Kris Kristofferson's Wild Ride

Singer Is Also Boxer, Pilot, Scholar, Writer

After 62 years of near-death experiences, high-profile romances and legendary songs, Kris Kristofferson looks back on a life of amazing achievements. From Golden Gloves boxer, to Rhodes scholar, to decorated Army helicopter pilot, heÂ's always been smitten with success.

KristoffersonÂ's life story has all the makings of a blockbuster-hit movie. But of all his many roles, both on screen and off, Kristofferson is first and foremost a writer. Inspired at Oxford by the likes of William Blake and in Nashville by Johnny Cash, heÂ's packed six lifetimes into one, and as 60 Minutes II Correspondent Charlie Rose reports, translated it all into poetry.



When gazing at Kristofferson, itÂ's hard to overlook the leathery lines of age etched into his chiseled face. But if the 1970s was the decade that made him a star, it also nearly killed him, what with his late nights, drugs, alcohol and women.

"It was fun. It was the way that I thought an artist was supposed to live," he says. "I always agreed with Blake, when he said that the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom....I think God protects fools and songwriters."

Today, Kristofferson, a Texas native, has passed through the fast lane of drugs and alcohol, settling nearly a half a world away in a remote corner of Hawaii. On what he calls his 50-acre "palace of wisdom," tucked into the side of a sleeping volcano, life is certainly slower.

He and his third wife, Lisa, live in Hawaii year round with their five young children. He has eight in all, and it's usually a full house.

"It's much better being an older father," says Kristofferson. "You don't have to go prove to the world and to yourself that you're who you want to be, for better or worse."

Kristofferson has been exploring his whole life; his journeys brought him to Nashville more than 30 years ago to fulfill a childhood fantasy. Previously he was headed for a fast-track assignment at West Point, traveling a path mapped out by his familyÂ's high expectations. Intoxicated by the country music mecca, he shed his military garb and set for the stage. His mother was less than understanding.

"She was horrified," he says, laughing. "From her point of view, I probably looked insane. I was pretty overqualified to be doing what I was doing, which was - I was a janitor at a recording studio.Â"

"And as a matter of fact, she packed up my wife and kid and drove them off to CaliforniaÂ….She, in fact, disowned me, [and] said, Â'Don't visit any of our relatives.Â' You know. Â'You're an embarrassment to us.Â' It was actually a very liberating thing to be cut loose from - from any expectations from anybody."

In those early years of freedom, Kristofferson wrote many of his signature songs, which became classics in the country music world. In 1970 the Country Music Awards named his track Â"Sunday Morning Coming DownÂ" song f the year.

It was the beginning of the decade, and the Nashville establishment recognized his talents, even if it didn't know quite what to make of the stunned and tongue tied man, who appeared to be in less than total control.

He was part of a band of rebels who bucked a system defined by Roy Rogers and rhinestones. He dared to meld country with the demon: rock music.

Fellow songwriter Willie Nelson was his role model, and he still is. Today, however, admiration comes on the golf course rather than the boards; Nelson has a house on the other side of the Hawaiian island.

And what is NelsonÂ's take on KristoffersonÂ's voice? He says: "I'd rather not talk about itÂ….It's a nice day. Let's put it this way: Â'It was a damn good thing he could write.Â'"

Nelson says Kristofferson's writing changed country music.

"Kris brought it kind of from the dark ages up to the present-day time, made it acceptable and brought great lyrics - I mean, the best possible lyrics," says Nelson. "Simple but profound."

Kristofferson met Janis Joplin just as his career was taking off. Their brief love affair mirrored the one in the song "Bobby McGee," which Kristofferson actually wrote.

"We were both in love with what we were doing more than anything else probably," suggests Kristofferson. "We were pretty close. Not for very long, because she didn't live much longer than that."

Just days after her death, Kristofferson was in the studio where Joplin had been recording her latest album and heard her sing his song.

"She never did sing it when I was around," he says. "And it just tore me up. Cause it starts out just with her at the beginning. Guitar, you know. And then the band kicks in. And I can just see her saying, Â'Wait till that mother------ sees this. Wait till he hears how you're supposed to sing it.Â'"

Hit records brought Kristofferson hot film roles, like A Star Is Born, and the songwriting gave way to high-profile stardom. But by the 1980s, with a stalled career and a second failed marriage, Kristofferson found himself with nothing left to lose.

He met his next wife, Lisa, working out at a gym.

"She asked me if I wanted to take a run," he remembers. "And I said, Â'Listen, I get up in the morning and take my little girl to school, and I pick her up when school's over. And that's all I can handle right now. I have a very complicated life.Â'Â"

"And she said, Â'I just was asking you to go on a run. I wasn't talking about changing your life.Â' You know, but she did, for the better," he says. "She stuck it out through some hard years."

Those difficult times included constant crowds and chaos, not to mention some bad habits that Kristofferson was reluctant to break.

"I was trying to raise babies and just have a normal life," says Lisa. "I spent the better part of two or three years trying to [tame him]. And then, at thend of that time, I remember sitting there thinking, Â'OK, he's nice looking, but I can't find one other thing I like about this man. Not one."

Looking back, Kristofferson acknowledges he has changed.

"I had fought for my independence and fought for my freedom, to do as I chose," he says. "You know, I was wrong."

But now, he says he feels freer than he ever has before. He says: "What really makes me happy now is my home. I know that I have that to lose. But I don't see losing it. And I don't care if I never do another movie. And I don't care if I never get back on the road. I like to think that I'm gonna do that. But if I don't, I can live with that."

And just as his priorities have changed, so, he says, has his legacy.

"I used to think that my songs were the best things that I would leave behind me. And I definitely think my kids are now. For starters they're writing better songs than I was at their age," he says.

Ironically, now that Kristofferson has found contentment in this far corner of the world, the rest of the world keeps calling him back. He is in demand again, since John Sayles cast him as the villainous sheriff in Lone Star. Last year, he won acclaim for Merchant Ivory's A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries. He's been on eight other movie sets since.

He might just get the best of both worlds: His wife is coaxing him to write an autobiography, which would keep him at home while pursuing the work that fulfills him the most.

"I really would love to fully develop whatever talent I have as a writer. And I don't think I've done that yet. And it's not to be rich and famous, but to do my duty, for God and my country," he says, laughing. "I don't want to rest on Â'Bobby McGeeÂ' to get into heaven."