Nick Nolte has made his name as an offbeat actor who’s played many fascinating characters. But his turbulent personal life has the dramatic arc of a Hollywood movie. Nolte’s steely resolve and sense of humor have helped Nolte embrace his many failures and dysfunctions. Despite his restless nature, he always seems to find a way to pull himself out of deep trouble.
1. He Had A Huge Weight On His Shoulders
Around 1940, Nicolas King Nolte was born in the Midwestern town of Omaha, Nebraska. Expectations on the youngster were intense as Nolte’s father was a football letterman with a glorious reputation at Iowa State University to uphold. But Nick didn’t disappoint. Tall and athletic, he began his football career as a kicker on the high school team. But just as he was making his name, he made a brutal mistake.
2. He Inherited A Rebellious Streak
While his mom ran a high-end antique shop, it seems that Nolte’s propensity for trouble came from his dad’s side. As a boy, his father struggled to stay in school and ran away from home. But Nick took it to the next level. His school expelled him for sneaking beers into a football practice. However, these consequences did nothing to halt his successful athletic career—nor his tendency for delinquency.
3. He Couldn’t Get It Together
With his athletic talent, Nolte received a football scholarship to Arizona State University. But that didn’t last long—only one semester—as he neglected the academic side of it all. After that, he drifted among a few other colleges in the southwest. At one school, Nolte held simultaneous positions on the football, baseball, and basketball teams.
But by that point, his grades had gone permanently down the drain. While professional sports seemed to be the obvious track, Nolte made a radical pivot that would change the rest of his life.
4. He Took An Unexpected Direction
Out of college, Nolte made his way to Los Angeles, California. He soon saw the darker side of sunny California. It was the early 1960s and he was confused, lost, and drinking way too much. After years of playing high adrenaline sports, Nolte was desperate for a new outlet to pour himself into—and draw energy from. He discovered it, quite by accident.
5. He Met A Turning Point
A friend of Nolte’s was taking acting classes in Laurel Canyon and asked him to tag along one day. The teacher, Bryan O’Byrne, handed Nolte a script to read. After Nolte read the part aloud, an astonished O’Byrne told him, “you don’t know it yet, but you’re an actor. You’ve got it”. Soon, Nolte was playing bit parts at the Pasadena Playhouse.
But he also found brand new ways of getting into trouble.
6. He Hung Around A Fast Crowd
The LA party scene was a new league for Nolte. Surrounded by crazy characters and a buffet of new narcotics, he began experimenting and testing his limits. That limit happened one day when he passed out in the road, cars whizzing past. It happened right out front of Barney’s Beanery, his favorite hang-out spot. But this wasn’t even close to his lowest moment.
7. He Landed In Deep Trouble
With money frighteningly short, Nolte made a desperate decision. He began to sell fake Vietnam draft cards to young men around town. Soon enough, he got detained and charged for selling counterfeit documents—and the consequences were dire. He received a 45-year prison sentence and $75,000 fine. He was in big trouble, but luckily, the courts suspended his sentence.
Yet for Nolte, that wasn’t the worst part of it all.
8. He Missed An Opportunity
Morse so than the time behind bars or the mark on his name, Nolte was most upset that his conviction prevented him from enlisting in the armed forces. As a strapping young man, Nolte felt an obligation to serve his country. Without the ability to do that, he threw himself into his career.
9. He Buckled Down And Got Serious
After learning some hard lessons in California, Nolte plunged himself into acting. He would toil in obscurity for a decade, taking on parts in theater productions across America. At a small theater company in Phoenix, he met and married a brunette actress named Sheila Page. She was 10 years older than him and insisted on an open marriage.
Nolte was happy to oblige—but it was doomed to fail. Ultimately, an awkward joint encounter destroyed their love connection for good.
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10. He Finally Found Success In Los Angeles
All the time he spent honing his craft in the theater paid off when Nolte returned to Los Angeles in a play called “The Last Pad”. Hollywood noticed him. With his good looks, he started off as a “matinee idol”, a small screen pretty boy for the daily soaps. Nolte knew he had the chops to take on meatier roles and was eager to showcase his talent.
But, for the time being, he ran with being the dumb blonde.
11. He Preferred Nature Over Hollywood
Nolte was quick to sense the phoniness in La La Land. He worried it would swallow up his Midwestern authenticity. So, with some TV acting money in his pocket, he made a move to a big Normandy-style house 26 miles northwest of town. The tranquil beauty and quiet of the Santa Monica mountains reminded Nolte of his childhood. He felt more grounded there.
And, of course, his door was always open for girlfriends to come and go.
12. Fame Took Time
Nolte worked diligently, paying his dues by taking any walk-on part or TV movie-of-the-week he could get. When he landed his first big screen role, the movie turned out to be a rotten tomato. Luckily, critics had noticed Nolte and agreed that he had something special. This led to a bigger break in 1976—one that would make him rich and famous.
13. He Feared Being Boring
Although naturally shy, Nolte learned from an early age that having a brash mouth and loud wardrobe grabbed the attention he craved. He realized that “it was better to be naughty than nice.” As his career took off, he not only embraced his bad boy reputation but, as we’ll see, he cultivated it. It was a smart move, as there’s nothing more deadly in Hollywood than being dull.
14. He Had A Passion For More Than Acting
On the set of the suspense flick The Deep, Nolte had a brief affair with co-star Jacqueline Bisset. It was a romantic setting, being a tropical island and all—but Nolte also showed his wild side. Soon enough, the beautiful actress was accusing him of cheating with every other girl on the island. In an interview, Nolte says he’s “fascinated by women, even more than football and acting”.
He would certainly prove that to be true in the coming years.
15. He Was A Cover Boy
In 1979, Nolte hit the cover of People Magazine in a denim shirt, his hair long and windblown. The headline declared him the “sexiest new hunk in Hollywood” and that he was “nobody’s dumb blond”. While thankful for the publicity, Nolte was resolute to take on grittier roles. But it seemed he could do little to shake his image as a sex symbol.
16. He Fell In Love
After the heartbreak of his first divorce, Nolte was back on the market and hoping for better luck. A night out at a Sunset Strip disco proved fateful when he met a leggy and wild 23-year-old named Sharyn Haddad. A $70 wedding at a Las Vegas chapel quickly followed. Nolte’s new wife was fun—but she had a real wild side.
He often had to pay to keep paparazzi photos that revealed a little too much of her body out of the tabloids. Considering he was trying to establish himself as a serious actor, it was a ticking timebomb.
17. He Couldn’t Escape Being Typecast
Nolte didn’t want anyone to pigeonhole him. His work on the TV series, Rich Man, Poor Man, received great reviews. Still, he kept getting cast as nothing but eye candy. Worse, some in the industry were dismissing him as a cheap clone of A-lister Robert Redford! Nolte yearned to prove the depth of his ability as an actor.
But, in his next big role, he didn’t have to stretch himself too far to get the kudos he was after.
18. He Nailed His Character
In North Dallas Forty, a hit movie about pro football players, Nolte scored a major touchdown. This was a role the former football star was born to play. Nolte brought an unglamorous realism to the lead part, making full use of his grainy voice and bruteness. Nolte, no doubt, drew upon his personal struggles with substances and drinking to enrich his character.
19. He Went Too Far
With every new movie role, Nolte took his character research to the next level. To prepare for his part as a homeless man in Down and Out in Beverly Hills, he spent weeks on skid row. He grew a beard, slept on the streets, and grew out his hair into a greasy mess. And that’s not even the most disturbing part. He also ate dog food, which shocked his castmates.
20. He Had A Whirlwind Romance
Life with his second wife Sharyn went from exhilarating to disappointing. During a period of separation, Nolte met a pretty model named Rebecca Linger. When she got pregnant, Nolte needed to trade wives—fast. His divorce of Sharyn and marriage to Rebecca happened within a few chaotic days in February 1984.
21. A Painful Experience Rocked Him
With his third wife, Rebecca Linger, Nolte eagerly expected his first child. Sadly, their excitement ended in tragedy. Their child was stillborn. Nolte’s anguish sparked his problem with drinking again, as he tried to drink away his pain. Fortunately, the couple welcomed a healthy little boy named Brawley in 1986.
22. His Addiction Dominated
Nolte’s alcoholism was getting out of control. He wanted to drink all day, even while working on set. To achieve this, he came up with a devious plan. He persuaded directors to change his character into a guy who also just happened to be a heavy drinker. Clearly, he was headed for disaster.
23. He Made A Brave Choice
With the support of his wife, Nolte found the strength to get sober. He sought professional help to kick the long-standing addiction. It turned out to be a very wise choice. For the span of a decade, he went on to enjoy the most acclaimed and productive periods of his career—but the threat of a relapse always lingered over his head.
24. He Became A Major Star
Clean and sober, Nolte devoted himself to his craft and his young family. A string of stellar roles with big-name directors like Martin Scorsese and Sidney Lumet elevated him to A-list status. It was the late 80s/early 90s and he was rushing toward the apex of his career—and a relationship he was completely not prepared for.
25. He Took On A New Challenge
For the first time in his big screen career, Nolte signed onto a project directed by a woman. And she wasn’t just any woman. She was the legendary and multi-talented Barbra Streisand. She was also famous for being a serious control freak. Nolte didn’t quite know what he was getting into when he went to her Manhattan apartment to discuss the role.
26. He Had An Intense Experience On Set
In The Prince of Tides, Nolte worked very closely with Barbra Streisand. She was both his director and played his love interest on-screen. Although she was notorious for being direct to the point of callousness, it didn’t bother Nolte. He appreciated her dedication to detail and commitment to preparation. They got along extremely well. You could even say that they found each other irresistible.
27. His Director Fell In Love With Him
While making the film, there was a lot of flirting between Streisand and Nolte. Although they were pretending to be lovers for the film, they both felt the desire to take it into the real world. However, Nolte put the integrity of the project first and refused Streisand’s advances. Then she took it to the next level. She begged him to leave his wife and son and be with her.
Still, Nolte stood firm.
28. He Gave The Performance Of A Lifetime
Released in 1991, The Prince of Tides was an instant blockbuster. Thrilled, Nick Nolte received his first nomination for an Academy Award. He ended up winning several film critics’ awards as well as the Golden Globe for Best Actor. He was riding high, at the top of his game, and would soon get a sensational honor.
29. He Was The Sexiest Man Alive
In 1992, Nolte appeared for the second time on the cover of People magazine. They declared him the “Sexiest Man Alive”. Wearing a simple gray t-shirt, he looked healthy and happy. His blond hair was windblown, as per usual. A pair of wire frame glasses gave him an intelligent, sophisticated look. The breathless headline announced that he was “a man’s man that women can’t resist”.
He was a bona fide A-list superstar—and with that came a lot of pressure.
30. He Embraced A Healthier Lifestyle
After the People magazine cover, Nolte felt a certain amount of pressure to maintain his appearance. He also wanted to improve his overall health and adopted new habits and routines to achieve his goals. But, as we’ll see, Nolte’s addictive personality drove some of these well-meaning efforts over the cliff once again.
31. He Divorced Yet Again
After his disastrous time on set with Streisand, Nolte’s marriage to Rebecca Linger was seriously on the rocks—and then he made a disturbing discovery. He caught her in the arms of another man, and their relationship came crashing down. They eventually divorced, and he rebounded quickly—but his new romance quickly proved to be just as complicated.
32. He Bounced Back
Not one to be single for even five minutes, Nolte began a relationship with redheaded actress Vicki Lewis Although they stayed together for many years, Vicki didn’t want to marry Nolte because she enjoyed the freedom of having other simultaneous relationships. This sure was becoming the story of Nick Nolte’s love life.
33. He Worked With Someone Special
It was a proud moment for Nolte when he got to work with his nine-year-old son, Brawley, on the set of 1996’s Mother Night. A year later, they worked together again on the gritty film Affliction. The boy played a young version of Nolte’s disturbed sheriff character. What must have been a very gratifying experience brought out the best in Nolte. He received his second Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.
But his scandalous side still continued to overshadow his efforts on onscreen.
34. He Entered A New Relationship
Right on schedule, Nolte continued his pattern of jumping into a new romance just as the old one was winding down. After breaking up with long-term girlfriend Vicki Lewis, Nolte began seeing British actress Clytie Lane. They would date for years and have a child before finally getting married in 2016. There is a sense of weariness in Nolte when he admits, “I’ve been married all my life”.
They say “for better or for worse”—but unfortunately for Nolte’s partners, they often get a close-up view of the worse part.
35. He Joined An Embarrassing Club
In 2002, a cruise down the Pacific Coast Highway ended in disaster for Nolte. The authorities pulled him over and slapped him with a reckless driving charge. Back at the station, Nolte had his mugshot taken. With his wildly disheveled hair, obnoxious Hawaiian shirt, and grim facial expression, Nolte’s shot went viral and took top prize in the infamous celebrity mugshot club.
It was a wake-up call for Nolte, and he immediately entered a treatment facility.
36. His Health Regime Is Kooky
On a health kick to regain his youthful vigor, Nolte found no shortage of alternative solutions in Hollywood—some more disturbing than others. He discovered HGH, an expensive growth hormone therapy, and began daily stomach injections. He had bone scans, tumor sweeps, and owns an ozone tank for detox treatments. Next, he underwent a series of brain scans to detect any hidden problems like Alzheimer’s.
But he didn’t stop there.
37. He Loves Needles
Nolte became fascinated with the pursuit of a healthy body. Several times a week, he would relax with an intravenous needle in his arm delivering an IV bag full of vitamins and minerals to his blood. Sometimes, to relieve his stress, he’d take a quick shot of vitamin B-12. But analyzing his own blood under a professional microscope became an obsession.
As he studied his cells, he sought to repair any damage in himself.
38. His Daughter Calls Him Grandpa
At age 67, Nolte was getting on in years by the time his daughter Sophie was born in 2007. A decade later, when the director of Head Full of Honey needed a little girl to star as Nolte’s granddaughter, it took a lot to convince Sophie’s mom to allow her to do it. For Nolte, it was a no-brainer. The child was already calling him “Grandpa”, since he’s twice the age of all her friends’ dads.
39. He’s A Permissive Parent
As a father of two, Nolte describes his parenting style as “tolerant.” He remembers growing up in the Midwest with plenty of freedom to make mistakes and get hurt. So, as a parent himself, he wasn’t interested in bubble wrapping his own offspring. Allowing that extra rope to his kids gave him some heat from their respective mothers, but Nolte always took his role super seriously.
He just believes that some of the best lessons he’s ever learned are from his own failures.
40. He’s A Bionic Man
Early in his career, some dismissed Nick Nolte as a “Robert Redford clone”. It seems funny that decades later, he would be cast as Redford’s hiking buddy in a film called A Walk In The Woods. The shoot was so grueling that it had a brutal effect on Nolte. The work he did on the Appalachian Trail completely wiped him out.
He had to get a hip replacement immediately after. He already had a knee replacement from the wear-and-tear of playing sports. Nolte likes to joke that he is a “bionic man”.
41. He’s Not Afraid Of Death
Nick Nolte has a very accepting attitude toward growing older and is not afraid of what comes after. He plans to live his life to the absolute fullest until, he says, it’s time “to head elsewhere”. A full life, full speed ahead. But thinking about death and actually facing loss and destruction are two very different things…
42. He Lost Everything
In 2018, while making Last Words, a wildfire tore through Nolte’s Malibu home. He felt particularly helpless because he was far away in Italy when it happened. Although he lost all the memorabilia from the films he’s done, he was thankful for everyone’s safety.
It was the second time California wildfires burned his house to the ground.
43. He Became A Star Wars Character
In Star Wars: The Mandalorian, some very cool special effects made it possible for Nolte to play a short, pig-like character called Kuiil. A realistic animatronic mask and a small female actor wearing the costume brought Nolte’s voice and facial expressions to life on screen. Nolte never stepped foot on set, recording his part in a linen closet in only one day!
44. Not All Women Liked Him
In 1994, Nolte was at the height of his career, coming off the success of The Prince of Tides. Hollywood bigwigs wanted to put him in a romantic comedy called I Love Trouble opposite the biggest female star of the era—none other than Julia Roberts. However, the title ended up being quite literal, as this dreamy onscreen pairing made for serious drama off-screen.
45. It Was A Disastrous Shoot
From the moment they met, Nolte and Roberts ground against each other’s nerves so much that they had to shoot scenes separately. Even though it was a romantic comedy, Roberts refused to kiss him in a scene—and the sense of disgust was mutual, so Nolte didn’t mind. But the rancor didn’t dissipate when the film wrapped.
46. He Stood Up For Himself
After appearing opposite Nolte in I Love Trouble, Roberts blasted her co-star in an interview, calling him “disgusting”. But ultimately, Nolte got the last word. He responded by saying, “She’s not a nice person. Everyone knows that”.
47. Drinking Wasn’t His Only Problem
Nolte’s 2002 mug shot for a reckless driving charge became infamous—but there was a lot more to the story than met the eye. When the authorities detained him that day, they tested him, and the results were quite chilling.
48. He Was Using Something Notoriously Bad
Tests found that Nolte was driving under the influence of the notorious drug GHB. But what Nolte said about the incident was even more disturbing. He claimed that he’d “been taking it for four years and I’ve never been raped”. Yikes. It’s an especially bizarre statement considering a lawsuit that popped up around that time.
49. He Was Part Of A Disturbing Lawsuit
In 2004, Nolte was the subject of a lawsuit brought by the parents of a teenage girl. She claimed that she’d attended a party at Nolte’s mansion and that someone there gave her GHB and assaulted her. While the authorities sentenced the man responsible to 180 days in jail, the civil suit sought damages against him, Nolte, and a number of others who were at the party.
Eventually, the whole story came out.
50. His Son Got Him In Trouble
While Nolte was part of the suit, he wasn’t even at his property at the time. With dad out of town, Nolte’s son Brawley had hosted a party that got out of control. The suit accused Nolte’s employees of furnishing the GHB, and Nolte’s son’s best friend had been the one to commit the assault. Ultimately, the Noltes settled the suit with the girl’s family in 2006.