Jack Nicholson Bio: Life and Career of the Hollywood Legend

Jack Nicholson was born April 22nd, 1937 in New York City. He made his film debut as the lead in a 1958 low-budget teen drama, before making his transition to star as a hard-drinking lawyer in the counter-culture classic "Easy Rider." He became an Oscar winning actor with 1975's “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, and has since continued taking on unusual roles, such as novelist-gone-mad Jack Torrance in Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” and the iconic comic book villain The Joker in Tim Burton’s “Batman.” Join WatchMojo.com as we explore the legendary life and career of Jack Nicholson.

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Jack Nicholson Bio: The Life and Career of the Legendary Hollywood Actor

He’s known for his trademark grin and unique brand of charm. Welcome to WatchMojo.com, and today we’ll be exploring the life and career of Jack Nicholson.

John Joseph Nicholson was born April 22nd, 1937 in New York City. He was raised in New Jersey by his maternal grandparents, whom he was told were his birthparents, while his showgirl mother pretended to be his sister. Nicholson only learned the truth in his late-30s, and never uncovered his father’s identity.

Nicholson was an attention-seeking class clown growing up. He journeyed to Hollywood after high school to secure his place in showbiz, and took a job running errands for animation legends Hanna and Barbera.

Nicholson made his film debut as the lead in 1958’s low-budget teen drama “The Cry Baby Killer.” On that project, he befriended producer Roger Corman, and the pair collaborated on such projects as 1960’s “The Little Shop of Horrors.”

It was after he appeared in several low-budget westerns that Nicholson took on his breakout role. In 1969, he played a hard-drinking lawyer in the counter-culture classic “Easy Rider,” and earned an Oscar nod for his work. This was followed by a second nomination for 1970’s “Five Easy Pieces,” and that project was credited with establishing Nicholson’s screen persona.

Throughout the ‘70s, Nicholson earned similar consideration for films like “The Last Detail” and Roman Polanski’s thriller “Chinatown.”

He finally won his first Academy Award for Best Actor by starring as a criminal who gets himself transferred to a psychiatric ward to avoid hard labor in the 1975 film adaptation of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”

Nicholson continued taking on unusual roles, and even got behind the lens to direct. But it was his role as novelist-gone-mad Jack Torrance in Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” that terrified audiences, and produced some of his most iconic scenes.

He earned even more award nominations for 1981’s Warren Beatty epic “Reds,” and picked up a statue for Best Supporting Actor for 1983’s “Terms of Endearment.” Critics were also impressed with projects like “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” “Prizzi’s Honor,” “Ironweed” and “The Witches of Eastwick.” In 1989, he personified the iconic comic book villain The Joker in Tim Burton’s “Batman,” and cashed a sixty million dollar paycheck for his trouble.

It was also in 1989 that his sixteen-year-long on-again, off-again relationship with Angelica Houston came to an end when he impregnated a model.

Despite this, Nicholson joined the Hollywood A-list and delivered several more megahits throughout the 1990s. He delivered an unforgettable courtroom speech in 1992’s “A Few Good Men,” portrayed the infamous Teamsters boss in “Hoffa,” played a creature of the night in 1994’s “Wolf” and was cast in dual roles in the sci-fi satire “Mars Attacks!”

Nicholson took on another memorable role in 1997, as a obsessive-compulsive neurotic who was in love with a Manhattan waitress. “As Good As It Gets” secured him his third Oscar.

After the turn of the millennium, Nicholson starred in the mystery film “The Pledge,” and earned another nomination as a man who questions his own life after the death of his wife in “About Schmidt.” He then let loose as an aggressive therapist opposite Adam Sandler in “Anger Management,” and played an aging playboy in “Something’s Gotta Give.”

Nicholson ditched comedy to play an Irish mobster in Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed” in 2006, and joined Morgan Freeman to play a pair of men living their dreams before dying of cancer in “The Bucket List” the next year.

He returned to the big screen the next year to play Paul Rudd’s bankrupt father in the comedy “How Do You Know.”

Outside of his on-screen life, Nicholson spent time writing and directing. He also became famous for his high-profile relationships and lifelong bachelorhood, as well as his intense love of sports.

As one of the most acclaimed actors in Hollywood history, Jack Nicholson became a living legend. He transcended genres to give us some of cinema’s most memorable characters, and did it with an inexplicable charm that continues to hold us in his grasp.

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