44 Years Ago: Kris Kristofferson’s ‘A Star Is Born’ Opens
On Dec. 8, 1976, a remake of A Star Is Born opened in theaters. Starring Kris Kristofferson and Barbra Streisand, this particular version of the story is a remake of the 1937 movie with Janet Gaynor and Fredric March. (However, it shouldn't be confused with a 1954 musical version starring Judy Garland and James Mason.)
In the 1976 version of A Star Is Born, Kristofferson plays John Norman Howard, a once-successful rock star who's finding it hard to stay motivated by music and fight off his self-destructive demons -- until he happens upon ambitious Esther Hoffman (played by Streisand) performing in a bar. The two strike up a relationship and have a torrid affair, which eventually leads to marriage. Along the way, however, Esther's career starts to finally catch fire, as John's fortunes continue to fall. The end result is tragic.
Interestingly enough, Kristofferson wasn't the first choice for his A Star Is Born role. Instead, Elvis Presley was, according to a longtime friend, Jerry Schilling.
"Barbra came up to [Presley's] dressing room after one of his concerts to discuss the part," Schilling told Paul Simpson, author of The Rough Guide to Elvis: The Man, The Music, The Movies, The Myth, in 2002. "I was surprised to see her because we'd been to see her a few months ago, and Elvis and I had gone backstage, and Barbra had asked him what he thought of her show, and Elvis had said, 'You've got a great voice, Barbra, but you will keep putting your hand in front of your face while you sing, and it's very distracting'. At that point, I figured we'd probably never see her again.
"But she came backstage [and] they talked the offer through over some food," Schilling continues. "After they left, I could tell he wanted to do it but, as with so many of the things he wanted to do at that point in his life, he expected people would try to stop him."
It didn't help either that Col. Tom Parker also reportedly wanted a $1 million salary and a large percentage of the profits, which ended up scotching the deal.
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Still, Kristofferson's portrayal was realistic -- even if, in a 2014 interview, he denied basing his character on the Doors' Jim Morrison. "That’s a good idea, but it’s not true," he said. "I don’t think I ever met Morrison. A lot of people said we looked alike – shirts off, beards – but that washed-up rock star [in the movie] was more about me."
A Star Is Born ended up grossing $80 million at the U.S. box office and became a major hit. The soundtrack was also a success, landing at No. 1 on the Billboard Top 200 and spawning Streisand's chart-topping single "Evergreen." That song also won the Academy Award and Golden Globe for Best Original Song, which netted Streisand and co-wrier Paul Williams trophies. The movie itself also won Golden Globe Awards for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy, Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy (Streisand), Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy (Kristofferson), and Best Original Score (Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher).
In 2018, a new version of A Star Is Born starring Bradley Cooper as a troubled country singer and Lady Gaga as his protege hit theaters, along with a soundtrack featuring tunes penned by Jason Isbell and Lukas Nelson.
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