Jack Nicholson is one of the most well-known American motion-picture actors of his generation, born on April 22, 1937, in Neptune, New Jersey. Nicholson attended Manasquan High School and graduated a year early at the age of 16. Although his grades were good enough to receive a partial scholarship offer, Nicholson was not interested in college.
Nicholson’s breakthrough performance came as alcoholic Southern lawyer George Hanson in the classic road movie Easy Rider (1969). He was nominated for an Academy Award for best supporting actor for his performance and developed something of a cult following.
Then, in 1970, Nicholson starred in the film Five Easy Pieces, a surprise hit in which he played a disaffected former musical prodigy. Nicholson again received an Academy Award nomination for his performance, this time for best leading actor.
Jack Nicholson is unquestionably one of the greatest actors of his generation. In addition to his sheer volume of iconic roles, Nicholson stands out for the incredible range of characters he has convincingly portrayed.
Nicholson has won two Academy Awards for Best Actor; one for One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest and the other for As Good as It Gets. He also won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for Terms of Endearment.
Nicholson is tied with Walter Brennan and Daniel Day-Lewis as one of three male actors to win three Academy Awards. Other Nicholson roles included Hal Ashby’s The Last Detail (1973), for which he was awarded Best Actor at the Cannes Film Festival, and the Roman Polanski noir thriller, Chinatown (1974).
Nicholson was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actor for both films. Nicholson was friends with the director long before the death of Polanski’s wife, Sharon Tate, at the hands of the Manson Family, and supported him in the days following the deaths. After Tate’s death, Nicholson began sleeping with a hammer under his pillow,and took breaks from work to attend the Manson trial.
In 1996, Nicholson collaborated once more with Batman director Tim Burton on Mars Attacks!, pulling double duty as two contrasting characters, President James Dale and Las Vegas property developer Art Land.
At first studio executives at Warner Bros. disliked the idea of killing off Nicholson’s character, so Burton created two characters and killed them both off. Not all of Nicholson’s performances have been well received. He was nominated for Razzie Awards as worst actor for Man Trouble (1992) and Hoffa (1992).
Nicholson’s acting range reappeared in The Departed (2006); the actor’s most recent roles highlight the physical and emotional complications one faces late in life.
The most notable of these is the unapologetically misanthropic Melvin Udall in As Good as It Gets (1997), for which he won his third Oscar. Shades of this persona are apparent in About Schmidt (2002), Something’s Gotta Give (2003) and The Bucket List (2007).
In addition to his Oscar wins and nominations, Nicholson has seven Golden Globe Awards, and received a Kennedy Centre Honour in 2001. He also became one of the youngest actors to receive the American Film Institute’s Life Achievement award in 1994.