Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The Untold Truth Of Jack Nicholson

Jack Nicholson is one of the most successful actors in the history of Hollywood. The New Jersey native shot to fame in the '70s on the back of a breakout performance in 1969's Easy Rider, the cult classic road movie that made America fall in love with motorcycles again. Speaking to The Talks, the actor called the Cannes premiere of the film one of the highlights of his life. "When I was sitting in the screening I realized that I was actually going to be a movie star," he said.

There have been plenty of other personal highlights in the decades since, but despite his form with the Academy (only Katharine Hepburn has more Oscar wins), it's often been his wild personal life that's made the headlines. And unfortunately, the man's career has featured a lot of lows. The A-lister's womanizing ways have been well-documented, and while his record with the ladies has made him a hero to some, there are those who say that he's not as charming as you might think when it comes to members of the opposite sex.

He's been around for so long now that most of Hollywood has at least one Jack Nicholson story to tell, but how much do you really know about him? From his unconventional upbringing to the cash payouts that reportedly kept him out of court, here's the untold truth of Jack Nicholson.

Jack Nicholson's sister was actually his mother

Jack Nicholson grew up in a Catholic community in a time when having a child out of wedlock was deeply frowned upon. When 16-year-old June Nicholson fell pregnant in 1936, her parents decided that they would raise her child as their own. That child was future Hollywood superstar Jack Nicholson, who didn't find out the truth about his real mother until after she'd passed away. He was 37 years old when a reporter, who'd been digging into his past for a Time magazine feature, informed him that the woman he'd always believed was his much older sister was actually his biological mom.

A shook Nicholson managed to convince the magazine to hold off on publishing the bombshell story. With his head in a spin, he called his aunt, Lorraine. Her longtime partner, Shorty — who was Nicholson's father figure growing up — answered the phone. "Shorty, this is the most f***** thing I ever heard," the actor said, according to Patrick McGilligan's biography, Jack's Life. "A guy calls me on the phone and says that my father is still alive, and that Ethel May wasn't really my mother, that June was my mother." Shorty and Lorraine were unable to verify the mag's claims about Nicholson's absent father, but they confirmed that June was indeed his mother. Nicholson hung up and began calling his closest friends one by one, reportedly breaking down in tears every time he shared the news.

His journey from spotty kid to ladies' man

He became known for his roguish good looks in later life, but Jack Nicholson went through "the usual teenage worries" during his time as a student. "I had terrible acne, and my face was a mess," the actor told The Independent (which — as he informed the reporter during a typically rambling interview — is his British newspaper of choice). "Then in my middle years in high school I was, let's say, stout. ... Today, obviously, I have no problem finding girls because I now have the entree." The actor was apparently still very much enjoying the bachelor lifestyle at the time, but when he sat down with another U.K. tabloid four years later, he reported a dramatic downturn in his fortunes.

"There were points in my life when I felt oddly irresistible to women," Nicholson told the Daily Mail in 2015. "I'm not in that state right now, which makes me sad." At this stage, he's been known as one of Hollywood's biggest playboys for so long that women no longer trust him to remain faithful. "They think of my reputation — Jack the Jumper," Nicholson added. "So I'm damned by what women think." He became something of a recluse as he approached his 80s, spending most of his time at his home in the Hollywood Hills rather than chasing women around town. "I would love that one last romance, but I'm not very realistic about it happening," he lamented, per Closer magazine.

Jack Nicholson held a school record for most detentions

It probably won't surprise you to learn that Jack Nicholson was a rather mischievous child. The future star was so naughty during his schoolboy days that he actually set an unenviable new record. "I was always against authority, hated being told anything by my teachers, by parents, by anyone," he told The Independent. "At school, I created a record by being in detention every day for a whole year. ... I don't like listening to what other people think." The Manasquan High School class of '54 voted Nicholson the male "class clown," but even back then, his drama skills were no joke — he was also named Best Male Actor by his peers. It was only after leaving school that Nicholson formed a meaningful relationship with a teacher, legendary acting coach, Jeff Corey.

Nicholson began working with Corey (who taught the likes of James Dean, Kirk Douglas and Jane Fonda, to name but a few) long before he was a star, and when Corey passed in 2002, the actor surprised his family with some personal art. "When Jack heard my father had passed away, he went into his studio and started painting," Corey's daughter told Entertainment Weekly. "Four portraits of my father emerged from his memory. Jack had them framed and sent by messenger to my mother — a visual letter of condolence." One of Nicholson's portraits was later used for the front cover of Corey's memoir, Improvising Out Loud, which his daughter completed.

Jack Nicholson languished in B-movies for years

Jack Nicholson wasn't just learning his craft when he visited acting coach Jeff Corey, he was making contacts. According to the late teacher's daughter, Nicholson owes his film career to an encounter he had with up-and-coming producer Roger Corman at Corey's place. "Roger had the wit and wisdom to not only see Jack's great potential but to grab onto the talents of his fellow classmates, writers Robert Towne and Carol Eastman, who after working for Roger went on to write Chinatown and Five Easy Pieces, respectively," Emily Corey told Entertainment Weekly. Nicholson, of course, starred in both of those films, but he made his feature debut years earlier in Corman's The Cry Baby Killer.

Released in 1958, The Cry Baby Killer was the first of many B-movies that Nicholson would appear in during his formative years. He played Wilbur Force in the Corman-helmed The Little Shop of Horrors and starred in low budget Westerns like Ride in the Whirlwind and The Shooting. By his early 30s, he was working regularly in films that hardly anyone saw. "It's the worst possible position for an actor," he told The Independent. "I was making a living, everyone who knew me said I was good, but everyone who knew me said I wouldn't make it because I hadn't made it so far. I think that's worse than being totally unknown." He was planning on switching to directing when Easy Rider came along and propelled him to stardom.

Has Jack Nicholson really slept with 2,000 women?

Jack Nicholson is said to have slept with over 2,000 women in his time. When asked if this figure — bandied about in Hollywood and online for years — was indeed accurate, Nicholson reportedly answered, "I don't count" (per the Daily Mail). He's been linked to numerous high-profile females over the years, including the mother of Canada's prime minister, Justin Trudeau. In her book, The Time of Your Life (via Chatelaine), Margaret Trudeau goes into detail about her time with the star, saying, "The only man I ever dated who enjoyed freedom as much as I did was Jack Nicholson. He was a wonderful, funny, truly free man. He understood that marriage and monogamy were simply not ideally suited to his life as a movie star. How I loved my time with him."

Of all the women he dated, only one managed to get him to walk down the aisle. Actress Sandra Knight (who was Mrs. Jack Nicholson from 1962 to 1968) told Closer magazine that they had "a very beautiful, sweet marriage," but he was absent too often. Nicholson admitted as much when he sat down for a candid interview with The Sun, saying, "I didn't see enough of my eldest daughter [actress Jennifer Nicholson] because I was trying to make a career." Nicholson went on to have a son (Caleb Goddard) with actress Susan Anspach, a daughter (Honey Hollman) with actress Winnie Hollman, and two kids (Ray and Lorraine Nicholson) with actress Rebecca Broussard.

He has a 'fondness for tyrants,' according to a former flame

Jack Nicholson has been involved with numerous models since he hit the big time, though he's never been one to shout about it from the rooftops. The same was true for one of his lovers, Susanna Moore, who kept the details of her fling with Nicholson under wraps until the release of her 2020 memoir, Miss Aluminium. "This is the first time I've ever written about Jack or even acknowledged our relationship," she told The Guardian. "He always used to tease me and call me Miss Discreet." She wasn't exactly discreet when it came to the book, however.

In Miss Aluminium, Moore alleges that Nicholson once expressed admiration for the most reviled man in history. "The only time I ever disagreed with him was when he said that I had to admire Hitler for his determination, as Hitler had held to his beliefs," she wrote (via the Daily Mail). "I was furious. ... As gentle and as malleable as he then was with women, he had a certain fondness for tyrants." According to Moore, Nicholson also dubbed divisive European conqueror Napoleon Bonaparte a "genius," the same word he used to describe nationalist revolutionary Fidel Castro after a visit to Cuba in the '90s. "We talked about life, culture," the actor told Variety. "Yes, he's seen some of my movies."

Nicholson was 'annihilated emotionally' by his breakup with Anjelica Huston

The most famous of Jack Nicholson's many romances, his relationship with Anjelica Huston was a true rollercoaster. In a moving piece published by Vanity Fair, the actress detailed how she "fell in love" with Nicholson when she saw Easy Rider in a London movie theater. When she got the chance to attend a party at his famous house a few years later, she fell for him all over again. She moved in around the time Nicholson was filming 1974's Chinatown and made an effort to love the actor's precious Los Angeles Lakers, but Huston never really knew where she stood. "In the overture to our relationship, Jack sent mixed messages," she wrote.

Over time, Huston began to realize that "Jack was not a faithful man," but she didn't leave him right away. She went to her father (veteran writer-director John Huston) for advice and was told that "men do this" and that it "means nothing," but she wasn't convinced. Their saga would come to a sad and violent end when Nicholson admitted that he had gotten another woman pregnant. "I beat him savagely about the head and shoulders," Huston revealed. "I was going at him like a prizefighter, raining a vast array of direct punches. Finally, I was exhausted. We sat down, and I cried." Speaking to The Independent, Nicholson admitted that he was "annihilated emotionally" by the breakup. "That was probably the toughest period of my life."

How Jack Nicholson managed to party hard and still stay young

It may come as a shock considering his reputation as a hard partying playboy, but Jack Nicholson has only ever missed a single day of work during his time as an actor. At least, that's what he claimed when he spoke with the Daily Mail back in 2011, recounting the time he injured his back while filming The Shining in England. "I wanted to work like a beast and then go out and be all over London like a fire, the wildest of the lot," he told the tabloid. "I rented a house next to the Thames that had a big high wall, and I'd come home most nights without my keys, and I'd climb this wall." You can probably guess where this is going.

Nicholson landed awkwardly and injured his back after returning to his rental without the keys late one night, but he was apparently back to work on Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of Stephen King's classic novel in no time. "I've never kept a camera waiting," he boasted. When he spoke to The Sun the following year, he contradicted himself when he said that the injury sidelined him for longer than one day, but you get the picture — he rarely missed work. How did he do it, exactly? "I stayed up late, but I slept in late, too," he explained. "I always believed in taking care of myself. There was always a discipline within my partying structure."

The time Jack Nicholson smashed up a man's car with a golf club

In March 1994, a driver named Robert Scott Blank was sat at a red light in North Hollywood when an enraged man began smashing up his Mercedes with a golf club. That man was Jack Nicholson, an eyewitness told police. According to a Los Angeles Times report from the time, the A-lister lost his rag "because he believed the driver cut him off in traffic." Nicholson reportedly fled the scene after going to town on the 38-year-old's vehicle, though one quick-thinking onlooker made a note of the actor's license plate. Nicholson was charged with counts of vandalism and assault, but the case against him was dropped after he reached an out-of-court settlement with Blank, said to have been worth $500,000.

"Anger has always been a problem and every once in a while, I just have to let it out," Nicholson once told The Sun. "I always regret it later." In this particular instance, it was apparently a case of wrong place, wrong time for Blank. Nicholson was reportedly in a bad place after losing a close friend, and he let his temper get the better of him. "I was out of my mind," he said, according to Golf Digest. The golf mag quizzed Nicholson about the infamous incident in 2017, and as he explained, "I reached into my trunk and specifically selected a club I never used on the course: my 2-iron."

He's been accused of threatening a sex worker's life

Just two years after his road rage incident, Jack Nicholson was making unwanted headlines again, this time for allegedly rupturing a woman's breast implants. The woman in question was identified only as a "Hollywood socialite" by the Daily Record, which ran with the headline "Wild Jack Burst My Plastic Boobs" when it dropped the worrying story in 1996. According to the Scottish tabloid, the woman needed "emergency treatment" at Cedars Sinai Hospital after she and Nicholson "got into an argument and then a fight." The report claimed that the actor "pushed and punched" his guest after she questioned his treatment of baby mother, Susan Anspach.

The following day, the press identified the woman as Catherine Sheehan, one of two sex workers allegedly hired by the actor. Sheehan's lawsuit stated that Nicholson was "loud and abusive" when the subject of the $1,000 she was purportedly promised came up. He apparently told her that "he could get anyone he wanted." According to the Daily Record, the actor violently assaulted Sheehan and pursued her as she fled, allegedly yelling, "I'm going to kill you." Nicholson is said to have reached a $32,500 settlement with Sheehan, but that wasn't the end of it. "About a year after she received the original payment, her injuries and the damage to her brain stem got worse than originally thought," Sheehan's lawyer, Ira Chester, said in a statement (per The Guardian). "The original settlement isn't enough."

Jack Nicholson walked around completely naked for three months straight

Long before Jim Carrey spat in the face of former pro-wrestler Jerry Lawler and Jared Leto sent sex toys to his cast mates in the name of method acting, Jack Nicholson attempted to conquer his fear of appearing naked on camera by being naked around the clock. "In the late '60s, as a matter of self-help, he spent three months walking around in the nude, at all hours of the day, no matter who stopped by, his daughter included," Rolling Stone reporter Erik Hedegaard wrote in a 2013 profile on the actor. The journalist paid Nicholson a visit at his Mulholland Drive home, famed for its wild parties in years gone by. When he asked the actor about his three-month nude spell, Nicholson said that he "felt it was totally necessary" at the time.

"I'm self-conscious about body image," Nicholson explained. "I don't have a great body shot. And it was an era of, 'Let's get free.' I know it drove my oldest daughter insane. I just wanted to be more relaxed within my skin." Nicholson gained enough self-confidence to shed his clothes on the screen, but the stunt failed to "totally resolve" his body image issues. According to reports, the hang-ups he has over his waistline have only made him want to become more reclusive. "He spends his days watching TV reruns, classic movies, and sports — and snacking," an insider told OK! magazine in 2020. "He's gained some weight."