Blond-haired, blue-eyed Kinski served in the German army during World War II, however, much of this time was spent as a POW under British control. After the war, he began acting on the stage, and soon moved, pragmatically, to film, where the money was better. He acted in an enormous number of films, most of them considered "crap" (Schrott) by Kinski himself.
His film roles include A Time to Love and a Time to Die (1958), The Counterfeit Traitor (1962), Doctor Zhivago (1965), For a Few Dollars More (1966), Grand Slam (movie) (1968). His international reputation was built on his collaborations with director Werner Herzog in such films as Aguirre: The Wrath of God (1972), Woyzeck (1978), and Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979).
In real life, Kinski often appeared as a drunken, sex-crazed maniac, chronicling his exploits in an autobiography that rivals Wilt Chamberlain's in terms of sexuality. Due to him playing a lot of crazy, murderous villains in his films (for example in the Edgar Wallace series) and his determined, often obsessive behavior, he often was referred to as a crazy genius.
He was married four times and had three children, two daughters (Nastassja Kinski and Nola Kinski, both being actresses) and a son (Nikolai Kinski).