Publish date:
Updated on

Actor Jack Nicholson born

On this day in 1937, John Joseph Nicholson, who will become known as one of the greatest actors of his generation and famous for his roles in such movies as Easy Rider, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and As Good As it Gets, is born in Neptune, New Jersey.

Nicholson’s father left his mother before Jack was born, and he grew up believing that his grandmother was his mother and his mother was his older sister. Nicholson didn’t learn the truth until the early 1970s, long after they were both dead, when he found out from a reporter then working on a story about the now-famous actor. After high school, Nicholson won a scholarship to the University of Delaware, but he decided to try acting instead. After moving to Los Angeles, he landed a job in the animation department of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. He began studying acting at the Players Ring Theater and won a few small parts in television shows.

In 1958, Nicholson played a troubled teenager in his first film, a low-budget horror flick called The Cry Baby Killer. This was the first of many appearances in horror and biker films and other second-rate genre movies that Nicholson would make over the course of the next decade. He also tried his hand at screenwriting, penning scripts for The Trip (1967), directed by B-movie king Roger Corman, and Head (1968), which starred the musical group the Monkees. Nicholson married the actress Sandra Knight in 1962, but the marriage lasted only five years.

Nicholson finally got his big acting break in 1967, when the actor Rip Torn dropped out of Easy Rider (1968) and Nicholson was able to step into his place. Playing an alcoholic lawyer opposite Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper’s drug-dealing bikers, Nicholson stole his scenes and picked up an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

After the success of Easy Rider, Nicholson’s career was on the fast track. As a talented musician stuck working on an oil rig in Five Easy Pieces (1970), he turned in another Oscar-nominated performance, this time as Best Actor. After two more nominations–for The Last Detail (1973) and Roman Polanski’s noir thriller Chinatown (1974)–Nicholson took home the Best Actor Oscar for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, in which he played an inmate in a mental asylum. The film was the first to sweep all five major Oscar categories: Best Actor, Best Actress (Louise Fletcher as the sadistic Nurse Ratched), Best Screenplay, Best Director (Milos Forman) and Best Picture.

Now at the top of the A-list, Nicholson appeared sporadically in films over the rest of the 1970s. He emerged with a string of notable performances in the 1980s, including Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980) and Oscar-nominated turns in Reds (1981), Terms of Endearment (1983) and Ironweed (1987). Showcasing his more campy side, he played Satan in The Witches of Eastwick (1987) and gave an outrageously over-the-top performance as the Joker in Batman (1989), both box-office hits. Playing a hard-line Marine colonel in A Few Good Men (1992), Nicholson racked up his tenth Oscar nomination, a record for a male actor.

In 1997, Nicholson and co-star Helen Hunt both won Oscars for their leading performances in the quirky comedy-drama As Good as It Gets. Still at the top of his game, Nicholson continued to appear frequently in leading roles in films throughout the next decade, earning praise (and a 12th Oscar nomination) for his uncharacteristically understated performance in About Schmidt (2002); indulging his softer side in the romantic comedy Something’s Gotta Give (2004), opposite Diane Keaton; and headlining the stellar cast of Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-winning Mob drama The Departed (2006).

Nicholson, an avid basketball fan, can frequently be found in courtside seats at Los Angeles Lakers games.


FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us!


Germans introduce poison gas

On April 22, 1915, German forces shock Allied soldiers along the western front by firing more than 150 tons of lethal chlorine gas against two French colonial divisions at Ypres, Belgium. This was the first major gas attack by the Germans, and it devastated the Allied line. Toxic more

Rolls-Royce co-founder dies

Frederick Henry Royce, who with Charles Stewart Rolls founded the luxury British automaker Rolls-Royce, dies on this day in 1933 at the age of 70 in England. Royce was born on March 27, 1863, near Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, England. He grew up in a family of modest means and more

The first Earth Day

Earth Day, an event to increase public awareness of the world’s environmental problems, is celebrated in the United States for the first time. Millions of Americans, including students from thousands of colleges and universities, participated in rallies, marches, and educational more

Hitler admits defeat

On this day in 1945, Adolf Hitler, learning from one of his generals that no German defense was offered to the Russian assault at Eberswalde, admits to all in his underground bunker that the war is lost and that suicide is his only recourse. Almost as confirmation of Hitler’s more

The Oklahoma land rush begins

At precisely high noon, thousands of would-be settlers make a mad dash into the newly opened Oklahoma Territory to claim cheap land. The nearly two million acres of land opened up to white settlement was located in Indian Territory, a large area that once encompassed much of more

Seduction is made illegal in Ohio

Ohio passes a statute that makes seduction unlawful. Covering all men over the age of 18 who worked as teachers or instructors of women, this law even prohibited men from having consensual sex with women (of any age) whom they were instructing. The penalty for disobeying this law more

Union raid cuts Mississippi telegraph wires

Colonel Benjamin Grierson’s Union troops bring destruction to Central Mississippi as part of a two-week raid along the entire length of the state. This action was a diversion in General Ulysses S. Grant’s campaign to capture Vicksburg, Mississippi, the last remaining Confederate more

Second Battle of Ypres begins

On this day in 1915, German forces shock Allied soldiers along the Western Front by firing more than 150 tons of lethal chlorine gas against two French colonial divisions at Ypres in Belgium. Toxic smoke had been used occasionally in warfare since ancient times, and in 1912, the more