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Klaus Kinski; Polish-Born Actor Had 200 Film Roles

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Polish-born actor Klaus Kinski, who possessed a gaze capable of expressing emotional extremes from unmitigated malevolence to naked human torment, was found dead in his home in the Marin County community of Lagunitas, coroner’s officials said Monday.

Kinski, 65, the father of actress Nastassja Kinski, apparently died of natural causes, the coroner’s office said. A family friend found his body Saturday after he failed to show up for a meeting with his son. An autopsy has been scheduled.

The versatile actor, a veteran of more than 200 films, first gained international recognition when he played a hunchback in Sergio Leone’s so-called spaghetti Western “For a Few Dollars More.” He ascended to the first rank of international stars as the lead in German director Werner Herzog’s films such as “Aguirre, The Wrath of God,” “Nosferatu, the Vampyre” and “Fitzcarraldo.”

He became familiar to American audiences for his roles in such films as “Dr. Zhivago” and “The Little Drummer Girl” in which he played a top Israeli intelligence agent.

A small, slight man with deep-set, light blue eyes, Kinski had a mobile face that could seem young or old, handsome or hideous.

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When he spoke of acting, he spoke of its pain rather than its pleasure.

“The process is always the same,” he told The Times in a 1980 interview. “Some roles are tougher . . . but it’s always painful.

“All my life I have been impassioned, pushed by my instincts. I can never be satisfied because my desire continues. For myself, accepting a role is the only way to get to the point of things. Naturally, it’s painful. Love is painful. It’s not that I’m masochistic. You just can’t get away from pain. I don’t mean that to be sad. Pain is life itself. It’s in everything we do to try to free ourselves.”

If Kinski sensed a lack of rapport with directors, he did not hesitate to turn them down. He began the first day on the set of “Crawlspace” in Rome by telling writer-director David Schmeller: “David Lean didn’t direct me (in “Doctor Zhivago”) and you aren’t going to direct me.”

Schmeller said Kinski “doesn’t make any secret of the fact that he’s openly hostile to directors. In one interview in Rome, he said he wished they’d sell cans of poison gas to give to directors.”

Born Nicolaus Naksznski in Poland in 1926, Kinski moved with his family to Germany during the Great Depression and was drafted into the German army when he was 16.

He was captured in Holland by Allied forces on his second day of combat, and spent the rest of World War II in a British prisoner of war camp.

After the war, he drifted into stage work and later landed roles in Leone’s low-budget Westerns.

“I grew up in the streets,” he said. “I was very poor. I always asked (film companies) about the money. These companies have so much money, why not? After all, you’re not taking it from the poor people.”

He worked nonstop in Germany and Italy before moving to France, where he lived for 10 years before moving to this country in the early 1980s.

He married three times. His second wife, Ruth Brigitte Toeki, is the mother of his daughter, Nastassja, 30, who starred in the movies “Tess” and “Paris, Texas.” With his third wife, Minhoi Wiggers, Kinski had a son, Nanhoi.


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