Some unflattering photos surfaced recently of a disheveled Jack Nicholson. He was secretly photographed standing on the balcony of his $10 million condo in Beverly Hills. He just celebrated another year, no worse for wear, at the age of 86. Jack hasn’t appeared in public for almost two years. Rumor has it he’s slipping into dementia. From the series of pics published by The Daily Mail, you might believe he just rose from the dead or a long period of hibernation. He was last seen in the light of day, October 2021 at a Lakers game. Who knows what happened to Jack? Could it be possible, he’s finished, retired from the limelight, spotlight, and sunlight? Jack’s entitled to his privacy. All those decades in the public eye have been worn thin. A little respect and dignity are in order.
An inventory of my favorite Nicholson films begins with a young Jack, appearing in the Roger Corman horror/satire take on Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven.” Not so much for his acting abilities, but how out of place and uncomfortable he was in the role. The1963 classic starred Vincent Price, Peter Lorre, and Boris Karloff. Throughout the 1960s I saw Jack appear in a series of biker flicks, most notably, Hells Angels on Wheels and the classic Easy Rider. Jack said as a teenager he saw Marlon Brando in the original Hollywood biker epic, 1953’s The Wild One. It changed his life. It was the first outlaw biker movie addressing counterculture, societal issues, and the human condition concept relating to freedom.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is still among the best of his works. The Shining has also withstood time’s reality test. A recent auction saw the original axe from the Shining win a bid for 175K. The axe handle had been burnished with the famous line “Here’s Johnny!” There’s his take on the Joker in 1989’s Batman. I love that line, “Wait till they get a load of me.” Other films from his illustrious career include Five Easy Pieces, The Missouri Breaks, The Last Detail and Chinatown. There’s a cult favorite called Wolf, where Jack portrays the role of the infamous Werewolf. I always pictured Nicholson as a cartoon wolf in a Zoot suit who ogled women, cat calling whistles and hubba-hubba. His eyes springing, shoot out of his oversized wolf head, while steam blows out from his pointy devilish ears. By today’s standards, a womanizing chauvinist pig.
Nicholson represents a bygone generation of freewheeling, self-indulgent hedonists. It’s bad enough to be ostracized nowadays by Christian conservative hypocrites. Hollywood celebrities no longer get a pass for being eccentric, wild, colorful characters. Jack was the epitome of cool. He was a rabble-rousing, lovable troublemaker.
It’s not enough to suffer the indignities of old age. Living alone in his gilded bachelor-for-life cage. Forget the infirmities and loneliness that comes with the territory. The fear of losing your mind. The neglect of once-adoring multitudes of fans. Forgetting everything about anything. Wondering how the heck you got here in the first place. Illness and poor health are one thing, but it’s another to lose your memories. I feel sorrow for Jack, and all the people who live past their prime. I once called it outliving your life. In the cult of celebrity, we never see our idols as old, insane, toothless and decrepit.
Here’s a quote from Henry Miller on being old. “If at eighty you’re not a cripple or an invalid, if you have your health, if you still enjoy a good walk, a good meal, if you can sleep without first taking a pill. If birds and flowers, mountains and sea still inspire you, you are a most fortunate individual, and you should get down on your knees morning and night and thank the good Lord for his savin’ and keepin’ power. If you are young in years but already weary in spirit, already on the way to becoming an automaton, it may do you good to say to your boss—under your breath, of course—“Fuck you, Jack! You don’t own me!”… If you can fall in love again and again, if you can forgive your parents for the crime of bringing you into the world. If you are content to get nowhere, just take each day as it comes, if you can forgive as well as forget, if you can keep from growing sour, surly, bitter and cynical, man you’ve got it half licked.”