He was 37 years old when he found out about this secret that tipped his world upside down.
One of Hollywood's greatest actors, Jack Nicholson has played many dramatic characters throughout the span of his career, but what happened to him in real life was more dramatic than anything on screen. The actor who has starred in iconic films like Batman and The Shining was caught unawares when he was 37 by a secret his family had been hiding from him all his life.
He was raised in New Jersey during the 1940s by Ethel and John Nicholson, who he believed were his parents, according to Newsner. Ethel owned a beauty salon while the man he thought was his father, a hard-drinking guy, eventually left the family when the actor was only a child. Instead, he had three strong women who raised him: his mother Ethel and his sisters June and Lorraine. Or so he believed, until the family secret got out that June was his biological mother.
June, who worked as a showgirl, was only 17-years-old when Nicholson was born. "June and I had so much in common. We both fight hard," the actor was reported as saying by CNSNews.com. His biological mom was not ready for taking up the responsibilities all on her own and her family did everything they could to protect the child. However, that doesn't mean she was not supportive of him.
June left home at the age of 19 to become an actress in California, and settled there. Fourteen years later, her son came knocking at her door. "Since my only relative in the world was June, who was out here, I came out to look around," he told Rolling Stone. She had been living there with children she had later.
"So I’m wondering what I’m gonna do, and then I got a job in the cartoon department at MGM, and I saw every movie star known to man in that period," he told the magazine.
Eventually, he found out that June was his biological mom in 1974, when he was 37 years old. A reporter from Time Magazine had been digging around so he could write a story about the legendary actor and he inadvertently found the Nicholson family secret. Initially, the actor was taken aback and did not believe what he was being told.
He couldn't verify either with his "sister", who died in 1963 because of cancer, or his "mother", who died in 1970. But, he needed to know if his family had been telling him this big a lie all their life. So, he called up Shorty Smith, who was married to Lorraine and the man he thought was his brother-in-law. The actor looked up to Shorty and he was the only one he could turn to then.
When he called Smith, he immediately denied the claims. However, a few hours later, he received a callback. "Jack, it’s Shorty, I’m gonna put Lorraine on the phone. I just want to say one thing – she’s been crying all night. Here she is." It was that phone call through which he got to know, Today I Found Out reported.
Despite the turmoil he went through he doesn't harbor any bad feelings for his family. "It didn’t do her any good not to tell me, but she didn’t because you never know how I would’ve reacted when I was younger," he said.
Even though they were gone by the time he knew, he feels only gratitude for them. "My only emotion is gratitude, literally, for my life," said Nicholson. "[If June and Ethel had been] of less character, I never would have gotten to live. These women gave me the gift of life. They trained me great, those ladies. I still, to this day, have never borrowed a nickel from anybody and never felt like I couldn’t take care of myself. They made the imperative of my self-sufficiency obvious," he said.
They were important to who he became as a person and the success he attained professionally. And, he proved through his actions that blood does run thicker than water.
Cover image: Getty Images | Photo by (L) Roy Jones, (R) Junko Kimura