An acting legend. Jack Nicholson has been a force in Hollywood since landing his breakout role in 1969’s Easy Rider.
“It is tremendously hard to look at your work. They did a retrospective at Telluride [Film Festival] and showed all the movies and I couldn’t bear it; I had to leave the cinema,” Nicholson recalled to Ireland’s Independent in February 2008. “All I could see in the early films, before Easy Rider, was this desperate young actor trying to vault out of the screen and create a movie career.”
The New York native first appeared on the silver screen in 1958, playing Jimmy Wallace in The Cry Baby Killer. He went on to star in several of the century’s most notable pictures, including One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest — for which he won the 1975 Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role — as well as Terms of Endearment and A Few Good Men, among many others. After scoring his first award from the Academy, the Anger Management star later earned two more Oscar statues.
The Something’s Gotta Give actor has also starred in a string of popular comedic films.
“Well, when all the current world situation came about with 9/11, I made a very conscious decision to really study comedy,” Nicholson told the Independent in his 2008 profile. “I thought there would be a lot of revisionist half-baked responses to the times — along with some astute ones — and I did not want to go there. I was at that first memorial show [for families of the victims of 9/11] that George Clooney put together and I had a chat with Adam Sandler there, and with James Brooks, and we worked out this plan [to make moviegoers smile].”
He continued at the time: “With the exception of The Departed, since then, I have done five or six comedies in a row. [The Bucket List] though is one of the toughest subjects for a comedy you could imagine: two old guys in a hospital ward with terminal cancer. The money-people always ask: ‘What’s the risk?’ They did not have to ask that here: it is a very high tightrope walk in terms of style and tone.”
Nicholson’s final film, How Do You Know?, costarred Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson and Paul Rudd upon its 2010 release.(While the acclaimed actor never publicly confirmed his retirement, he has not starred in another movie since How Do You Know? and taken a step back from the spotlight.)
“I learned a lot from this cast,” the SAG Awards winner told SheKnows in December 2010 of working on the romantic comedy. “I’ll tell you a story about Owen Wilson. As soon as I got to the set, he asked me if I wanted to go out and shoot machine guns. I’m like, ‘Oh my God, this guy thinks I’m adventurous!’”
In his personal life, Nicholson — who had a longtime relationship with Angelica Huston before their 1990 split — is a father of five. The Shining star first became a parent in 1963, when he and then-wife Sandra Knight welcomed daughter Jennifer. Nicholson — who split from Knight in 1968 — later welcomed son Caleb in 1971 with Susan Anspach and daughter Honey in 1981 with Winnie Hollman. Nicholson and ex Rebecca Broussard share daughter Lorraine and son Ray, born in 1990 and 1992, respectively.
“Well, it’s a divided parenthood, with their wonderful [mothers] and myself. We’ve always gotten along,” the Golden Globe winner told AARP magazine in January 2008. “I want to be inspirational, or some kind of good influence on them without overburdening them. It’s their time of life to find out who they are. I always read to them, from childhood on; I think that’s a father’s responsibility. I took them to things I knew they might not love — opera, ballet. They like going to the ball games with me. And they are very comfortable around show business; they are good set rats.”
Ray, for his part, has even followed in his famous father’s acting footsteps with featured roles in the likes of Promising Young Woman, Something From Tiffany’s and Out of the Blue.
Scroll below to see Nicholson’s life in photos: