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Jack Nicholson (born 22.04.1937) - American actor.

  / Jack NicholsonAfter four full decades of film-making, three of them spent at the very top of his profession, Jack Nicholson is arguably the most famous actor alive. As far back as 1983, at that year's Oscar ceremony, host Billy Crystal announced the presenter of the Best Picture award. He just said one word - Jack - and an audience of billions knew exactly who was about to stroll onstage. He's a writer, a director and a producer. By 2002, he'd been Oscar-nominated on eleven separate occasions. He's been romantically linked to many of Hollywood's most beautiful actresses. He's even had a book written about his taste in food - Cooking For Jack. Again, which other Jack could they possibly mean?

Nicholson's upbringing was strange - he would not discover HOW strange till he was well into his thirties. He was born on the 22nd of April, 1937, in St Vincent's Hospital, New York City (though there is apparently no record of his birth anywhere), then his mother took him back to her hometown of Neptune, New Jersey, where he was raised by his grandmother, always believing that his own mother was his older sister. He remained unaware of the situation till informed in 1974 by a journalist who'd been researching a feature on him. The details remain sketchy as, by that time, both his mother and grandmother were dead, both having taken their secret to the grave, and Nicholson subsequently had next-to-no contact with his real father. But this is the generally accepted truth.

Nicholson's mother, June, was a highly talented dancer and showgirl who, by the age of 17, was already making a name with the renowned Earl Carroll Dancers (her stage-name was June Nilson). At 17, she met the handsome, Neapolitan-extracted Don Furcillo-Rose, a charismatic showman who'd later own thoroughbreds and run a chain of beauty parlours. The couple fell deeply in love but disaster quickly struck them when June fell pregnant. Rose was not yet divorced from his first wife, so he could not marry her, thereby saving her from the shame and humiliation inevitable at that time. In desperation, they paid officials to turn a blind eye and married anyway, June using her stage name. It was no good. June's mother Ethel May freaked out, but organised matters. June was sent to her cousin's in New York where she would carry and bear the child. Then she would return and Ethel would rear the child as her own. No one would know. As for Rose, well, the plan was he would never see his lover again. He would occasionally provide money, but mostly just wait to see if the police would bust him for bigamy. And maybe worse, given that June was officially a minor.

So Jack grew up surrounded by women. There was his mother (grandmother) Ethel, who ran a beauty parlour in the basement. There was his sister (mother), June, and his other sister (aunt) Lorraine. And, for a few years at least, there was the man whose name he was given, Ethel's Irish husband John Joseph Nicholson. He was by all accounts a kind man, a window dresser and sign-writer by trade. He'd take young Jack to the cinema, but also to bars, because John Snr drank heavily. Indeed, he'd be dead from it by 1955.

Young Jack was a happy and very good-looking child. He attended Manasquan High School, in New Jersey, but did not take to his studies. He did, though, star in many school plays and, when 17 and on a trip to California to visit his sister (he does have a real sister - well, a half sister - named Pamela Hawley Liddicoat. There's also Don's daughter Donna Rose), he decided to get into the movies. He worked as a messenger boy for the cartoon unit at MGM, and trained as an actor with a group called the Players Ring Theatre. He found jobs onstage and on TV - in shows such as Bronco, Hawaiian Eye and Tales Of Wells Fargo (in the mid-Sixties he'd also appear as Jaime Angel in Dr Kildare). Then came his first breakthrough when, in 1958, director Roger Corman cast him as the lead in his low-budget The Cry-Baby Killer. Corman, best-known for his camp adaptations of Edgar Allan Poe would soon also cast him as a pain-loving dental patient in Little Shop Of Horrors and, alongside Peter Lorre, in The Raven. Being as Corman would often shoot films back-to-back using the same sets, Nicholson hung around after The Raven, and so got to star with Boris Karloff in The Terror.

Now married to actress Sandra Knight (they'd have a daughter, Jennifer - now Jennifer Norfleet - in 1965, then divorce a year later), with Harry Dean Stanton as his best man, Nicholson took to writing, seeing his Thunder Island filmed in 1963. Then came a relationship with director Monte Hellman, with whom Nicholson made four movies in quick succession, writing both Flight To Fury and Ride In The Whirlwind and co-producing the latter, as well as The Shooting. These last two movies were odd pieces, existential Westerns with winding, thoughtful scripts. Having read widely and consumed an awful lot of drugs, Nicholson was profoundly interested in internal consciousness and the counter-culture, and attempted to squeeze his thinking into the hoary old Western format.

Not for long. Next he went all-out into the mind-expansion business, writing Corman's LSD extravaganza The Trip, putting together The Monkees' weird-out Head and starring in such contemporary rebel flicks as Hells Angels On Wheels. Then it all happened for him. In The Trip, a TV director decides to score some acid and explore his mind. Playing the director was Peter Fonda, the dealer being Dennis Hopper. Now these two had their own project, Easy Rider and, with Rip Torn pulling out at the last, they asked Nicholson to step in as the spirit-soaked Southern lawyer. The movie made him a star, got him Oscar-nominated and launched him on an incredible run of success.

Nicholson was Oscar-nominated again as the disaffected musical prodigy in Five Easy Pieces. Once again as the hard-nosed officer showing young Randy Quaid a good time on his way to jail in The Last Detail. And once AGAIN as streetwise private dick JJ Gittes, taken for a ride by Faye Dunaway in Roman Polanski's Chinatown. Perhaps just as importantly, he also won quite a reputation as a womaniser for his salacious role in the controversial Carnal Knowledge. It was a rep he'd more than live up to.

It was while making his next movie, The Fortune, a fairly zany effort with fellow-stud Warren Beatty, that Nicholson heard the truth about his family. Unfortunately, his real mother had died of cancer back in 1963, and his grandmother had passed away in 1970, some four months before Easy Rider sent her beloved child into the stratosphere. The truth hit him hard. He did call his father, reportedly beginning the conversation with a terse "Hello. I understand you're family", but he did not allow the relationship to blossom. Instead, he went his own way - very much his own way.

First there was the long-awaited Oscar. As Randall McMurphy, the free spirit battling the system in a mental institution in One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest, he was superb, deservedly taking Best Actor. But, ever the rebel, he would not use his status simply to score the big roles. Indeed, over his career, Nicholson has missed out on some peaches: Michael Corleone in The Godfather, the Robert Redford roles in The Sting and The Great Gatsby, Martin Sheen's in Apocalypse Now, Jon Voight's in Coming Home. First he tested himself against Marlon Brando in the offbeat The Missouri Breaks, then he directed his own Goin' South, featuring Mary Steenburgen in her first major role (he'd actually made his directorial debut back in 1970, with Drive, He Said).

Goin' South was good fun but it didn't do well. Nicholson took time off before reappearing in one of his most famous roles -as Jack Torrance in The Shining ("Heeere's JOHNNY!"). Compelling and utterly overblown, he'd use many of the character traits again in as The Joker in Batman and the devil in The Witches Of Eastwick. He courted controversy once more in Warren Beatty's Commie-friendly Reds (for which he was once more Oscar-nominated) and with his rough'n' racy sex scenes with Jessica Lange in a remake of The Postman Always Rings Twice.

He won another Oscar as a flirty ex-astronaut Garrett Breedlove, attempting to seduce Shirley Maclaine in Terms Of Endearment, a role he'd later reprise in The Evening Star. Then was nominated some more as the hitman in Prizzi's Honour, alongside Angelica Huston, and the sympathetic loser in Ironweed. He'd be nominated yet again as the explosive Colonel Nathan R. Jessup in A Few Good Men ("You can't HANDLE the truth!"), and win once more as the crotchety obsessive-compulsive Melvin Udall in As Good As It Gets. In the meantime there was money. Nicholson's movies have taken over $1.25 billion at the box-office, but the figure that's most often quoted is the $60 million he received from his share of 1989's Batman. He must have known something big was on the cards when, in his Cuckoo's Nest Oscar acceptance speech, he thanked Mary Pickford "for being the first actor to get a percentage of her pictures".

Of course, there's also the sex. Despite his 17-year relationship with Anjelica Huston, Nicholson was alleged to have had many, many affairs. She finally left him when he began seeing his daughter's best friend, Rebecca Broussard, with whom he had two children - Lorraine and Raymond (he'd had a son, Caleb Goddard, with actress Susan Anspach, back in 1970). Next came another actress, Lara Flynn Boyle, over 30 years his junior, who he dated secretly until they were involved in a car accident and she fled before the ambulance arrived, the story subsequently being released to the public. There was furthermore the rather nasty case of Christine Sheehan, an ex-prostitute who claimed she went to Nicholson's Hollywood home in 1996 and, when she demanded money for her services, had her head banged repeatedly on the floor. She settled out-of-court for $33,000 but later, claiming her injuries had worsened, went after another half a million. Nicholson contested her claims vehemently.

Next came the critically lauded The Pledge, where Nicholson played a retired cop obsessed with a child-murder case. The film reunited him with director Sean Penn, with whom he also made The Crossing Guard in 1994. And it just kept coming. In About Schmidt, he was lauded once more in the title role of Warren Schmidt, a retired 66-year-old whose wife dies, leading him to go visit his daughter, then marrying into a mid-Western family. Though cantankerous and disapproving, Nicholson's Schmidt was quiet and understated, a far cry from Melvin Udall. Part comedy, part road movie, part existential tragedy, the movie, directed by Alexander "Election" Payne, saw one of Jack's best ever performances.

Now in his Sixties, Nicholson seemed to alternate between loud, larger-than-life characters, like his duel role of president and extravagant Vegas entrepreneur in Tim Burton's hilarious Mars Attacks!, and ordinary Joes having trouble with onrushing age, like his dodgy wine merchant, botching his one-last-job in 1996's Blood And Wine. And this continued with his follow up to About Schmidt, Anger Management, which saw Adam Sandler wrongly accused of losing his head and sent to an anger management class run by Jack's wholly furious Dr Buddy Rydell.

Lara Flynn Boyle, with whom he continues to enjoy a stormy relationship, once claimed that dating Nicholson was like being with a King and - talented, experienced, charismatic, fabulously well connected and unbelievably rich - in modern terms that's pretty much what he is.



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