Heeeeere’s Jack: How Jack Nicholson Became a Cinematic Legend

Jack Nicholson is arguably one of the most talented actors in Hollywood history. He really has a way of embodying the characters he plays, and he is so diverse that he could take any role he is given and perform it brilliantly. The three-time Oscar winner was a notorious party animal and had the pleasure of dating many women. His ladies’ man status earned him the nickname “The Great Seducer,” and he had exclusive entry to the famous Playboy mansion.

'The Bucket List' film premiere, London, Britain, Jack Nicholson
Jack Nicholson. Photo By David Fisher/Shutterstock

Nicholson has graced our movie screens for over 60 years, and every one of his performances is flawless. Throughout his life, the rebellious star also experimented heavily with drugs and almost embarked on a career in animation. All of his movies are iconic like One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Batman, but Nicholson once claimed, “I don’t make movies, I make classics.” He is absolutely right. Did you know that his most memorable line from The Shining was improvised?

From his unconventional conception to his record-breaking 12 Oscar nominations, this is the life of Hollywood Legend Jack Nicholson.


Jack Nicholson was born on April 22, 1937, but his entrance into the world was complicated. He grew up thinking that his mother was his sister and his grandmother was his mother. Are you confused? Let me backtrack. Back in the ‘30s, pregnancy out of wedlock was considered scandalous and shameful.

Jack Nicholson childhood photo
Source: jack-nicholson.info

So, when his sister June got pregnant with Jack, the family didn’t tell anyone. To maintain the secret, June’s mother, Ethel, raised Jack as her own. The future star had no idea that his sister June was his mother and that his sister Lorraine was his aunt. Can you imagine his shock when he discovered the real story?

Who’s Your Daddy?

So the big question is, who was Jack Nicholson’s dad? One possibility is a man named Don Furcillo. Another prospect is Edgar A. Kirschfeld, a Latvian-born entertainer, also known as Eddie King. But Nicholson did not pursue an investigation. In fact, he didn’t even find out the truth until he was 37 years old and already famous.

Don Furcillo
Don Furcillo. Source: Geni.com

A Time magazine reporter uncovered the truth while doing a profile on the actor. By that point, June and Ethel had both passed. While commenting on the big revelation, Nicholson said it was “a pretty dramatic event, but it wasn’t what I’d call traumatizing. I was pretty well psychologically formed.” He seems to have taken it well.

Class Clown

In 1954, Jack’s classmates at Manasquan High voted him the “Class Clown,” which was almost a prophecy considering he went on to play one of the most famous clowns of all time — the Joker. As a youngster, Nicholson worked various odd jobs, including lifeguarding at the Jersey Shore. Don’t worry; this was pre-Snookie.

Jack Nicholson As 'The Joker'
Jack Nicholson As ‘The Joker’. Photo By Globe Photos/Mediapunch/Shutterstock

His first taste of showbiz was his internship as an assistant to the brilliant animators William Hanna and Joseph Barbera (of Hanna-Barbera cartoon fame.) They enjoyed having Nicholson around so much that they offered him a job in the art department. However, he turned them down. Nicholson didn’t really want to be a cartoon artist; he was more interested in acting.

Becoming a Star

Nicholson made his feature film debut in 1958’s The Cry Baby Killer. Director Roger Corman was impressed by Nicholson’s performance, and the pair kicked off a long work relationship. In the early 1960s, Nicholson was great pals with Bruce Dern and Harry Dean Stanton; the three were still relatively unknown. They were struggling actors, finding work in Western films or TV.

The Cry Baby Killer - 1958, Jack Nicholson
The Cry Baby Killer – 1958, Jack Nicholson. Photo By Allied Artists/Kobal/Shutterstock

Nicholson had an especially close friendship with Harry Dean Stanton; he was kind of obsessed with him. Nicholson would scribble Stanton’s name or initials into every movie he made, whether it was graffiti on the wall or a carving into a tree. It reminds me of a lovesick high schooler.

Irresistible Ladies’ Man

One of the most notorious Hollywood ladies’ men is indeed Jack Nicholson. Despite dating some of Hollywood’s most beautiful starlets, he has only walked down the aisle once. He was married to Sandra Knight from 1962 to 1968 and had a high-profile, on-and-off relationship with actress Anjelica Hudson from 1973 to 1990.

Photo by Paramount / Kobal / Shutterstock

During that time, he also dated actress Susan Anspach and Danish model Winnie Hollman. He later went out with Rebecca Broussard and then Lara Flynn Boyle. He was allegedly in relationships with Kate Moss, Melanie Griffin, Meryl Streep, Margaret Trudeau, and Michelle Philips. Wow! That’s a lot of women! But these days, the 83-year-old legend has retired from the dating game.

Father Figure

While Nicholson was still married to Sandra Knight, the pair welcomed baby Jennifer into the world in 1963. Nicholson had four more children: two with starlet Rebecca Broussard and another with Winnie Hollman. He has another child named Caleb with Susan Anspach, his Five Easy Pieces co-star. We’ll touch more on him in a second.

Anjelica Huston and Jack Nicholson
Anjelica Huston and Jack Nicholson, 1976. Photo By Globe Photos/Shutterstock

Nicholson was in a 17-year long relationship with Anjelica Huston, his Prizzi’s Honor co-star, a role that earned her an Oscar. She put up with his philandering for years but finally left him in 1990 when he knocked up Broussard. At that point, he was caught red-handed and could no longer hide that affair.

Bad Boy Drive

Back in the ‘70s, the most notorious stars in Hollywood were all neighbors. Jack Nicholson lives on the same street as the late Marlon Brando and near the iconic Warren Beatty. They were all living on Mulholland Drive and known to be huge party animals and womanizers. The definitely enjoyed their success and lived it up.

The Missouri Breaks - 1976, Jack Nicholson, Marlon Brando
The Missouri Breaks – 1976, Jack Nicholson, Marlon Brando. Photo By United Artists/Kobal/Shutterstock

For example, Nicholson didn’t even wear clothes for the first few months of moving into the house. However, their antics quickly escalated and got out of control; the street was dubbed “Bad Boy Drive.” Nicholson bought Brando’s house in 2001, out of respect, and demolished it. He planted frangipani flowers over the plot to honor his friend.

VIP Access to the Playboy Mansion

Jack Nicholson’s two favorite things are partying and women. So it’s only natural that he was a frequent guest at the iconic Playboy Mansion. Rumor has it that he has special VIP access. A story came out in 2015, claiming that there are secret tunnels underneath the mansion.

The Fortune - 1975, Jack Nicholson, Stockard Channing, Warren Beat
The Fortune – 1975, Jack Nicholson, Stockard Channing, Warren Beatty. Photo By Columbia/Kobal/Shutterstock

Reporters were all over the story and investigated the claims. They discovered that the tunnels are connected to the residences of several A-list celebrities, including Nicholson, Warren Beatty, James Caan, and Kirk Douglas. Unsurprisingly, all four actors refused to comment on the discovery. Sneaky, sneaky, there is definitely something mysterious going on.

The Oscar King

Jack Nicholson holds the record for the most male Oscar nominations. He has a total of 12, which honestly doesn’t come as a surprise. He is an acting legend. The only person who beat him is the equally talented Meryl Streep, with 21 nominations throughout the years. The actor has been nominated for an Oscar in every decade from 1960-2000 and has also won three Academy Awards.

As Good As It Gets, Helen Hunt, Jack Nicholson
As Good As It Gets, Helen Hunt, Jack Nicholson. Photo By Moviestore Collection/Shutterstock

The movie star won his first Oscar for Best Actor in 1975 for his performance in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. His next Oscar win came in 1983 for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Terms of Endearment. He won his third Oscar award for Best Actor in 1997, for the film As Good As It Gets. Nicholson also starred in a bunch of movies that won Best Picture.

Art Collector

Almost every Hollywood star takes up a hobby at one point or another. Jack Nicholson is no exception, but he has more than just an ordinary hobby. Fortune usually comes with fame, which is why celebrities can afford to take up expensive activities. The actor is an avid art collector and owns some of the most impressive art on the planet.

Jack Nicholson posing for the camera
Jack Nicholson, 1974. Photo By Crollalanza/Shutterstock

His art collection is worth an estimated $150 million. He started the art collection, which contains 20th-century and contemporary art, back in the 1960s. It features Picasso, Rodin, Botero, and Andy Warhol. Nicholson has impeccable taste; even critics praise his collection.

He Wasn’t Asked to Play Joker in The Dark Knight

One of Jack Nicholson’s most epic roles was his iconic portrayal of the Joker in Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989. The actor was the highest-paid cast member and received top billing. His incredible performance was praised by critics and fans. He certainly set the bar high, and no actor dared to portray the villainous clown again…. until 2007.

Batman - 1989, Jack Nicholson
Batman – 1989, Jack Nicholson. Photo By Warner Bros/Dc Comics/Kobal/Shutterstock

Almost two decades after Nicholson played the Joker, Chris Nolan cast the talented Heath Ledger as the Joker in The Dark Night. Many fans were upset that Ledger was trying to take on Nicholson’s signature role, but Nicholson was just as angry because he wasn’t even asked. He said, “I’m furious. They never asked me about a sequel with the Joker.” He added, “Maybe it’s not a mistake. Maybe it was the right thing, but to be candid, I’m furious.” In 2019, Joaquin Phoenix also took on the challenge and played the character in The Joker.

No Contact with One of his Sons for Years

Despite his jam-packed showbiz schedule, Nicholson also got busy with the ladies. He has been with a string of stunning women over the years. The ladies’ man has been going strong since the ‘60s, for about half a century. The actor even fathered five children with four different baby mamas.

Five Easy Pieces - 1970, Susan Anspach, Jack Nicholson
Five Easy Pieces – 1970, Susan Anspach, Jack Nicholson. Photo By

Susan Anspach, Nicholson’s ex-girlfriend, gave birth to Caleb Goodard in 1970. She always insisted that Nicholson was the father, but the actor was not convinced. For years, he had no contact with Caleb. But in 1996, the (alleged) father and son formed a bond. These days, Nicholson acknowledges Caleb as his.

Turned Down The Godfather

Nicholson starred in some of Hollywood’s most classic films, such as Easy Rider, The Departed, A Few Good Men, and, my personal favorite, The Shining. However, the actor also turned down some of the most iconic roles in cinema. That’s right. Nicholson turned down the part of Michael Corleone in the critically and commercially acclaimed film The Godfather.

Jack Nicholson in the Shining peeking in through a door
Jack Nicholson in The Shining 1980. Photo by Warner Bros / Hawk Films / Kobal / Shutterstock

The actor believed he wouldn’t be a good fit to play the Italian mobster because of his Irish background. Nicholson explained, “I knew The Godfather was going to be a great film, but back then, I believed Indians should play Indians and Italians should play Italians. Other roles Nicholson turned down include Taxi Driver, The Graduate, and Apocalypse Now.

Partied with Fidel Castro

Jack Nicholson will go down in history as one of the most talented actors and wildest party animals to step foot in Hollywood. The notorious bad boy partied with some of the most famous celebrities on the planet. In 1998, he made headlines when he visited Cuba. Why? He was spotted with Fidel Castro while he was there.

Jack Nicholson
Jack Nicholson. Photo By Crollalanza/Shutterstock

The Cuban revolutionary served as Cuba’s Prime Minister from 1959-1976 and President from 1976-2008. So, yes, Nicholson casually partied with the President of Cuba. The actor later referred to Castro as a genius, but he didn’t realize that he got the royal treatment that citizens of Cuba didn’t get to enjoy.

Collaborated with The Monkees

Before becoming a household name, Jack Nicholson worked behind the scenes. It turns out, the gifted actor also has a knack for writing and created two screenplays that were ultimately produced. In 1967, he wrote the movie The Trip, starring Peter Fonda. In 1968, he produced the film Head, starring the Monkees.

Nesmith and Nicholson backstage in Salt Lake City, Utah
Nesmith and Nicholson backstage in Salt Lake City, Utah. Source: monkeeslivealmanac.com

Allegedly, Nicholson worked on the script while he was under the influence of several illegal substances. The psychedelic collection of music video vignettes ended up bombing at the box office and didn’t win over audiences. In fact, it helped destroy the Monkees’ public image. Strangely, the band’s hit track Going Down was not even included in the soundtrack for Head.

Extreme Road Rage

We have seen Jack Nicholson portray some of the angriest characters on our screens, but it turns out, the actor has a pretty bad temper himself and loses his cool sometimes. For example, Nicholson was involved in a highly-publicized road rage accident in 1994. He approached a car that was stopped at a red light and said that the driver, Robert Blake, cut him off.

The Bucket List - 2007, Jack Nicholson, Ian Anthony Dale
The Bucket List – 2007, Jack Nicholson, Ian Anthony Dale. Photo By Warner Bros/Kobal/Shutterstock

As you would expect, they exchanged some harsh worlds. But then, Nicholson grabbed his 2-iron gold club and smashed Blake’s windshield. The actor was charged with a misdemeanor. He apologized to the driver and settled by paying him $500,000. Nicholson regretted the entire thing: “It was a shameful incident in my life.”

Legit Reason

Showgirl June Nicholson got pregnant with Jack when she was just 17 years old. Since she was just a child herself, her parents agreed to raise him as their own to avoid scandal. We mentioned that Jack only discovered his dark family secrets well into adulthood. Nicholson claimed he wasn’t as traumatized as we would expect; however, it did shape some of his world views.

Nancy Meyers, Amy Pascal, Jack Nicholson, and Diane Keaton.
Nancy Meyers, Amy Pascal, Jack Nicholson, and Diane Keaton. Photo By Dave Allocca/Starpix/Shutterstock

While he believes a woman has a right to choose, the actor is personally against abortion for a pretty understandable reason: “I’m an illegitimate child myself, and it would be hypocritical to take any other position. I’d be dead. I wouldn’t exist.”

He Keeps Weapons Under his Pillow

Nicholson has a long list of celebrity friends, but he was famously pals with Roman Polanski. In fact, when Polanski was arrested and charged for sexual assault against a minor in 1977, it happened at Jack Nicholson’s house in the Mulholland area of Los Angeles. Reportedly, Nicholson was on a ski trip in Colorado, and his live-in girlfriend was out when the violent incident took place.

Film Stills of 'Chinatown' With 1974, John Huston, Jack Nicholson, Roman Polanski in 1974
Film Stills of ‘Chinatown’ With 1974, John Huston, Jack Nicholson, Roman Polanski in 1974. Photo By Snap/Shutterstock

But before that, the director was famously married to beautiful actress Sharon Tate, and Nicholson often hung out with the couple. When a very pregnant Tate was tragically killed in her home along with four others, by the Mason family in 1969, Nicholson started sleeping with a hammer under his pillow. That’s one way to stop intruders.

Hold the Mayo

Initially, Rip Torn was supposed to star in Easy Rider. However, he got into a near-violent fight with director Dennis Hopper, and he fired him. This ultimately led Nicholson to land what ended up becoming his breakthrough role, the lead in Five Easy Pieces.

Five Easy Pieces, Jack Nicholson
Five Easy Pieces, Jack Nicholson. Photo By Moviestore Collection/Shutterstock

There is a famous scene in Five Easy Pieces, where Nicholson tries to order toast from a stubborn waitress who refused to serve him anything other than a chicken salad sandwich. As it turns out, the scene was based on a true story. The actor claims that this scenario actually happened to him at a Hollywood restaurant name Pupi’s. When he told screenwriter Carole Eastman, she added it to the script.

Heeeeere’s Johnny

Nicholson almost worked with Stanley Kubrick back in 1970 when he was cast in Kubrick’s Napolean biopic, which was ultimately canceled. However, the two later famously worked together on the classic horror movie The Shining. He brilliantly portrayed the spiraling Jack Torrance with his incredible facial expressions. He improvised one of the most iconic lines in the movie: “Heeeeere’s Johnny.”

Jack Nicholson holding a picture of himself in 'The Shining.'
Jack Nicholson holding a picture of himself in ‘The Shining.’ Photo By Ian Wingfield/Shutterstock

Kubrick’s assistant admitted that she tried to stop the director from casting Jack Nicholson. But he seems to be the reason why The Shining will likely never be remade. Nobody else could pull off the character the way he did. It should be noted that Steven King was not impressed by the movie adaptation of his classic novel. He seems to be the only one, though.

Author vs. Director

David Hughes, one of Kubrick’s biographers, claimed that Stephen King wrote an entire screenplay for The Shining. Apparently, Kubrick didn’t even look at the draft, which caused tension between the author and director. Yikes! He could have at least gave it a quick glance. But it makes sense because Kubrick once referred to King’s writing as weak.

Stanley Kubrick, Jack Nicholson
Stanley Kubrick, Jack Nicholson. Photo By Warner Bros/Hawk Films/Kobal/Shutterstock

Who knew there was so much backstage drama when it came to the classic horror film? Kubrick ultimately went with Diane Johnson’s screenplay because he enjoyed her book, The Shadow Knows. The duo worked on the script for eleven weeks!

Lights, Camera, Action!

Jack Nicholson has done a lot more than just act in Tinseltown. Throughout his long and impressive career, Nicholson directed three films: Drive He Said, a basketball movie, Goin’ South, an old Western, and The Two Jakes, a sequel to 1974’s Chinatown, where he reprised his role as private detective J.J. Gittes.

The Two Jakes (The 2 Jakes) (On Set), Jack Nicholson
The Two Jakes (The 2 Jakes) (On Set), Jack Nicholson. Photo By Moviestore Collection/Shutterstock

He was also involved in animation. We mentioned how he worked with Hanna-Barbera cartoons for a little while before venturing into acting. He is an exceptionally skilled artist, and he can draw some iconic cartoon characters, including Tom & Jerry. Wow! Some people really can do it all.

That Temper Again

Jack Nicholson was known for his temper; it’s has gotten him in pretty big trouble throughout his life. When he was a young man living in New Jersey, he took a job as a short-order cook while waiting for his career to take off. It all started when Nicholson accidentally messed up a pancake order.

Jack Nicholson and daughter Lorraine Nicholson
Jack Nicholson and daughter Lorraine Nicholson. Photo By Broadimage/Shutterstock

Apparently, he sent out a pancake that was “three inches thick.” The customer was not pleased and approached the chef. Nicholson told the story to The Sun, “She said: ‘what the hell is this?’ I lost my temper, hit the pancake, and said, ‘Make your own damn pancakes.’” Doesn’t he know the customer is always right?

He Bought His Joker Costume for $70,000

Like most children, Nicholson grew up reading comic books, particularly Batman. So, his role as the Joker in Tim Burton’s 1989 movie was a dream come true. Not only did the actor earn a hefty paycheck somewhere between $60 million and $90 million, but he expressed how he was “particularly proud” of his performance as the crazy clown. The rest of the world agreed and loved watching him as a villain.

The Joker costume worn by Jack Nicholson
The Joker costume worn by Jack Nicholson. Photo By James Gourley/Shutterstock

Nicholson wanted to keep the Joker costume, but it was pretty expensive. He had to purchase it and spent a whopping $70,000. Considering his earnings from the movie, $70,000 was pocket change for the actor. Plus, you can’t put a price of an iconic piece of Batman history.

Double Trouble

After the incredible success of Batman and Nicholson’s Golden Globe Nominated performance, it’s no surprise that Tim Burton wanted to work with the actor again. The director hired Nicholson to star in 1996’s Mars Attacks! He played President James Dale and Las Vegas property developer Art Land.

Mars Attacks, Jack Nicholson
Mars Attacks, Jack Nicholson. Photo By Moviestore Collection/Shutterstock

That’s right; he played two characters. Initially, he was meant to play just one role and eventually be killed off. However, the studio executives were not on board with that idea. So, instead, Tim Burton created two parts for Nicholson and killed them both.

Light It Up

Nicholson told Sabotage Times, “We were all stoned the night we shot the campfire scene. The speech about the UFOs looks improvised, but it was actually almost verbatim from the script. The story about me smoking 155 joints- that’s a little exaggerated. But each time I did a take or an angle, it involved smoking almost an entire joint. After the first take or two, the acting job became reversed.”

Mars Attacks! – 1996, Jack Nicholson
Mars Attacks! – 1996, Jack Nicholson. Photo By Warner Bros/Kobal/Shutterstock

He continued, “Instead of being straight and having to act stoned at the end, I was now stoned at the beginning and having to act straight, and then gradually letting myself return to where I was – which was very stoned.” This wasn’t his only time working with drugs. Allegedly, he was on LSD and cocaine while writing the screenplay for The Trip (1967).

Not a Believer

Nicholson didn’t do interviews very often, so he was very mysterious, and fans didn’t know much about him. He revealed very little about his personal life, but, back in 1992, he did an interview with Vanity Fair and opened up about his religious beliefs. He expressed: “I don’t believe in God now. I still work up an envy for someone who has faith. I can see how that could be a deeply soothing experience.”

Jack Nicholson and Kobe Bryant
Jack Nicholson and Kobe Bryant. Source: Pinterest

He was raised Roman Catholic but doesn’t practice any religion. These days, he is a huge fan of the Los Angeles Lakers and spends a lot of time at their games. Nicholson has held court-side seats for more than 25 years now.

He Might Die Alone

Jack Nicholson has had an exceptionally impressive career. After living a lavish Hollywood lifestyle for more than half a century, Nicholson is now 82 years old and avoids the cameras. He is currently living alone on Mullholland Drive. “I would love that one last romance,” he revealed to Closer Weekly. “But I’m not very realistic about it happening. What I can’t deny is my yearning.”

Jennifer Nicholson, sons, Jack Nicholson
Jennifer Nicholson, sons, Jack Nicholson. Photo By BDG/Shutterstock

He continued to explain that he still has that young rebellious heart and soul. However, he admitted that he doesn’t allow himself to hit on women anymore because it “just doesn’t feel right at my age.” An unknown source close to Nicholson told the tabloids that the star was “afraid of dying alone in that house.”

Hollywood Legend

Even though he left the spotlight, Jack Nicholson has given us six decades of movie magic. His talent earned him 12 Oscar nominations, a star on the Hollywood walk of fame, a hefty bank account, and all the beautiful ladies he could ever dream of. He once stated, “I don’t make movies, I make classics,” which is true. He really cemented himself into Hollywood history.

Jack Nicholson at Colombe D'Or Restaurant in Saint Paul De Vence, France - 29 Jul 2009
Jack Nicholson at Colombe D’Or Restaurant in Saint Paul De Vence, France – 29 Jul 2009. Photo By Mcp/Shutterstock

He was truly born to perform and has used his skills and natural-born talent to the fullest. He achieved a lot in life, and you never know… maybe he will make one more movie for us to enjoy. Only one thing seems to be missing. Nicholson admitted, “I would never complain about my life, even though I really would like to have a mate.”