What You Didn't Know About Kris Kristofferson's Time As A Military Pilot

Fans of outlaw country music might not necessarily associate the genre with military service and a Rhodes Scholarship, but 84-year-old music legend Kris Kristofferson has always been a bit outside the norm. Born in Brownsville, Texas, to a military family, Kristofferson crisscrossed the country as a military brat before his family settled down in California when he was a teen. After high school, Kristofferson earned a BA in literature from Pomona College and later moved to England as a Rhodes Scholar to study literature at Oxford. But the family ties — and expectations — were strong, and in 1960, Kristofferson entered the Army, according to Military.com. Military service roots ran deep in Kristofferson's family. His father, Lars Henry Kristofferson, was a first-generation American who served as a U.S. Army Air Corps officer and as a major general in the U.S. Air Force, and Lars' own father had proudly served in the Swedish Army.

Before he was an outlaw, Kris Kristofferson was a military pilot

As he explained in an interview with The Progressive, "The military was for me and my brother, you know, just a fact of life." After enlisting, Kris Kristofferson completed Ranger School and then deployed. Kristofferson was stationed in West Germany as a member of the 8th infantry division for much of his time in the Army, where he served as a helicopter pilot, eventually earning the rank of captain.

It was during this time that Kris Kristofferson resumed his love affair with writing and performing music, which he'd first toyed around with while studying at Oxford. He formed a band and regularly played in West Germany. When his military tour was up in 1965, he knew he faced a difficult decision. Though Kristofferson reportedly volunteered for duty in the then-building conflict in Vietnam, the Army instead offered him a post teaching literature at West Point. By then though, music was too important to Kristofferson and he decided to leave the Army.

Leaving the military caused a rift between Kris and his family

Kris Kristofferson's decision to leave his stable career with the Army prompted his parents to disown him, per Military.com. The decision also led to an acrimonious divorce from his first wife. Kristofferson, now alone, moved to Nashville and took a job as a janitor. It was a difficult time for the artist, though being in Nashville did end up being fortuitous, since he met country music royal June Carter Cash while sweeping floors at a recording studio. He gave her a tape of a song he hoped she would pass on to her husband, Johnny Cash.

Struggling to pay his bills, Kristofferson returned to the military during this hardscrabble period in Nashville and joined the Tennessee National Guard. Not only did it give him some extra cash, it ended up offering him some unexpected transportation benefits ... in the form of a borrowed National Guard helicopter. According to military blog We Are the Mighty, Kristofferson explained, "I flew in to John's property," and "almost landed on his roof." This was how the then-unknown singer finally got "Sunday Morning Coming Down," which would go on to be one of his biggest hits, into the right hands.

Kris Kristofferson got recognition, but maybe not reconciliation

After years of service and sacrifice, Kris Kristofferson went on to fame, of course. In addition to "Sunday Morning Coming Down," his hits included "Help Me Make It Through the Night" (for which he won a Grammy in 1972) and "Me and Bobby McGee" (covered famously by his one-time girlfriend, Janis Joplin). He also found success as a songwriter, penning hits for Waylon Jennings, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, and Sammi Smith, among others, and was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1985. Later, he was a member of the country supergroup The Highwaymen, alongside Cash, Jennings, and Willie Nelson.

He also found fame and accolades as an actor, most notably in the Martin Scorsese-helmed Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore in 1974, and alongside Barbra Streisand in A Star Is Born (a role for which he won the Golden Globe for best actor in 1977).

Today, Kris Kristofferson makes his home in Hawaii with his longtime wife Lisa, and while it's unclear whether Kristofferson ever reconciled with his family over his decision to end his career as a military pilot, the Army doesn't seem to have begrudged him his honors; in 2003, Kristofferson was given the Veteran of the Year Award at the American Veterans Awards ceremony.