|It seems like every few years, a handful of famous actors have spectacular personal meltdowns and are relegated to the pages of tabloids until a role comes along and helps them reinvent their careers, if at all.
Then there is the very small number of icons that never need to do so.
We go to see their films because they have continually won us over, and their talent has transcended the realm of their craft. In the end, we see an amazing career up on the screen.
Jack Nicholson embodies that transcendental, enigmatic quality.
Born in New York City in 1936 without a birth certificate, he was raised by his grandparents and grew up believing that they were in fact his biological parents, not knowing the truth until he was almost 40 years old.
His career started when he worked on cartoon productions for the famous team of Hanna and Barbara.
After acting in a few small films, he wrote “The Trip,” a screenplay that wound up uniting him with two other film legends, Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper.
Hopper then cast Jack in the drug-fueled counterculture classic “Easy Rider,” where audiences got their first tastes of the manic, hard-drinking bad boy with the sly grin and the attitude to match.
That performance earned him his first Oscar nomination in 1970.
The next would come just one year later with “Five Easy Pieces,” and subsequently, he continued to wow critics and audiences alike and became a lifetime favorite of the Academy.
If you run down the list of those he has worked for or with, it’s a who’s who of Hollywood legends.
Nicholson has been nominated for an Oscar a total of 12 times, winning Best Actor awards for both “One Flew Over the Cukoo’s Nest” and “As Good As It Gets” and garnering a third for Best Supporting Actor in “Terms of Endearment.”
This achievement is second only to both Meryl Streep and Katherine Hepburn who are tied with a total of 17 each. In addition, he has been nominated for an Oscar in every decade from 1960 to 2000, a feat equaled by only Michael Caine.
Nicholson also has the honor of earning Hollywood’s biggest paycheck for a single movie.
While acting as the Joker in Tim Burton’s “Batman,” he waived his normal fee and took a percentage of the films gross, clearing a cool $60 million.
The best actors are those that continue to challenge themselves even when they hit the top.
Take Jennifer Anniston for an example. She is beloved and constantly does the opposite, playing herself in countless roles for at least $10 million a film.
Jack, taking the other road, delved into the darker side of the spectrum.
He might be himself every time, but the character is always different. He can be hilarious or terrifying, and more than once he has been both at the same time.
From playing the incarnation of pure evil in “The Departed,” to the corrupt Marine Corps colonel in “A Few Good Men,” to the axe-wielding psychopath in “The Shining,” he has been drawn to those roles that can manifest themselves negatively in actor’s minds.
His life and career hasn’t been without trouble.
During the filming of Roman Polanski’s “Chinatown,” coincidentally one of my Top 5 favorite films, the two famously quarreled.
If you know anything about Nicholson, you probably know he loves the Los Angeles Lakers and never misses a home game from his courtside seats. He’s such a die-hard fan that there is a rumor his film contracts have a clause in them that requires filming to be scheduled around Lakers home games.
While on set, Nicholson blew off filming to watch an away game in his trailer.
Polanski was ready to film so when he called Jack to set and the actor refused, the furious director took a mop and smashed the TV to pieces.
The two had been friends long before working together. When the Manson family murdered Polanski’s wife Sharon Tate, Nicholson took breaks from work to attend the trial to support his comrade. After that, the actor also started sleeping with a hammer beneath his pillow.
He has delivered some of the most famous lines in film. The famous “You Can’t Handle the Truth” and “Here’s Johnny” are so indelible that they landed him two spots on the AFI’s Top 100 film quotes. Jack actually candidly improvised the latter on the set of “The Shining” and Stanley Kubrick liked it so much he kept it in the film.
Although he doesn’t have any new films on the horizon, one of the most intriguing minds in Hollywood remains behind those ubiquitous sunglasses of his.
Oh, and by the way, I’ll fill you in on another secret: Those are prescription lenses.