As an actor, he played the everyman with a roguish twinkle. But Jack Nicholson, the charismatic three-time Academy Award winner—who rose from humble beginnings in New Jersey to star in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Easy Rider, Chinatown, The Shining, and more—was once considered the embodiment of excess. And his home had the reputation as the wildest house in Hollywood.
“Genius.” “Difficult.” “Blunt.” “Party animal.” And “lothario.” These are all adjectives that have been used to describe Nicholson by both the press and his associates over the years. Even in his eighth decade, a bad-boy aura still sticks to the actor, despite his now living a quiet life out of the spotlight.
Nicholson admits to enjoying the “simple pleasures of life”
Nicholson is the first to admit much of what makes up his Hollywood legend is true — at least to some degree. He revealed to Rolling Stone that he doesn’t remember hanging out with the Beatles and Bob Dylan in the sixties: “I saw this documentary with a scene of me and the Beatles out in Malibu, and I just couldn’t remember it. Of course, I could tell from the film I was a bit loaded—and no doubt about that…”
In the same interview, he also defended his liberalism, partying and womanizing, saying: “Free love is usually the root and the vitality of the movement. Once you deny that normal, simple, organic sexual flow, the country is going to move right.”
And denying himself what he refers to as the “simple pleasures of life” is something Nicholson never appeared to struggle with. Especially at the peak of his career in the 1970s and 1980s. “I do entertain a lot, but run a pretty tough policy. I’ve never had a party of mine crashed,” Nicholson said in 1980. “To be successful, a party has to have a completely private atmosphere.”
The actor’s parties were around-the-clock
According to author Marc Eliot’s unauthorized biography Nicholson, the actor’s Hollywood Hills home was the site of a seemingly continuous bacchanal. “There was round-the-clock partying, drinks, drugs, sex, lots of tea (the smoking kind), and beautiful, hot, willing girls who loved to get just as high as the boys and have a good time,” Eliot writes, adding the refrigerator was often empty except for milk, beer and pot.
Eliot writes that Nicholson and his former roommate, actor Harry Dean Stanton, were notorious for the nonstop party at their shared abode and then afterward at their individual addresses. Even so, Eliot notes, in the early days of their friendship Nicholson was just as focused on making it in Hollywood: “Most of the time, though, while the action was hot and heavy in the other rooms, Jack would prefer to sit alone, in his bedroom, furiously pounding out his screenplay.”
Once he had attained his Hollywood success, Nicholson purchased a party pad next door to Marlon Brando and began to fill his home with impressive artwork—Magritte, Picasso, Matisse, Rodin—and according to Eliot, drugs.
Nicholson would often use cocaine and smoke marijuana
Following director Roman Polanski’s alleged rape of a teen at Nicholson’s home in 1977, police found hashish in the upstairs master bedroom. “Fortunately, the rest of Jack’s ample stash of drugs was so well hidden in shaving cream containers and the like, the police missed it,” Eliot writes. Nicholson was not at home at the time of the arrest.
In the John Belushi biography Wired, author Bob Woodward claims there were “upstairs” and “downstairs” drugs at Nicholson’s home—the former being higher-quality substances reserved for the man of the house and his inner circle.
“I don’t know that that is a true story,” Anjelica Huston, Nicholson’s former girlfriend of 17-plus years, told Vulture in 2019 of the bi-level party favors. When questioned whether Nicholson was a regular cocaine user at the time, Huston replied, “Very much so. Never took overt amounts, he was never a guzzler. I think Jack sort of used it, probably like Freud did, in a rather smart way. Jack always had a bit of a problem with physical lethargy. He was tired, and I think probably, at a certain age, a little bump would cheer him up. Like espresso.”
In a 1980 People interview, Nicholson said he still loved “to get high” on cannabis “about four days a week. I think that is average for an American… I don’t advocate anything for anybody. But I choose always to be candid because I don’t like the closet atmosphere of drugging.”
Nicholson’s been described as a “highly sexed individual”
Kim Basinger once famously described Nicholson as “the most highly sexed individual I have ever met.” His friend Cher remarked, “The thing about Jack is that he likes women more than any man I’ve ever known.”
Nicholson has been married only once, to Sandra Knight, from 1961 to 1966. The couple have a daughter, Jennifer. He also has a son, Caleb, with actress Susan Anspach; a daughter, Honey, with Danish model Winnie Hollman; and a daughter, Lorraine, and son, Raymond, with actress Rebecca Broussard. Over the years he’s been romantically linked to Mamas and the Papas singer Michelle Phillips, Diane Keaton, Candice Bergen, Jill St. John, Kelly LeBrock, Janice Dickinson, and Lara Flynn Boyle, as well as Huston and Basinger.
He’s slowed down his partying ways
But the man who once told Rolling Stone he remembers “being at least mentally sexually excited about things from childhood,” has slowed of late.
“Look, I’m less rambunctious these days, not because of change in character, but your physiognomy changes,” Nicholson said in 2006. “I’m not as obsessed. I am not as, you know—I’m still very—I have the same libido. But whether you want it or not, that part of your life changes a bit. Throughout most of my life, though, I liked doing what I like to do. And I’ve been fortunate because that’s just the way it worked out for me.”