On screen, Jack Nicholson is the perfect blend of charming and creepy—but in reality, the star is no stranger to scandal and deranged outbursts. His darker history includes drug-addled parties, countless affairs, and brutal betrayal. Dive into Nicholson’s sordid backstory and discover the secrets that hide behind that twisted grin.
Throughout his entire childhood and beyond, Jack Nicholson's family hid a terrible secret from him. You see, when his showgirl mother was only 17, she became pregnant with him. With her messy romantic history in tow—not to mention her youth—June Nicholson certainly wasn't ready to be a mother. Faced with this daunting responsibility, she made a shocking decision.
Nicholson's grandparents decided to pose as his real parents, while his mother and aunt pretended to be his sisters. It was a major deception, but the Nicholson family executed this plan so flawlessly, Jack Nicholson didn't discover the truth for decades. It wasn't until 1973 that researchers for Time magazine stumbled across the actor's sensational origin story—and blew it wide open.
By the time Jack Nicholson discovered that his sister was actually his mother, it was already too late: She had already passed. Still, the news completely threw the actor for a loop, and he described the discovery as "a pretty dramatic event, but it wasn't what I'd call traumatizing...I was pretty well psychologically formed." However, there was one more mystery left to solve.
After the truth finally surfaced, another close family member wiggled out of the woodwork—Nicholson's father. Don Furcillo, a showman himself, claimed that particular honor for himself. But it wasn't that simple. Nicholson wasn't interested in confirming the validity of this claim, and flat-out refused a paternity test. Looking back, it's not hard to understand why.
You see, Nicholson grew up just fine despite family secrets—but that didn't mean he didn't get into some trouble of his own making. Raised in New Jersey, it may come as no surprise that his classmates voted him the "Class Clown." Even in his high school heydays, Nicholson was a devilish joker, and his antics landed him in detention every single day.
But although he had a knack for standing out, Nicholson was not star material yet. In fact, Hollywood wasn't even on his mind.
When it came to his schooling and career ambitions, Nicholson was something of a tumbleweed: "I wasn't filled with a burning desire to make something of myself in those days." Nope. He floated wherever life took him. One summer, he fled to the beach and took up lifeguarding, and on other days, he'd find himself at the racetrack, scrabbling for some extra dough.
Although he didn't know it, this wayward teen had a glamorous future ahead of him—and it only took one fateful move to change everything.
By 1954, Nicholson, ready for a change, moved to sunny California where his "sister" June lived. Here, he worked in a toy store but also as a gopher for MGM Studios' animation department. Growing out of his awkward years, Nicholson was now a promising young man, and to top it off, he had just the face for Hollywood. He'd come to the right place—and it wasn't long before someone noticed his star potential.
MGM's animation department welcomed Nicholson with open arms, and even offered him a chance to become an animator—but he turned it down. He'd already made up his mind about Hollywood: He wanted to be an actor, and thankfully, luck was on his side. Nicholson's handsome features won him the attention of Joe Pasternak, an MGM producer.
Pasternak recognized that Nicholson had all the makings of a leading man, and made him an offer he couldn't refuse.
Thanks to Pasternak, Nicholson won a spot in a renowned acting class, led by Jeff Corey. But that wasn't the only opportunity thrown his way. Thanks to his lofty new connection, he also started an apprenticeship at the Players Ringer Theater. It was as though every star aligned for Nicholson—but all of his hopes were about to be dashed by a heaping dose of cruel reality.
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Nicholson may have dove into acting with a vote of confidence at his back—but he quickly realized how fickle show business could be. For the next ten years, the burgeoning young actor struggled to make good cinema. After his first low-budget debut film, 1958's The Cry Baby Killer, he met with failure time and time again. Unfortunately, however, that wasn't the only area of his life headed for the deep-end.
Just as Nicholson's career began, so did his turbulent love life. Today, Nicholson maintains his reputation as a perpetual bachelor, but in the mid-60s, he almost settled down for life. After meeting actress Sandra Knight and filming The Terror with her, Nicholson actually decided to tie the knot...It was the only time he ever married—and it ended badly.
After four years of marriage, Nicholson and Knight separated. During that time, they'd welcomed a beautiful baby girl named Jennifer, but sadly, a child wasn't enough to save them, and his career occupied much of his precious time. In the wake of his failed marriage, the actor never made the mistake of marrying again, but he certainly never surrendered his flirtatious nature—a character trait that would get him into emotional scrapes time and time again.
After making a string of underwhelming movies, Nicholson begrudgingly realized that he might never become an A-list actor. But when it came to Jack Nicholson, he was (and still is) a man of many talents. Unwilling to give up on Hollywood entirely, the discouraged actor flipped his game plan around, falling back on his impressive talent for both writing and directing.
However, just when his acting dreams seemed squashed forever, he got the big break he'd been waiting for—and boy, did it launch his career sky-high.
1969 was a game-changer for Nicholson when he landed a role in Easy Rider—but it was only thanks to a stroke of luck that he actually got the part. See, the role had been written specifically for actor Rip Torn, but when Torn clashed with director Dennis Hopper, the arrangement fell through. This massive falling out benefitted Nicholson in the best way possible.
Later, Nicholson acknowledged just how pivotal Easy Rider was for his career: "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 actor's sudden success couldn't have come at a better time—and it allowed him to transform his life into a neverending, riotous party.
Even before he became a full-blown movie star, Nicholson loved entertaining and throwing parties. In fact, he and his roommate Harry Dean Stanton earned themselves quite the reputation for their wild soirées filled with intoxication, women, and drugs. Nicholson even admitted to seeing footage of himself hanging out with Bob Dylan and the Beatles in the sixties—and not remembering it.
However, once Nicholson's fame hit, he took his partying to a whole new level.
Once Nicholson made it in Hollywood, the party didn't stop. His belief in free love and the pursuit of pleasure could be experienced at any of the nonstop parties held at his home, which just happened to be next door from the Hollywood legend, Marlon Brando. He had connections now, as well as unrivaled confidence in his own sex appeal.
He could have any woman he wanted—but this often landed him some sticky situations.
Throughout his life, Nicholson has honestly owned up to his playboy lifestyle, but it wasn't always all fun and games. His brief romance with actress Susan Anspach resulted in quite an uncomfortable situation when she later came forward, claiming that Nicholson had fathered her son Caleb Goddard in 1970. However, the lothario didn't trust these claims at all—and his road to accepting his son was long and arduous.
It took years for Nicholson to finally entertain the notion that he was actually Caleb's father. By the 90s, however, the actor came around, becoming involved in Caleb's life by assisting him with his college fees. Of course, when it came to children, the actor was in for more than a few surprises along the way. His womanizing was passionate, unbridled...and definitely fruitful.
However, although Nicholson's life seemed full of parties, women, and family drama, there was an even darker side to his personal life.
Jack Nicholson had a number of high-profile friends, but not all of them were the most savory characters. One of his dear comrades just happened to be the controversial director Roman Polanski, and as such, he struck up a friendship with his wife, Sharon Tate. But his association with Polanski and Tate was doomed to a horrifying end.
When Sharon Tate was sickeningly murdered by followers of Charles Manson, Nicholson became swept up in the tragedy's proceedings. He became somewhat enthralled by Manson's character and even attended the trial. But as much as the surreal drama fascinated Nicholson, it also awakened a fresh new fear in him. It seemed that no amount of fame could provide total protection.
Haunted by the Sharon Tate case, Nicholson became increasingly aware of his own vulnerability. Everybody had access to his life and almost nothing could be kept secret. Paranoia and a certain amount of fear set in, and the wary actor started sleeping with a hammer tucked beneath his pillow. Even so, tragedy seemed to plague those closest to him. The horror was far from over.
Nicholson's high-profile neighbor, French singer Claudine Longet also made headlines for a chilling reason: She shot her husband, Vladimir Sabich, ending his life. Again, captivated by the brutality of it all, Nicholson sat through yet another trial: He always sat in the first row of spectators...mystified by the lovely face of a woman driven to kill."
Such terror was unbelievably close to home...but the very same year, Nicholson's own home bore witness to one of Hollywood's greatest scandals.
Of course, Jack Nicholson's association with Roman Polanski did not have a happy ending. As the owner of the Hollywood party pad, Nicholson's home was the perfect setting for debauchery, and in Polanski's case—a disgusting crime. In 1977, while the actor was away on a ski trip, the twisted director raped 13-year-old Samantha Geimer in the actor's home.
At the time of Polanski's transgression, only Nicholson's girlfriend Anjelica Huston was home, and although she didn't see anything explicit, she certainly had her suspicions...especially when Polanski took the young girl into one of the bedrooms for a "photoshoot." However, although Nicholson's personal life seemed plagued by these twisted moments, he also had some invigorating highs.
Now, the story of Jack Nicholson and Anjelica Huston may just be the most heartbreaking chapter of the actor's life. It all began in the spring of 1973. It was Nicholson's birthday and, as per usual, he was hosting a lavish party. The night took a turn for the better, however, when a statuesque woman strolled through the front door. Her name was Anjelica Huston.
With the party in full swing, Nicholson and Huston really hit it off, and according to her memoir, the two of them danced for hours on end. With the music loud and the chemistry palpable, there was really only one place Nicholson wanted the night to end—in bed. Before long, the couple took their moves off the dance floor, spending their first night wrapped up in one another's arms. But this was only the beginning.
During the filming of Chinatown, Nicholson and his new girlfriend decided to take their relationship to the next level: She moved in. But this was no fairytale romance. Huston quickly learned that her new beau had a controlling side, even learning through others that her lover wanted his home run in a certain way. Red flags started popping up, and Nicholson's true colors began to show.
The actor didn't want anybody scribbling on his telephone pads, and later, Huston exclaimed to The Guardian, "Why can't I draw on the telephones in my own house!" Of course, her gripes didn't end there.
Nicholson was already a big name in Hollywood by the time Huston sashayed into his life. Of course, as time wore on, the more Huston tired of being known as just "Jack Nicholson's girlfriend." She wanted her own claim to fame. Moreover, living with Nicholson was a huge eye-opener, and she later admitted, "...it’s not even as though I could fit into the role of housewife, or even flower arranger. There was no role, except to be on his arm.”
Still, despite these misgivings, this couple clung to one another for a 17-year run, during which they fostered an incomparable intimacy.
Nicholson adored Huston and gave her some pretty tell-tale nicknames, including "Fab" and "Ze Big Fabuliss." But her favorite pet name was by far "Toots." Nicholson went to great lengths to prove his love to his fabulous woman, and one year, he reportedly gifted her an extravagant birthday present: An elephant. But no amount of over-the-top treatment could stop Nicholson's girlfriend from thirsting after her own fame and fortune.
By 1980, Huston left the safety of Nicholson's home and branched out on her own. Nicholson watched from the sidelines, impressed, as his girlfriend sought her own independence, bought a house, and pursued acting classes. But her leaving did not signal a breakup. In most ways, they were still very much connected. After all, he kept a room just for her, and when they were apart, they talked incessantly over the phone.
Even in the film world, Huston couldn't quite shake Nicholson...and maybe, she didn't want to.
Six years after watching her go, Nicholson experienced one of the proudest moments of his life. Huston took home an Academy Award for Prizzi's Honor, a movie not only directed by her father but also starring her boyfriend, Jack Nicholson. Later, the beaming actor told Rolling Stone that he'd "never had a greater moment."
Nicholson and Huston certainly seemed made to go the distance, but their relationship journey was a bumpy and impossible ride.
Although they spent 17 years together. Nicholson and Huston never tied the knot—but that's not to say that the topic never came up. In fact, Nicholson admitted that he'd asked Huston to marry him multiple times, with conflicting answers every time—sometimes a "yes," sometimes a "no." But Huston's recollection of events paints a rather unromantic picture.
While Huston may have wanted to accept Nicholson's proposals, the way he went about it didn't inspire her to commit at all. According to her, his manager and lawyer often broached the topic of marriage—but for a decidedly cutthroat reason: They wanted to lower their client's taxes. Unsurprisingly, this was not the happily ever after Huston envisioned.
But while the long-standing couple never walked down the aisle, they almost had children.
Although their relationship was never smooth-sailing, Nicholson and Huston did have a moment where they entertained the thought of becoming parents together. They even tried to get pregnant. However, Huston could never truly see herself as a mother: "I can imagine lots of things, but I could never imagine carrying a baby."
Considering their explosive ending, their bad luck in the procreation department may have been a blessing in disguise.
There's no denying that Jack Nicholson was a downright rake, and even while courting Anjelica Huston, he kept numerous women on the side. Even so, he spouted declarations of love for his main squeeze, calling Huston "the love of my life." Perhaps even more cringey is that he credited their successful relationship to her "flexibility," that is, she let him get away with a lot of infidelities.
Down the road, Huston confessed that Nicholson handled his affairs quietly, writing that he was "actually quite discreet." Although she knew there was a good chance he was cheating, she didn't realize just how intense it actually was: “Occasionally, I’d find a piece of female apparel. Once a jacket of mine turned up on a girl in the street—or I’d find some hand cream, or a trinket might get left behind in the soap dish. Sometimes I’d take to wearing the jewelry to see if anybody would come up and claim it, but that never happened.”
But even though Nicholson left a trail of clues to his betrayals, Huston never left him...that is, until he made the biggest mistake of all.
In 1989, everything came apart at the seams. Nicholson had made an "oopsie" he couldn't come back from. He took Huston to dinner and broke the news: He told her, "someone is gonna have a baby." Well, that "someone" just happened to be his sidepiece, Rebecca Broussard. Huston's response was as brutal as Nicholson's betrayal.
When she heard that Nicholson was expecting a baby with another woman, her response was rational yet cutting. If Nicholson had hoped she'd understand, he was utterly mistaken. She said, "There's only room for one of us women in this picture, and I am going to retire from it." Oh, but that wasn't the end of it. Nicholson's betrayal went even deeper, and Huston was about to find out just how plentiful his disloyalties actually were.
Leave it to Playboy to expose Nicholson as the playboy he genuinely was. Not long after, Huston read an article in the notorious magazine about her own boyfriend's sensual exploits that involved a Ping-Pong Paddle and another woman's posterior. This time, she flew off the handles. She later wrote about her act of vengeance, and one thing's for sure: Huston did not hold back.
After learning about even more of Nicholson's infidelities, Huston went on the offensive. She later wrote, "He was coming out of the bathroom when I attacked him. I don’t think I kicked him, but I beat him savagely about the head and shoulders. He was ducking and bending, and I was going at him like a prizefighter, raining a vast array of direct punches."
But of course, like any dysfunctional romance, it still wasn't over. Not entirely.
Although they'd technically broken up, Nicholson still fostered a friendship with Huston, even managing to jest about his own disreputable ways. That year, he sent a special Christmas present to his ex—a bracelet fashioned out of pearls and diamonds. But that wasn't the most impressive part. It was the very same piece that Frank Sinatra had gifted Ava Gardner.
Along with the present, he scrawled an ever-charming note: "These pearls from your swine. With happiest wishes for the holidays—Enjoy—Yr Jack."
Over the years, Huston has revealed some scandalous tidbits about her incendiary relationship with Nicholson, and audiences are all ears. On a more light-hearted note, when asked about his love-making prowess, she confessed that her ex was well-endowed, or in her words, "very big." But her memories of Nicholson sometimes took a turn for the downright heartbreaking.
As recent as 2019, Huston shared that "[Nicholson] wasn't as obsessed with me as I was with him." Even so, her grief wasn't all one-sided. In the intervening years, Nicholson has fessed up to his mistakes, and insists that the breakup wrecked him, leaving him "annihilated emotionally." Nicholson's unfortunate reputation of being "Jack the Jumper" may have been a riot at the time, but as he grew older, he soon learned that his reckless love-making came at a high price.
On top of his weakness for the ladies, Nicholson's chilling temper is no secret. Writer for Rolling Stone, Fred Schruers, described the actor's transformative rage: "he begins to clip his words off, curl his lips back over his teeth and close sentences with 'pal.'" It's a face we all know and love in cinema, but which certainly has a more threatening effect in real life.
However, Nicholson's temper has gotten him into some serious trouble.
Nicholson has graced the pages of the tabloids for his outbursts, including the time he smashed a Mercedes windshield with his golf club. Apparently, the driver had cut him off, and so, he retaliated with outright vandalism. He later admitted, "Anger has always been a problem and every once in a while, I just have to let it out, I always regret it later."
Although seemingly self-aware of his temper, Nicholson has a habit of blending passion and fury...especially when it comes to one of his greatest hobbies.
Nicholson is a huge sports fan and, for the last 25 years, he's had courtside season tickets to the Lakers. Unfortunately, his love of the game mixed with a certain amount of entitlement has led him to some upsetting confrontations: He's argued with players and officials, walked onto the court, and once, he even yelled at the referee. Of course, being Jack Nicholson certainly has its perks—but as it turns out, no amount of wealth or celebrity can save him from his most prevailing fear.
Nicholson has lived large, passionately, and unapologetically—but in his old age, he's come to some heartbreaking revelations. Although he has slept with countless women, he has yet to settle down with anyone in particular. He sadly confessed, "I am single and lonely and likely to die alone." However, that hasn't stopped him from eyeing beautiful women that are far younger than him.
In 2013, a run-in between Jack Nicholson and up-and-comer Jennifer Lawrence went viral. Nicholson crashed her Oscars interview to tell her how much he loved her performance, but more importantly, to tell her that she reminded him of one of his ex-girlfriends. He finished off the brief flirtation by telling Lawrence, "I'll be waiting." And his "charm" didn't end there.
Although Lawrence seemed flattered by Nicholson's joking banter, he took things one step further. Later, she boasted that the actor had gone so far as to send her a bottle of Cristal, a bouquet of flowers, and a personalized note, reading, "Missing you already."
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