Anne Heche was, by her own confession, Hollywood’s most insane “It Girl.” Sadly, for Heche, her on-screen awesomeness never outshined her off-screen antics—right up to her tragic demise. From interstellar spiritual alter egos to the better half of the world’s “first gay supercouple”—Heche’s life had it all. And then some.
Anne Heche was born in May of 1969 to Nancy and Donald Joe Heche in small-town Ohio. To everyone else, the Heche family looked like a nice fundamentalist Christian family. But there was something much darker lurking behind their front door. For Anne Heche, the monster in her closet was all too real.
Heche’s childhood was just as scandalous as her headline-grabbing Hollywood career. Her father, Donald Joe, never seemed to have a steady job and was full of failed get-rich-quick-schemes that forced the family to move often. But wherever they went, Heche noticed that her father’s demons followed them. They would stalk her for the rest of her life.
Heche’s life of fame and fortune was a long way off. At the height of her success, she recalled a time when “we'd been kicked out of our house and my family was holed up living in a bedroom in the home of a generous family from our church,” As a preteen, she took a job waiting tables at a dinner theater just to help make ends meet, dreaming of the day she would be on stage.
Tragedy—or, as it would prove to be in the years to come, sheer good luck—struck Heche’s family when she was just 13 years old. Her father passed away from complications of AIDS. Heche knew exactly how her church-choir-directing father contracted the illness, too. In fact, she knew all of his deepest and darkest secrets.
Years later, on an episode of Larry King Live, Heche spilled the beans. She told the world that her father had been a closeted gay man. She elaborated, “He was a very promiscuous man, and we knew his lifestyle then.” While her family mourned his passing, Heche herself couldn’t have been happier. But there was a real tragedy around the corner.
When it rains, it pours—and it was raining tragedy on the Heche family. Just three short years after Heche’s father passed, her 18-year-old brother met his own untimely demise. In a frightening omen of her own ultimate fate, Heche’s brother passed away in a violent car crash. Heche's family was dropping like flies, and she searched everywhere for a way out.
Heche needed a way to escape her tragically-fated family. Fortunately, at 16 years old, a talent scout spotted her on stage during a school play. He whisked her off to New York City, where she auditioned for As the World Turns. To even her own surprise, she absolutely nailed it. The end to her suffering was almost in sight. Or it was just beginning?
Just when Heche thought things were looking up, it all came crashing down around her. Her mother told her that she was too young to be on television and made her finish high school. Anne later said, “My mother was very religious and maybe she thought [show business] was a sinner’s world.” Heche should have listened to her mother—it would have saved her life.
At 18, Heche was free to make her own decisions—read: mistakes. She called up the talent scout and told him, “Send me the ticket. I'm getting on the plane.” According to her, “I did my time with my mom in a one-bedroom, skanky apartment and I was done.” It would be years before Heche revealed the real reason she was so eager to get away from her mother.
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Heche broke away from her family and entered Hollywood with a splash. She landed a recurring role on Another World playing identical twins. The rookie actress’ performance was so great that she even snagged an Emmy nomination. But, in an eerie twist, Heche’s ability to play twins might have had something to do with her split personality.
After her success on Another World, Heche struggled to find larger roles. That was until 1997’s Donnie Brasco when she starred alongside A-list star Johnny Depp. In fact, Heche stole the attention away from the megastar. The film’s writer said, “If I had one thing to say, there should have been more Anne Heche in the actual script.”
In her 2001 memoir, Call Me Crazy, Heche wrote about the time she went, well, crazy. Her confessions are bizarre and disturbing. Heche said that, at the time of filming Donnie Brasco, she began hearing the voice of God. As if that wasn’t odd enough, the voice of God was telling her some very interesting things. Very interesting indeed.
Heche claimed that the voice of God in her head told her about her alternate ego, Celestia. Apparently, God was telling her that she was the physical incarnation of God Himself and, because that wasn’t enough, the reincarnation of Jesus as well. Her divine mission was to enlighten all mankind. She should have started with herself...
Despite her running internal dialogue between Celestia, God, and Jesus, Heche’s career was taking off. In 1998, hot off the heels of her Donnie Brasco breakthrough, Heche landed her first headlining role in a major film. She was set to star alongside Harrison Ford in Six Days, Seven Nights. Then divine intervention, (a.k.a. love) happened.
Before filming on Six Days, Seven Nights began, Touchstone Pictures fired Heche. Oddly enough, it wasn’t because she was running around telling everyone that she was an intergalactic reincarnation of Jesus. The studio axed Heche from the project because she appeared on the red carpet with Ellen DeGeneres—as more than just a friend.
The studio believed that Heche’s new lesbian relationship made her unmarketable to audiences. Her co-star vehemently disagreed. Harrison Ford had personally selected Heche for Six Days, Seven Nights over Hollywood heavy-hitters like Meg Ryan and Julia Roberts. He demanded that the studio hire her back, which they reluctantly did. But it was too little too late.
Major studios blacklisted Heche for being half of the world’s “first gay supercouple.” But they might have judged her too quickly. Heche starred alongside Vince Vaughn in two 1998 films, Return to Paradise and Psycho. According to sources on either film set, Heche's love life was even more complicated than the public realized...
Even though Heche was officially dating DeGeneres, there was speculation that her passions lay elsewhere. Like with the opposite gender. Rumors began spreading that Heche and Vaughn weren’t acting in their love scenes together. In fact, according to their co-stars, Heche and Vaughn were as inseparable as an industrial adhesive. If they were trying to hide a relationship, they weren't doing a very good job of it.
While DeGeneres watched on from the tabloids, Heche cozied up with Vaughn. And we mean cozied up literally. Allegedly, while filming on set in locations like Thailand and Macao, Heche and Vaughn enjoyed “passionate lovemaking sessions” in their trailers. As if that wasn't scandalous enough, this pair stopped bothering to hide their tryst.
When they returned to New York to finish filming, Heche and Vaughn flaunted their relationship openly. According to reports, they would show up to set holding hands. And leave holding more than that. “One night they were dirty dancing at the Redeye Grill," one source said. "They left wrapped around each other tighter than tape on a package.”
Heche’s affair with Vaughn might have been an attempt to cover up her relationship with DeGeneres for the sake of her career. In an interview, Heche confessed, “People said, 'You're not getting a job because you're gay.’ How could that destroy my career? I still can't wrap my head around it.” She could wrap her legs around Vaughn though.
In a tell-all interview with Los Angeles Magazine, Heche confessed that she wasn’t even certain that she was gay. She said, “I’m a whole different thing. I don’t even know what I am.” Heche might not have known what she was, but she could have said what she wasn’t. She was not in love with DeGeneres. Not for much longer.
While they were still dating, Heche agreed to direct a documentary about DeGeneres’ stand-up comedy tour. But while her comedian girlfriend was making people laugh, Heche was about to make DeGeneres cry. While filming the comedy tour documentary, Heche fell in love with the film’s cameraman, Coleman “Coley” Laffoon. Then it got weird.
Unsurprisingly, after this second affair, Heche and DeGeneres broke things off. And then Heche really lost her mind—and we mean went off the deep end. In a stranger-than-fiction episode, Heche drove to a rural county in California where one of the voices in her head told her to go. She pulled over to the side of the road, stripped down to her skivvies, and started walking.
In the extreme heat of the day, Heche soon became dehydrated. She knocked on a random woman’s door and asked if she could take a shower. The stranger, recognizing Heche from her movies, agreed. But then Heche re-emerged from the shower, plopped herself down in the living room, and asked if the woman wanted to watch a movie with her.
The woman, clearly put off by Heche’s odd behavior, called the Sheriff’s deputies to handle the situation. When they showed up, Heche had a perfectly reasonable explanation for everything—at least reasonable to her. She claimed that she was God and “was going to take everyone back to heaven…in a spaceship,” no less. See? Perfectly logical.
In her 2001 memoir, written not long after her “episode," Heche made a shocking confession. She claimed that she had been “insane” for her entire life up to that point. Following her breakdown and career troubles, Heche actually did seem to come back around the corner. But only because she had faced her demons—one in particular.
As an adult, Heche strayed from her strict religious upbringing in an effort to heal her childhood traumas. She turned to Reichian body psychotherapy and psychedelic therapy to face the demons of her past. But nothing could have prepared her for the painful memories that came rushing back to her—or the wounds that would open up.
While discussing her memoir on an episode of Larry King Live, Heche finally revealed what childhood trauma had been driving her crazy all those years. The Donnie Brasco actress claimed that her father, Donald Joe, had forced himself on her repeatedly from the time she had been in diapers until she turned 12. And she had the evidence to prove it.
In another interview promoting her memoir, a journalist from The Advocate asked a follow-up question to her allegations against her father. “But why,” the reporter asked, “would a gay man [force himself on] a girl?” Heche responded, “I don’t think he was just a gay man. I think he was [deviant]. My belief was that my father was gay and he had to cover that up.”
Heche’s story of her repressed childhood trauma explained much of her strange behavior, including that particularly odd episode at the stranger’s house in the California desert. She explained that, to escape her trauma, she had created a fictional world in her head called the “Fourth Dimension.” She added that “Celestia” had been the alter ego who kept her safe from harm.
Heche’s shocking revelations in her memoir helped to heal her childhood wounds—but they also destroyed her family. She claimed that her mother refused to believe her accusations against her father. In fact, based on the stories that Heche tells in her memoir, her mother went out of her way to cover the whole sordid thing up.
In her memoir, Heche recounted the time when she presented her mother with the “evidence” of her father’s predatory behavior—a venereal disease. Instead of taking Heche to the doctor so she could get proper treatment, her mother told her that all she had was a bad diaper rash. But diaper rashes don’t usually have oozing sores.
Heche’s Evangelical Christian mother fired back at her daughter’s allegations in a candid internet forum. She wrote, “I am trying to find a place for myself in this writing, a place where I as Anne's mother do not feel violated or scandalized. I find no place among the lies and blasphemies in the pages of this book.” The mother-daughter duo never reconciled.
Heche’s mother wasn’t the only one casting doubts on her allegations. In fact, according to Heche’s sister, even the Hollywood star doubted her own recollection. “I would like to point out,” Heche’s sister said, “that Anne, in the past, has expressed doubts herself about the accuracy of such memories[…] I believe that her memories regarding our father are untrue.”
In the media fallout following Heche’s revelations, her sister further defended their mother from public scrutiny. She went on, “I can state emphatically, regardless of Anne's beliefs, that the assertion that our mother knew about such behavior is absolutely false.” But to make peace with herself, Heche had to have the last word.
In an interview with The New York Times, Heche defended her allegations and cast dispersions on her family. She said, “My mother's had a very tragic life. Three of her five children are [deceased], and her husband is [deceased]. That she is attempting to change gay people into straight people is, in my opinion, a way to keep the pain of the truth out.”
She does have a point: Nancy Heche is a "Christian therapist" whose focus is on "overcoming homosexuality."
Heche found another way to process her trauma that didn’t include knocking on strangers’ doors in her undergarments. She wrote and starred in a short film in which she portrayed an adult entertainer with Bible verses etched on her body. She called the film a metaphor for “my life as I saw it.” But her story wasn’t over yet.
Throughout the 2000s, Heche continued exorcising her demons through storytelling. And it seemed to be working. She regained her senses, married Laffoon—the cameraman she had abandoned DeGeneres for—and settled into a quiet family life. But her married bliss didn’t last for very long. And neither, apparently, did her sanity.
Heche met fellow actor James Tupper on the set of the television series Men in Trees in 2006. Despite being a light-hearted romantic comedy series, Men in Trees spelled doom for two marriages. Shortly after the series began, both Heche and Tupper began divorce proceedings for their ailing marriages. And then Heche’s mental health really fell apart.
The Men in Trees co-stars wasted absolutely no time breaking off their marriages to start their own relationship together. Heche and Laffoon finalized their divorce in early 2007. Heche had to pay Laffoon over $500,000 for the privilege of leaving him. But if Tupper thought that he could survive the maddening romantic whirlwind that was Heche, then he had another thing coming.
Heche raised eyebrows once again in the 2009 film Spread. This time, the headline news was about what Heche was doing on camera as opposed to behind it. The film featured numerous heavily intimate scenes between Heche and her co-star, Ashton Kutcher. But Heche was well past the point of feeling ashamed of her body—and what she did with it.
In an interview on her racy scenes with the dreamy Kutcher, Heche said, “I certainly can say I've gone further in this movie than I ever have before. Why didn't I do this when I was 22?” It might have been because she was a little busy having a mental breakdown. And there were more to come. Many, many more.
Heche did her best to rehabilitate her career. She appeared in several television shows and frequently starred in small projects alongside her new beau, Tupper. She even made some stage appearances and became a favorite amongst critics on the indie film circuit. But once again, her off-screen antics held her back from greater success.
While promoting her latest project, Catfight, Heche appeared alongside the film’s director, Onur Tukel, on an episode of Doug Benson’s podcast. Everything started out fine until Heche’s, how should we say, eccentricities, got both her and the director booted off the show mid-stream. Her career wasn’t the only thing going up in flames.
Heche’s tumultuous career came to a tragic and unexpected end in early August of 2022. In another inexplicable episode, Heche was driving her Mini Clubman recklessly through the streets of Los Angeles. For unknown reasons, Heche drove headlong into someone’s garage. She then promptly reversed and fled the scene. But that was just the opening act.
Later that same fateful afternoon, Heche was involved in another hit-and-run situation. She drove her car into a Jaguar, never stopping or slowing down to indicate that she even noticed the powerful impact. Fortunately, the driver of the Jaguar did not sustain any injuries. The same, however, couldn’t be said for Heche.
Heche’s out-of-control vehicle next appeared on someone’s doorbell video in a quiet residential street. Heche’s vehicle exited the frame at high speed just before the muffled sound of a terrible crash. Heche had driven her car at full speed into someone’s home, plowing 30 feet into the building and trapping herself inside.
Only moments after crashing into the house, Heche’s car caught fire and the spreading flames soon engulfed the entire collapsing structure. Firefighters were quick to respond to the fiery scene but initially had no idea that anyone was inside the building—far less a Hollywood star. By the time they got to Heche, it was too late.
It took a team of nearly 60 firefighters a total of 45 minutes to pull Heche from the blazing wreckage. By the time they managed to rescue Heche from the inferno, she had already sustained severe burns to much of her body and other injuries from smoke inhalation. That didn’t mean, however, that she was down for the count.
Despite her severe injuries, Heche’s behavior was—as always—baffling to onlookers. Once first responders rescued Heche from the blaze, camera footage showed her sitting up on the stretcher and fighting with her rescuing paramedics and against her restraints. Shortly after, she lost consciousness—and never regained it.
Nine days after her bizarre, final rampage, Heche finally succumbed to her injuries. It was a fittingly confusing ending for a confusing life—if an honest one. “People wonder why I am so forthcoming with the truths that have happened in my life, and it's because the lies that I have been surrounded with and the denial that I was raised in, for better or worse, bore a child of truth and love.”
She is survived by her two sons.
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