.

To supplement his income, Kristofferson worked as a commercial helicopter pilot in Louisiana, splitting his time between there and Nashville, Tenn., where he’d pitch country songs that he wrote. During his time ferrying people and supplies to an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico, Kristofferson wrote two major hits:, “Help Me Make It Through the Night” and “Me and Bobby McGee.” Janis Joplin recorded “Me and Bobby McGee” just prior to her death in 1971. It reached the top of the charts, and it is credited as being Kristofferson’s breakthrough song.

In 2004, Kristofferson was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.

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