Today marks a very sad day for anyone who has ever been absolutely blown away and fallen in love with the incredible performances Jack Nicholson has given throughout his career. It’s now been reported that the iconic actor, writer, and director—who has not only become a staple of American cinema but a face synonymous with Hollywood—will be retiring from acting. According to Radar Online, Nicholson has “without fanfare” retired. “There is a simple reason behind his decision — it’s memory loss. Quite frankly, at 76, Jack has memory issues and can no longer remember the lines being asked of him. His memory isn’t what it used to be,” they say, going on to note that this does not mean a retirement from public life—we’ll still see him at Lakers games and at award shows thankfully.
It was amidst the pre-production for the Vincent Minnelli picture, On a Clear Day Your Can See Forever, when producer Robert Evans was at a loss. He could not find a single person who seemed to fit the role of Tad, the brother of Barbara Streisand’s Daisy. In one of the final casting sessions, Evans claims to have finally said, "Hold it!" Thinking he was speaking of the young man they were watching act, his head of talent said, "I think he’s terrific too, could be the next Jimmy Dean," to which Evans replied, "No, not him. The other guy. The one who didn’t talk. The smile." And after weeks of tracking him down, Evans finally met with “the smile;" all he wanted was to hear the guy talk. He asked the kid what he’d been working on: Just finished a flick that could be a real winner. Been in the can for just a month. Somethin’ about it’s real interestin’…it’ll turn ya upside down. Evans didn’t understand "a fuckin word the guy was saying," but he thought he was original. Not even knowing if he could act, he was cast—signing him, off nothing more than a flash of that devilish grin. "It sure in hell was a first for me, mesmerized by another guy’s smile."
That incredible mug happened to be the now legendary and iconic man of many talents, Jack Nicholson—who, at the time was beginning to garner attention from audiences with his minor but stand-out role in Dennis Hopper’s ode to a generation lost in the search for the American Dream, Easy Rider. Having left his home in Neptune, New Jersey, to pursue an artistic career after hearing he had "the face of an actor," Nicholson began earning his chops, studying meticulously on his craft in acting classes. And it was there that he met lifetime friend and collaborator, the master of B-movie schlocky brilliance, Roger Corman, with whom he would go on to write, direct, and star in pictures for throughout the ’60s. [Sidenote: If you've seen last year's documentary Corman's World, it's impossible to forget the exposed and tender moment in which Nicholson tears up and begins to cry talking about Corman's importance to him and how their relationship changed his life.]
Henry Jaglom once said, "A funny thing happened to Jack Nicholson on his way to becoming a director. He became a star instead." And throughout his incredible, varied and vast career, he’s has lent his versatility to directors from Antonioni to Kubrick, Scorsese to Ashby, and Polanski to Hopper, taking on every genre with ease, embodying every role to utmost human ability but always with that signature magic that makes him Jack.
So although his role in James L. Brook’s How Do You Know
may be his final on screen performance, it’s a comfort to know that there are decades and decades worth of films to choose from to appreciate his brilliant work. Earlier this year we took a look back on some of his best roles in honor of his birthday, which you can check out HERE