Jack Nicholson

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Jack Nicholson (2001)

John Joseph "Jack" Nicholson (born April 22, 1937 in Neptune City , New Jersey ) is an American actor , screenwriter , director and producer . He is one of the best known and most versatile actors of the present. With three Oscars (two for Best Leading Actor for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest in 1975 and for Better It's Not Possible in 1997 - and one for Best Supporting Actor for Time of Tenderness in 1984) and a total of twelve unsurpassed Oscar nominations, he is also one of the most successful actors in Hollywood.

life and career


John Joseph Nicholson, later called Jack, was born on April 22, 1937, the illegitimate son of 17-year-old June Frances Nicholson in the small town of Neptune City in Monmouth County , New Jersey. Their mother Ethel May pretended to be his mother so as not to damage the reputation of their underage daughter. His grandfather John, officially his father, was an alcoholic and left the family when Jack was a baby. He died in 1958. On his mother's side, Nicholson comes from a family with Irish , English and German roots, although the family has always referred to itself as being of Irish descent.

Nicholson grew up believing his mother June was his older sister. He only learned the truth about his confusing family situation in 1974, when a reporter for Time Magazine did some research. His biological father was therefore the Italian immigrant Donald Furcillo-Rose, who in 1936 at the age of 42 had dated more often with Nicholson's 16-year-old mother June. However, his claim that he was briefly married to June Nicholson has not been substantiated. A man named Edgar A. Kirschfeld was also mentioned as possible father of Nicholson. Apparently, Nicholson refrained from doing any further research that could have clarified his parentage.

Nicholson made the decision to become an actor as a young boy. He got involved in the theater group of his school and was considered a class clown. He was known to Danny DeVito from a young age , as relatives of him and DeVito's relatives ran a hair salon together (the two actors later worked together frequently in Hollywood - see below). After graduating from Manasquan High School , Nicholson left his hometown of Neptune City in 1954 and followed his birth mother to Los Angeles, where she worked as a secretary and fashion buyer. June Nicholson died of cancer in 1963.

17-year-old Nicholson first worked in a toy store and then found a job as a delivery boy in the animation department of the film company Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) . At MGM, he was also in charge of the fan mail that the two popular cartoon characters Tom and Jerry received.


Nicholson wanted to continue being an actor and persuaded well-known MGM producer Joe Pasternak to do screen tests with him. Pasternak certified him talent, but advised him to take acting lessons first to learn his craft. Nicholson therefore attended Jeff Corey's acting class , where he met fellow students such as Richard Chamberlain and James Coburn . In 1956 he made his acting debut in the TV series Matinee Theater in an insignificant supporting role.

In 1958, Nicholson met 32-year-old Roger Corman , who has been producing and directing B-Movies with great success for several years and in this role for decades promoted the careers of later Hollywood greats (including Robert De Niro , Martin Scorsese , Sylvester Stallone , James Cameron or Francis Ford Coppola ). Corman cast the 21-year-old Nicholson in the film The Cry Baby Killer , which is not shown in Germany, as a hot-headed youth who eventually becomes a criminal. The crime drama directed by Jus Adiss was based on the then popular youth films such as ... because they don't know what they are doing , but did not get a great response from either the critics or the audience.

In the following years, Nicholson worked mainly for Corman and took on smaller roles in his B-Movies. In 1960 he played the masochistic patient of a sadistic dentist in the horror comedy Little Shop Full of Horror, directed by Corman . This film was made within a few days with a minimum budget of around 30,000 US dollars and has developed into a cult flick over the years. The grotesque story of the giant carnivorous plant Audrey was turned into a Broadway musical in 1982, which was filmed in 1986.

In the early 1960s, Corman produced and directed a number of inexpensive Gothic horror films that went down well with audiences and became classics in their genre. Nicholson appeared in two of these films. In Der Rabe - Duell der Zauberer , a horror comedy, he was seen in 1963 alongside the prominent genre stars Boris Karloff , Vincent Price and Peter Lorre . In the same year he played next to Karloff the second leading role in The Terror - Castle of Terror . In this film, which was shot in the same setting as Der Rabe , he was also an unnamed co-director with Coppola and others.

The female lead in The Terror was played by 23-year-old Sandra Knight, who married Nicholson in 1962. In 1963 their daughter Jennifer was born. The marriage with Knight was divorced in 1968. Nicholson has not been remarried since then, but has a total of five children with four different women.

In the early 1960s, Nicholson also starred in films such as The Wild Hunt (1960), The Broken Land (1962), Thunder on the Island (1963) or Back Door to Hell (1964), which, however, found little audience and his career did not advanced.


From the mid-1960s, the established film industry came under increasing pressure. Hollywood continued to produce light entertainment films (love comedies, musicals, monumental films, westerns) according to the usual recipes, which were ignored by the young moviegoers of the hippie era. From 1966, however, the influences of sub- and counterculture became increasingly noticeable in current cinema and gave rise to the so-called New Hollywood cinema.

Corman always had a keen sense of the current trends and in 1966 directed the rocker film Die wilden Engel , which was produced for only 360,000 US dollars, grossed almost 20 times this sum in the United States and triggered a short-lived motorcycle film wave . Nicholson was not involved in The Wild Angels , but received roles in the 1967 motorcycle films The Wild Thugs of San Francisco and Rebel Riders (which didn't hit theaters until 1970). In films like these, the image of Nicholson gradually formed as the unshaven, rebellious antihero of New Hollywood who despises social conventions. In his private life, the actor moved around young actors like Peter Fonda , Dennis Hopper or Bruce Dern , who also cultivated the image of the antihero on the screen (all three also appeared in motorcycle films).

In the mid-1960s, Nicholson tried his hand at screenwriting and wrote, among other things, the template for the film The Trip (1967), which was directed by Corman. This film, in which Nicholson is not seen as an actor, depicts the LSD experiences and amorous adventures of a screenwriter (played by Peter Fonda) in partly surreal images and is considered to be one of the first films to deal with the subject of drugs. Nicholson has freely admitted that he had also been using LSD since the mid-1960s.

In 1966, directed by Monte Hellman, Corman produced the two westerns Das Schießen und Ritt im Wirbelwind , in which Nicholson was involved as an actor or co-author. The unconventional films, which turned the current genre rules somewhat upside down, were called "acid westerns" and " kafkaesque " and found no audience. The shooting was never shown in the cinema.

In 1968, Nicholson co-wrote the film Head , which portrayed the crazy adventures of the pop group The Monkees and was obviously based on the style-defining films that Richard Lester had made a few years earlier with the Beatles . However, the film flopped and criticized it as incoherent and unsuccessful.

In 1967 and 1968, Nicholson tried in vain for the leading roles in the later successful films The Graduate and Rosemary's Baby . Although he had worked as an actor, writer or co-director in numerous films, his career was ultimately unsuccessful until 1968.

Hopper as director and Peter Fonda as idea generator and screenwriter were the driving forces behind the road movie Easy Rider (1969). This film described the adventures of the two hippies and drug smugglers Wyatt (Fonda) and Billy (Hopper), who ride their Harley-Davidson motorcycles from Mexico to the American southern states and are finally shot by rednecks on a country road . For a while, the duo is accompanied by the permanently drunk lawyer George Hanson, who is slain by Rednecks.

Nicholson was initially only involved as executive producer in the implementation of this film - at Hopper's request, he had established contact with the newly founded production company BBS, which provided a production budget of 375,000 US dollars. When Rip Torn , who was originally supposed to play drunken attorney Hanson, left the production before filming began, Nicholson agreed to take on the role.

With a grossing of around 100 million US dollars, Easy Rider became a fabulous box-office success, the most important cult film of the hippie generation and a classic in New Hollywood cinema. Nicholson succeeded in attracting a large audience for the first time in more than ten years in the film business - he was unanimously acclaimed by critics and viewers for his comedic portrayal of the drunken lawyer. The role also earned him the first of twelve Oscar nominations in 1970. The second followed just a year later for Five Easy Pieces - A man seeks himself .


Until well into the 1960s, Hollywood stars were usually committed to the tradition of the good-looking romantic hero or appeared emphatically masculine . The success of New Hollywood cinema, however, paved the way for a new generation of actors who placed value on realistic, psychologically sound roles - including Dustin Hoffman , Al Pacino , Gene Hackman , Donald Sutherland and Robert De Niro . In the early 1970s, Nicholson became one of the leading stars of this young generation of actors. The 1.74 m tall actor with the thinning hair did not correspond to the traditional image of a Hollywood star even on the outside and, through his special habitus, personified the zeitgeist of the era in which established value systems were questioned like hardly any other actor . His unmistakable "killer grin" became the special trademark of the actor.

After his breakthrough with Easy Rider , Nicholson continued to build his acting reputation and appeared in eleven films between 1970 and 1975. While he barely came into its own as a supporting actor in the Barbra Streisand musical " Once the day comes ..." (1970), he was able to consolidate his image as a rebellious antihero with Five Easy Pieces - A man seeks himself (1970). Directed by Bob Rafelson , he was seen as the son of a "good family" who refused a career as a pianist and instead worked as a casual laborer on an oil field. The film and Nicholson's portrayal received very positive reviews across the board.

In films such as The Art of Love (1971) or The King of Marvin Gardens (1972), Nicholson portrayed characters who do not value bourgeois values. In 1971 he directed and screenplayed the film Drive, He Said , which addressed the problems of some young basketball players. Drive, He Said received little attention, but was criticized for its explicit sex scenes. At this time, Nicholson turned down roles in films such as The Godfather , The Clou or The Great Gatsby , despite high fee offers . Instead, he appeared in Hal Ashby's The Last Command in 1973 as a Navy sailor who was given the task of transferring a convicted comrade to a distant military prison. This milieu and character study was very well received by critics and cemented Nicholson's reputation as a versatile character actor.

In 1974 Roman Polański's Chinatown , a modern, complex film noir set in Los Angeles in the 1930s, proved to be even more successful . Private detective Jake Gittes is hired by a mysterious client to shadow her unfaithful husband. While the detective is carrying out this supposedly routine job, he becomes entangled in an increasingly complex affair that forces him to grapple with murder, corruption and incest .

While Nicholson was often seen unshaven and in a neglected wardrobe in earlier films, he appears in Chinatown in expensive tailor-made suits and, as Jake Gittes, tries to achieve a particularly cultivated appearance. A sadistic criminal (Polański in a cameo ) slit open his nose with a knife after 40 minutes, which is why Gittes is forced to wear a bandage in the middle of his face.

Chinatown became a huge hit with critics and audiences and is widely considered one of the most important classic films of the 1970s. Author Robert Towne , who tailored the role of detective to his longtime friend Nicholson, won an Oscar.

In 1975 the renowned Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni Nicholson hired for his psychodrama profession: Reporter , in which a frustrated reporter decides to assume the identity of another man. In the same year, the actor appeared in Ken Russell's rock musical Tommy as a singing doctor. The 1975 comedy dowry hunters fell far short of expectations, although alongside Nicholson it featured another top star - Warren Beatty  . Nicholson and Beatty, of the same age, are close friends and have long enjoyed an image as Hollywood's leading casanovas. However, Nicholson had a relationship with actress Anjelica Huston since 1973 .

Perhaps the best known and most popular film with Nicholson became One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest , directed in 1975 by the Czech director Miloš Forman . Nicholson starred in the role of Randle P. McMurphy, who lets himself be admitted to a mental institution to avoid jail time for seducing a minor . In the clinic, he incites the apathetic inmates - who are immobilized with drugs and electric shocks - to rebel against the prison management. Nicholson's image of the unshaven, clever underdog , with which the audience sympathizes, was particularly effective in the role of the rebellious McMurphy.

Based on the bestseller of the same name by Ken Kesey , One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest became one of the greatest box office hits of the 1970s, grossing US $ 112 million in the United States alone. Produced by Michael Douglas , the flick was one of the most spectacular - and final - box office hits in New Hollywood cinema and catapulted Nicholson to the top of Hollywood for good. During the filming, he met his childhood friend DeVito again, who played one of the inmates of the mental hospital and started a successful film career with this role. Nicholson received a million US dollar gage for the first time for Cuckoo's Nest and also had a 15% share in worldwide revenues, which finally made him a wealthy man. He had lived in a villa on posh Mulholland Drive since the early 1970s and had Marlon Brando as a neighbor there.

One flew over the cuckoo's nest became a classic and cult film and in 1976 won the Oscars in all five main categories - for best director, best film, best screenplay, best female lead ( Louise Fletcher as the tyrannical director of the institution) and best male lead. Nicholson won the world's most coveted film award for the first time - after being nominated five times in seven years since 1970.


Jack Nicholson (1976)

After the first half of the 1970s was extremely successful for Nicholson, he initially failed to continue his career on a similar level. In 1976, ten years after the B-Movies shooting and riding in the whirlwind , he was seen again as a western hero and played alongside his neighbor and youth idol Brando in a duel on the Missouri, a horse thief who wants to ruin a rich horse breeder. Brando appeared next to Nicholson - partly in women's clothes - as an eccentric "regulator" (= 'killer'). Despite the prominent cast, this late west staged by Arthur Penn flopped at the box office and was largely described as a failure by the critics. Elia Kazan's The Last Tycoon (1976), which traced the brief career of a young film producer (played by De Niro) in Hollywood in the 1930s, was equally quickly forgotten . Nicholson was only seen in a supporting role in the prominent film.

In the spring of 1977 Nicholson was indirectly involved in a sex scandal after his friend Polanski accused of "extramarital sexual intercourse with a minor" and in pre-trial detention had been taken. Polanski to a 13-year-old girl in the whirlpool of Nicholson's villa with narcotics have brought to heel. Nicholson himself was doing winter sports in Aspen at the time and had to accept that the police ransacked his villa in April 1977. Polański eventually fled the country to avoid a long prison sentence. Polański was arrested in Switzerland for this crime in 2009 and narrowly escaped extradition to the United States.

In 1978 Nicholson was seen again - and for the last - time as a western actor: In Der Galgenstrick he played under his own direction a cattle thief who narrowly escaped the gallows and marries a virgin mine owner . The comedically designed Late West, in which John Belushi , Christopher Lloyd and DeVito could be seen among others , was unsuccessful with both critics and audiences.

After a year and a half of shooting, Stanley Kubrick's horror film Shining was released in 1980 . Under the supervision of Kubrick, the huge backdrops of the eerie Overlook Hotel were built in a London studio, whose caretaker, the unsuccessful writer Jack Torrance (Nicholson), is slowly drifting into madness. Based on Stephen King 's best-selling novel of the same name , the perfectionist Kubrick staged a modern gothic horror film with a high budget and in a time-consuming production (he had many scenes repeated 50 to 60 times) , which was not stingy with gruesome scenes. The three protagonists of the film - Torrance as well as his wife and young son - are terrorized by horror visions in the empty, snowed-in hotel until a nightmarish showdown occurs.

For Nicholson and Kubrick - both had suffered failures in previous years - Shining was a great success. The film became a classic of its genre as well as a much-cited and parodied work of pop culture . Critics of the time criticized the fact that Nicholson had exaggerated acting in his portrayal of the mad writer.


In 1981 Rafelson directed When the Postman Rings Twice, a remake of the corresponding film noir classic from 1946. Nicholson can be seen here as a dodgy drifter who gets involved in an affair with the beautiful wife ( Jessica Lange ) of a gas station operator. The lovers murder the annoying husband by throwing him down a cliff in a car. When the postman rings twice, it caused a scandal when it was rumored that Nicholson and Lange had not only simulated a passionate love scene on the kitchen table. Nicholson's appearances in the films Reds and Grenzpatrouille caused less sensation .

In 1981 Nicholson's second daughter Honey was born. The mother was Danish model Winnie Hollman, although Nicholson was dating Huston.

In 1983, Nicholson appeared as a drunk ex-astronaut in the comedic melodrama Zeit der Tärtlichkeit , which was tailored to the leading actresses Shirley MacLaine and Debra Winger . Here he met his childhood friend DeVito again. This film became a worldwide box office hit and earned Nicholson his second Oscar. In the mid-1980s, films such as Die Ehre der Prizzis , Heartburn or Spurge proved to be less successful . In the box office hit The Witches of Eastwick in 1987, Nicholson starred as the "devilish" seducer Daryl Van Horne, who upset the ladies of a small town.

In the comic adaptation Batman (1989) Nicholson took over the dominant role of the grinning super villain " Joker ", who is being fought in a future metropolis by the bat-like title hero. With gross revenues of over $ 400 million worldwide, Batman became Nicholson's biggest box office hit. Thanks to special contractual clauses , the actor achieved a record salary of around 60 million US dollars, making him the best-paid actor in film history. It was only decades later that similar fee dimensions were achieved again in Hollywood.

In addition, Nicholson acts on the album Batman by Prince with which the actor in four songs movie quotes KRIWET sampled .

Nicholson (right) and Dennis Hopper at the 1990 Academy Awards


In 1990, Nicholson realized the Chinatown sequel The Trail Leads Back - The Two Jakes , which flopped at the box office and, according to the general tenor, lagged far behind the artistic quality of the previous film. Nicholson ended his career as a director with this film.

In 1990, Huston separated from Nicholson when she learned that waitress Rebecca Broussard was expecting a daughter. He gave her the name of his aunt Lorraine. In 1992 his son Raymond was born. From 1999 to 2001 Nicholson lived with the actress Lara Flynn Boyle .

Jack Nicholson at the 2002 Cannes International Film Festival

As flop proved in the 1990s Nicholson movies like Man Trouble - to the dogs come (1992), Jimmy Hoffa (1992), The Crossing Guard - It happened in broad daylight (1995), The Evening Star - The story continues ( 1996) or Blood and Wine (1996). Nicholson, on the other hand, was successful with the military drama A Question of Honor (1992), in which he starred alongside Tom Cruise as Colonel , and with the thriller Wolf - Das Tier im Manne (1994), in which he appeared as a werewolf in Appearance occurred. In 1997, Nicholson was seen in the comedy Better it goes not as a lousy writer who excels through racist and homophobic remarks. This role earned the actor his third Oscar, which he dedicated to actor JT Walsh , who died in 1998 .

21st century

After The Promise flopped in 2001, Nicholson was able to record another film success in 2002 with the tragic comedy About Schmidt . He appeared here as a pensioner who is forced to reorganize his life. Nicholson was also in the successful comedies Die Wutprobe (2003 - as an aggression therapist) and What the heart desires (2003 - as an aging Casanova) to see. Scorsese cast him in 2006 in the box office hit Departed - Unter Feinden as the Irish Mafia godfather. He was seen here alongside Leonardo DiCaprio , Matt Damon and Mark Wahlberg .

In Rob Reiner's box office hit The Best Comes At The End , published in 2007, Nicholson and Morgan Freeman played two terminally ill patients who had their last wishes come true in the time they had left. For the last time, then 73-year-old Nicholson appeared in 2010 in How do you know it's love as an actor. In February 2017, there was speculation about his comeback in the planned US remake of the German film Toni Erdmann . In August 2018, Nicholson's involvement was ruled out.

German dubbing voices

At the beginning of his career, Nicholson, like his fellow actor Dustin Hoffman , was dubbed mainly in German by Manfred Schott (e.g. in Easy Rider , Five Easy Pieces - A man seeks himself , One flew over the cuckoo's nest , The last tycoon , The Gallows rope , if the postman rings twice , Reds ). After his accidental death in 1982, Joachim Kerzel took over the German-speaking voice of both actors in the course of the 80s . In the transition period, Nicholson was also spoken by Erik Schumann (e.g. in Die Ehre der Prizzis , Wolfsmilch ).

Deviations from this can be found under the more important stations of Nicholson's career with the films Chinatown ( Hansjörg Felmy ) and with Jörg Pleva for Shining . The latter at the express request of director Kubrick, who had been married to a German since 1957 and was so impressed with the German version of the film Uhrwerk Orange (1971) by Pleva's dubbing for Malcolm McDowell as the juvenile delinquent Alex DeLarge that he got Pleva too in the German versions of his subsequent films was cast as a spokesman for the male lead.


Actor (feature films)

Performer (television)

  • 1956: Matinee Theater (1 episode)
  • 1960: Mr. Lucky (episode "Operation Fortuna")
  • 1960: The Barbara Stanwyck Show (1 episode)
  • 1961: Wells Fargo ( Tales Of Wells Fargo , episode "The Washburn Girl")
  • 1961: Underwater Adventures ( Sea Hunt , 1 episode)
  • 1961: Bronco (episode "The Equalizer")
  • 1962: Little Amy (TV movie)
  • 1962: Hawaiian Eye (episode "Total Eclipse")
  • 1966: Dr. Kildare (4 episodes)
  • 1966: The Seaview ( Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea , anonymous)
  • 1966/1967: Andy Griffith Show (2 episodes)
  • 1967: The Trail of Jim Sonnett ( The Guns Of Will Sonnett , 1 episode)
  • 1983: Salute to John Huston
  • 1985: Live Aid
  • 1987: Elephant's Child (TV movie)
  • 1995: Salute To Steven Spielberg
  • 1996: Salute To Clint Eastwood
  • 1999: Salute To Dustin Hoffman
  • 2000: Hollywood Rocks The Movies 1955–1970
  • 2000-2005: Biography
  • 2002: Entertainment Tonight
  • 2007-2010: Entertainment Tonight
  • 2009: Song Of The Shattered
  • 2010: America Lost And Found: The BBS Story
  • 2010: AFI Life Achievement Award: A Tribute To Mike Nichols
  • 2010: Cinémas
  • 2011: UFOs, Sex and Monsters - Roger Corman's wild cinema (documentary)




Nicholson at the premiere of The Best For Last (2008)


Nicholson was nominated for an Oscar five times in the 1970s, four times in the 1980s, twice in the 1990s and in 2003 for the last time. With a total of twelve Oscar nominations, he is the most nominated male film actor (surpassed by Meryl Streep with 21 nominations) (as of 2017). He is also the only actor besides Michael Caine to have made at least one film for which he was nominated in every decade between the 1960s and 2000s (starting with Easy Rider, 1969). Streep was third to be nominated for five consecutive decades (between the 1970s and 2010s).

In total, Nicholson (as of 2014) was awarded 100 major film awards and he was nominated for 72 more. Along with Walter Brennan and Daniel Day-Lewis, he is the only male actor to win three Academy Awards in the regular categories; Streep and Ingrid Bergman and Katharine Hepburn even succeeded in doing this four times for women . In 1997, Nicholson received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame .


  • Meinolf Zurhorst , Lothar Just : Jack Nicholson. His films - his life. Heyne Film Library, No. 52, Heyne, Munich 1983, ISBN 3-453-86052-7 .
  • Adolf Heinzlmeier : Jack Nicholson. Hollywood's wolf in sheep's clothing. Lübbe, Bergisch Gladbach 1991, ISBN 3-404-61192-6 .
  • Patrick McGilligan: Jack's life. Jack Nicholson, a biography (OT: Jack's life) . Henschel-Verlag, Berlin 1994, ISBN 3-89487-205-5 .
  • John Parker: Jack Nicholson. More clown than macho (OT: The joker's wild) . Heyne-Filmbibliothek, No. 219, Heyne, Munich 1995, ISBN 3-453-09004-7 .
  • Edward Douglas: Jack Nicholson - the great seducer (OT: Jack - the great seducer) . Heyne, Munich 2005, ISBN 3-453-12052-3 .
  • Bernd Zywietz: The Two Jacks. The ambiguous game of early Jack Nicholson. In: Film Concepts 14: Hollywood Rebels Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson, Sean Penn. No. 4/2009, Munich: edition text + kritik, pp. 31–485, ISBN 3-86916-002-0 .

Web links

Commons : Jack Nicholson  - album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. biography on biography.com
  2. Info on irishcentral.com
  3. Roger Ebert : Interview with Jack Nicholson . In: Chicago Sun-Times , November 27, 1983. Retrieved February 16, 2007. 
  4. US remake of "Toni Erdmann" planned on abendblatt.de, on February 8, 2017
  5. Jack Nicholson Drops Out Of 'Toni Erdmann' As American Remake Sees Behind-The-Scenes Changes. August 15, 2018, accessed October 18, 2018 .
  6. see IMDb