Where Did Jack Nicholson Disappear and Why?

Vast Stardom, Great Successes and Then Long Absence

Jack Nickolson
Jack Nickolson

Where Did Jack Nicholson Disappear and Why?

A small piece of news with a profile picture of a person in a black coat appeared in the weekly Star a few weeks ago, and below was a piece of news saying that actor Jack Nicholson was seen leaving a store in Manhattan and setting off in a car that was waiting for him.

This may or may not be true. The person who took the picture must have taken it in a hurry and may have respected the famous actor's wish not to have taken another one or maybe it was not Nicholson at all.

But in any case, Nicholson's disappearance from any forum or event and the lack of news from him is a question that preoccupies the minds of many who want to know what happened to the three-time Oscar winning actor who was considered - rightly - one of the most important actors that cinema has produced.

Some of the questions that have been asked since his sudden absence was noted ten years ago are:

• Why did Nicholson decide to retire in the first place?

• Why did he not officially announce his retirement?

• Is it true that he has Alzheimer's?

• Where does he live now? And who supervises his needs?

• Were the financial returns from his last films after “The Departed” in 2006 a reason for his decision to stop acting?

There is no definitive answer to any of these questions, but the interest is only the result of the high esteem in which he is held by filmmakers, audiences, and critics alike.

Nobody asks, with the same degree of interest and determination to find answers, where Cameron Diaz is, or what is the latest on Josh Hartnett and what Gene Hackman is doing these days or why Daniel Day Lewis decided to disappear altogether? Not the same heat and interest.

But there are suggestive signs that Nicholson's disappearance was planned. The now 85-year-old said in an interview in 2013: "I have the brain of an accounting scientist. I won't work until the day I die. I'm no longer motivated. I used to have motivation. Now no. I have no reason to show up at all."

Indeed, he has not made a performance in any movie since he starred in "How Do You Know" in 2010. That movie was a romantic comedy which was promoted by Columbia and financed with a budget of 120 million dollars.

Unfortunately, the movie did not bring in more than 48 million dollars. That was Nicholson's last act on screen, after which Nicholson disappeared and is still hidden today.

The commercial failure of “How Do You Know,” despite having James Brooks at the helm, a director who previously successfully achieved "As Good as It Gets" in 1997, reinforces the belief that Nicholson realized that his name could no longer attract the masses of viewers as he once did.

Brooks instructed him to stop while he was still on top among his peers, and he did it without hesitation.

The artist is always looking for incentives that make him ask himself to give more, and most likely here is that Nicholson, given that his recent films are devoid of any artistic value, may have found the motive to stop.

Looking at the last fifteen years of his career we find that his good commercial success is displayed in another film by James L. Brooks is "As Good as it Gets" in 1997. After that, Nicholson was seen in only seven films, including "How You Know."

The years from 2001 to 2010 witnessed his brilliance in talent again, as shown before by his films throughout the sixties, seventies and eighties. This was embodied in three wonderful films: "The Pledge" by Sean Penn (2001), "About Schmidt" by Alexander Payne (2002), and "The Departed" by Martin Scorsese (2006).

His other films in that decade were of mixed value, though Nicholson remained the best talent in them: Peter Segal's "Anger Management" (2013), "Something's Gotta Give" by Nancy Meyers (2003) and “The Bucket List” by Rob Reiner (2007).

The names mentioned are among those who established their success in the last century, and the most famous of them until today is Martin Scorsese, who co-starred with Nicholson in “The Departed” along with a new generation, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon and Mark Wahlberg.


It is not that Nicholson's history was not previously filled with artistic and commercial successes. He is one of those who succeeded in changing the traditional image of a successful actor and giving it a richness that stems from a sense of choice and a desire to embody roles with artistic incentives different from those that existed before in terms of making a performance that does not negate the self and that does not fear entering into the character.

Nicholson rose to stardom early and managed to maintain it, while it receded from some others of the same generation. At the time, on the cusp of the great change that Hollywood was going through in the sixties from the studio era to the era of art based on creative talents, Nicholson not only reached fame quickly, but also allowed himself to learn and engage in various affairs and aspects of cinema as an actual element.

He was born in 1937, and his childhood was not happy. His father was a drunk and deserted the family when Jack was still ten years old.

At the age of 17, he decided to become an actor while visiting California. He found a modest job at Metro Goldwyn Mayer as an office boy and used his spare time to practice acting.

At the age of twenty-one he found himself in the lead of an independent film produced by Roger Corman, who was a studio in his own right.  Many actors and directors worked with him from the late 1950s through the 1960s.

The films Nicholson starred in at the time were a bunch of low-budget films. It is true that, although they were independent films, they were not intended for art but rather for commerce. This trend continued until he met Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, and the three participated in acting, writing and directing a youth-oriented film called "Easy Rider."

On the surface, it's a movie about hippies and bikers, like a wave of similar films, including some of Nicholson's previous films, but at heart it is a social drama that criticizes the conservative attitude towards hippies, and if one reads the film well, one finds it also criticizing the attitude of hippies to society.

"Easy Rider" (1969) was the 17th film since Nicholson first appeared on screen in the regular, low-budget detective film “The Cry Baby Killer” in 1958.

His entire film portfolio prior to "Easy Rider" was founded by him as a young actor working in Hollywood, as were those of his friends Peter Fonda (son of conservative actor Henry Fonda) and Dennis Hopper.

Therefore, “Easy Rider” reflected the contribution of young filmmakers in guiding the direction of independent cinema, while at the same time activating the content that reveals the division of society between conservatives and liberals.

Hopper and Fonda were the mainstays of this movie. Hopper directed it and co-starred with Nicholson and Fonda, with the latter producing, writing and co-starring as well.


From this movie in the 1970's until today, the actor has filled his history with hand-picked remarkable roles. In the seventies, there were “Five Easy Pieces," "Carnal Knowledge,"  "The King of Marvin Gardens," "The Last Detail," "Chinatown," "The Passenger" and “One Flew Over Cuckoo's Nest.”

In the eighties, there were "The Shining," "The Border," "The Reds," and "Prizzi's Honor" as well as "The Postman Always Rings Twice."   In the nineties, there are “Hoffa,” "Wolf," and “The Crossing Guard,” “Blood and Wine,” “The Pledge,” “About Schmidt,” among many other films.

As for directors, he worked with the best: Hal Ashby, Stanley Kubrick, Sean Penn, James Brooks (good at the comedic level at least), Bob Raffelson, Roman Polanski, Milos Forman, John Huston, and Elia Kazan.

With Raffelson (who passed away about a month ago), he appeared in three remarkable and important films: “Five Easy Pieces” (1970), “King of Marvin Gardens” (1972) and “Wine and Blood” (1996).

As for the casts, a group of the most important faces participated: Meryl Streep, Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro, Robert Mitchum, Warren Petty, Shelley Duvall, Angelina Huston, Morgan Freeman and others.

In the middle of the last decade, he added to the talents under whom he was directed, namely, Martin Scorsese, through the movie "The Departure."

In addition to the above, Nicholson won three Oscars in his life.

The first in 1976 for his role in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and the second for Best Supporting Actor for “Terms of Endearment” in 1984, and the third for “The Best Possible” as Best Actor in 1998. He was also nominated for an Oscar on eight other occasions for eight various films.


What was behind Nicholson's success to this extent? What were the main ingredients that enabled him to have three decades of enduring success?

At the outset it must be observed that he was not the only one who warmly welcomed the sixth decade of the last century. By his side we do not forget Warren Beatty, Robert Redford, Clint Eastwood, Woody Allen, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Robert Duvall and many others.

But Nicholson, who had not studied the acting in the actual depth that Pacino and De Niro did, used private property to assert a different presence.

In “Five Easy Pieces,” he plays a simple worker who has a friend who wishes for a husband (Karen Black, who passed away in 2013, forgotten) who betrays her whenever possible, making him feel tied down by her.

He decides to visit his father in the big house of the wealthy family that he abandoned years ago. There, he tries to blend in with the class he came from, but fails, and eventually decides to give up everything including wealth, stability, and a girlfriend for whom he can no longer take responsibility.

With director Ashby, he led the "The Last Detail" starring as a Marine who catches another renegade recruit (Randy Quaid) and escorts him back to officials to stand trial.

The plot is not about searching for and arresting him, but rather Nicholson's feeling in the film that his fellow rank-and-file has the right to live his life freely before he goes to prison. An undercover film critic of the establishment said that Nicholson's acting is a mixture of spontaneity and awareness.

Nicholson quickly drew attention as Roman Polanski cast him as the star of "Chinatown," as a private investigator searching for the motives behind the disappearance of the husband of a woman who came to seek his help (Faye Dunaway).

This led him to work with a British giant, Ken Russell, in “Tommy” (1975), and immediately after that he joined the filming of a European film, also directed by Michelangelo Antonioni, “The Transit,” which is the tale of a journalist in the Arab desert who replaces his identity with that of a just-dead person in the same hotel without his knowledge.

Criticism of the mental institution reached its peak in the movie “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975 also) about a man who was admitted to a psychiatric hospital, even though he does not complain of any symptoms that would require it.

Here, Czech-born filmmaker Milos Forman takes a closer look at the inmates of the sanitarium and how they suffer injustice and abuse under the harsh regime of the sanatorium's director (Louise Fletcher).

Murphy (Nicholson) stands up to this establishment and provokes disapproval among patients in a scenario intended to expose American society to a state of study through symbolic means.

"The Shining" (1980) was another important role for Nicholson about the writer who moved with his family to a large hotel in the mountains that closed its doors in the winter.

There, his condition is reversed, he neglects writing, and he is struck by a strange symptom in which he thinks that he has lived before and committed a murder. This is what exposes his wife and son to death.

In fact, however one looks at Nicholson's cinematic antecedents, he finds numerous performances and films, and the above are just some of them.

No wonder the actor found that the magic carpet he had flown on for decades was gradually descending into a stable, and no wonder he decided to retire, leaving his fans with insatiable memories of watching over and over.

Nicholson noticed that the world was changing. The cinema of the nineties is not what came before it and he refused to stay and strive and try. Despite the enormity of this outcome for him and his fans, it was undoubtedly the right decision.

font change
Related Articles