He was born Nikolaus Günther Karl Nakszynski in Zoppot, near Danzig, on October 18, 1926. In 1930, his family moved to Berlin. Drafted in 1944, he was taken prisoner by the British and transported to Camp 186 near Colchester, where he'd take on his first theatrical roles. By 1946, he was performing in the Schlosspark-Theater in Berlin and, in 1947, he scored his first film role as a Dutch prisoner in Eugen York's Morituri.
In 1960, he took his one-man show on the road: Kinski spricht Villon, Rimbaud, Wilde, Majakowskij und Schiller. That same year, he landed his first role in an Edgar Wallace adaptation: Lorenz Voss in Karl Anton's The Avenger. He'd appear in several international productions, but of course, it wasn't until Klaus Kinski and Werner Herzog found each other that cinema was jolted by one of those rare alchemical bonds of director and actor in which — like Scorsese and De Niro, Kurosawa and Mifune, Truffaut and Léaud — each was somehow a key to the other's lock. You can watch Herzog's doc on Kinski, Mein liebster Feind (My Best Fiend), with English subtitles, here: parts 1 and 2.
In Germany, Kinski's been haunting the papers again since last month's release of Peter Geyer and art director OA Krimmel's mammoth volume Vermächtnis, 400 pages (with 500 images) of Kinskiana. See, for example, Christian Schröder's review for the Tagesspiegel. And tonight at 8:10 pm (European time, of course), Geyer and Michael Farin present a radio play comprised solely of Kinski quotes, Klaus Kinski. Um mich herum ist es dunkel und in mir wächst das Licht, featuring Blixa Bargeld, Ulrich Matthes and Nadeshda Brennicke.