John Joseph Nicholson (born April 22, 1937) is a highly successful, iconic American method actor. He is best known for portraying antagonistic, cynical, neurotic and aggressive characters. He received Kennedy Center Honors in 2001, and has been nominated for an Academy Award a dozen times, winning three of them. He has also won seven Golden Globe Awards.
He was born in New York, New York, although until 1974 he had thought his place of birth was his hometown, Neptune, New Jersey. A journalist's research uncovered what apparently had happened: the woman he had always thought of as his mother was actually his grandmother, who had arranged to raise him as her own child. She did this because he was actually the illegitimate offspring of her daughter, a woman whom Nicholson thought was his older sister. Because of this fact Nicholson is pro-life and has spoken out about it saying, "I'm very contra my constituency in terms of abortion because I'm positively against it. I don't have the right to any other view. My only emotion is gratitude, literally, for my life."
Nicholson started his career as an actor, writer, and producer, working for and with Roger Corman. This included his screen debut in The Cry Baby Killer (1958), where he played a juvenile delinquent who panics after shooting two other teenagers, and Little Shop of Horrors.
His work with Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper on the LSD-fueled The Trip led to his real break. That film led to a small supporting role in Easy Rider (1969), for which he received his first Oscar nomination. A Best Actor nomination came the following year for his persona-defining role in Five Easy Pieces (1970), which includes his famous chicken salad dialogue about getting what you want.
Other early movies he is known for include Hal Ashby's The Last Detail (1973), Roman Polanski's Chinatown (1974), Milos Forman's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975), for which he received his first Oscar, and Stanley Kubrick's The Shining. Nicholson won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in Terms of Endearment (1983).
For his role as hotheaded Col. Nathan R. Jessup in A Few Good Men (1992), a dark movie about a murder in a US Marine Corps unit, he received yet another nomination by the Academy. This film contains Nicholson's "You can't handle the truth!" scene, which has since become widely known and imitated.
Not all of Nicholson's performances are praised; his take on the U.S. President in Mars Attacks (1996) was widely criticized for being over-the-top and unfunny. Nicholson would go on to win his next Oscar for his role as the neurotic lead in the romance As Good As It Gets (1997).
The September 11, 2001 attacks led Nicholson to focus on comedies. In About Schmidt (2002), Nicholson portrayed a rural Nebraska man who questions his own life after his retirement and the death of his wife shortly afterward. The deeply emotional, slow film stands in sharp contrast to many of his previous roles. In the comedy Anger Management, he plays an aggressive therapist alongside Adam Sandler. His most recent film is the 2003 Something's Gotta Give.
Nicholson is also a well-known and highly visible fan of the NBA's Los Angeles Lakers; he has courtside seats, and attends whenever his schedule allows. When he is at a televised Lakers game, he is invariably sought out for celebrity camera shots during one or more breaks in the game.
Nicholson is said to have called Fidel Castro a "genius" while visiting Cuba, according to former Cuban intelligence officer Delfin Fernandez, who also revealed that during his visit his room was bugged with both video and audio recording devices.
- The Cry Baby Killer (1958)
- The Wild Ride (1960)
- Too Soon to Love (1960)
- The Little Shop of Horrors (1960)
- Studs Lonigan (1960)
- The Broken Land (1962)
- The Raven (1963)
- The Terror (1963) (also director)
- Ensign Pulver (1964)
- Flight to Fury (1964) (also writer)
- Back Door to Hell (1964)
- Ride in the Whirlwind (1965) (also producer and writer)
- The Shooting (1967) (also producer)
- The St. Valentine's Day Massacre (1967)
- Hells Angels on Wheels (1967)
- Psych-Out (1968)
- Head (1968) (Cameo) (also producer and writer)
- Easy Rider (1969)
- The Rebel Rousers (1970)
- On a Clear Day You Can See Forever (1970)
- Five Easy Pieces (1970)
- Chronicles: Van's Last Performance (1971) (documentary)
- Carnal Knowledge (1971)
- A Safe Place (1971)
- The King of Marvin Gardens (1972)
- The Last Detail (1973)
- Chinatown (1974)
- The Passenger (1975)
- Tommy (1975)
- The Fortune (1975)
- One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)
- The Missouri Breaks (1976)
- The Last Tycoon (1976)
- Goin' South (1978) (also director)
- The Shining (1980)
- Our Lady of the Small Cross (1981) (documentary)
- The Postman Always Rings Twice (1981)
- Reds (1981)
- The Border (1982)
- Terms of Endearment (1983)
- Prizzi's Honor (1985)
- Heartburn (1986)
- The Witches of Eastwick (1987)
- Broadcast News (1987)
- Ironweed (1987)
- Batman (1989)
- The Two Jakes (1990) (also director and producer)
- Man Trouble (1992)
- A Few Good Men (1992)
- Hoffa (1992)
- Wolf (1994)
- The Crossing Guard (1995)
- Blood and Wine (1996)
- The Evening Star (1996)
- Mars Attacks! (1996)
- As Good as It Gets (1997)
- Junket Whore (1998) (documentary)
- The Pledge (2001)
- Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures (2001) (documentary)
- About Schmidt (2002)
- Anger Management (2003)
- Something's Gotta Give (2003)
- The Departed (2006) (currently in pre-production)