Jack Nicholson got started in show business with schlocky B-movies like The Raven, The Terror, and The Little Shop of Horrors. Now, roughly 60 years after making his film debut in The Cry Baby Killer, Nicholson is considered one of Hollywood’s all-time greats. But the award-winning actor has been kind of quiet recently, and we haven’t seen the man onscreen since 2010. So what’s up with the actor’s disappearance? Well, if you think you can handle the truth, keep on reading to find out why we don’t hear from Jack Nicholson anymore.
Jack Nicholson’s last film was a bomb
On paper, How Do You Know should’ve been great. It starred Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd, Owen Wilson, and of course, Jack Nicholson himself. The film was also written and directed by James L. Brooks, the creator of TV series like Taxi and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Plus, Brooks and Nicholson had teamed up several times before, collaborating on Terms of Endearment, Broadcast News, and As Good As It Gets. But none of it bought the movie any extra love from critics.
Nathan Rabin of The A.V. Club said the film was “hopelessly muddled,” and Roger Ebert sounded like a disappointed dad when he wrote, “I expected this movie to be better.” The famous film critic then went on to say the screenplay didn’t do much with Nicholson’s character. “It’s a heavy role,” Ebert claimed, “and there’s too little to lighten it,” adding the poorly written role made Nicholson seem like “a creep.” The film only made $48 million worldwide against a budget of $120 million, which is how you know audiences would rather watch Tron Legacy.
While we don’t know for a fact that How Do You Know inspired Nicholson’s retirement, it’s a pretty logical guess, especially when you look at other legends who’ve retired after starring in big flops. For example, Gene Hackman vanished after Welcome to Mooseport, and Sean Connery packed it up and went home after The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. If you’ve got a big enough bank account, why not call it quits after surviving such an awful bomb?
Rumors of Jack Nicholson’s memory loss
If you look at Jack Nicholson’s filmography, you’ll notice a couple of gaps in between some of his films, especially near the end of his career. After playing Melvin Udall in As Good As It Gets, it took four years before the actor returned in Sean Penn’s The Pledge. And then, after showing up in Something’s Gotta Give, Nicholson was absent for three years before taking the big screen by storm in The Departed. But by September 2013, he’d been gone long enough that people were starting to wonder where he’d went, and that’s when some pretty upsetting rumors began swirling around the internet.
According to Radar Online and Star, Nicholson had given up the movies for good, but it wasn’t because he was tired of acting. Instead, the gossip mags claimed he was having trouble remembering things. As Radar explained, “There is a simple reason behind his decision [to retire]—it’s memory loss. Quite frankly, at 76, Jack has memory issues and can no longer remember the lines being asked of him.” Reports went on to say that Nicholson would remain in the public eye, but he just wouldn’t be working in Hollywood anymore.
The memory loss stories spread online like wildfire, depressing film fans across the globe. But really, somebody should’ve done their journalistic homework because, as it turns out, the Oscar-winning actor was doing just fine.
Jack Nicholson set the record straight
Immediately after word of Jack Nicholson’s “condition” started to spread, E! News reported the rumors were absolutely false, saying Nicholson wasn’t “suffering from any memory-related illness or dementia,” and that the actor had “no current plans to retire.” So who to believe? Was Nicholson sick or simply enjoying some R&R?
Well, a few weeks after Radar Online and Star made their claims, Nicholson sat down with The Sun and shot down those sensational stories, explaining his memory was perfectly fine. In fact, the actor went so far as to say that he had “a mathematician’s brain.” As for why he hadn’t made a movie in so long, well, the answer is pretty simple. As Nicholson put it, “I’m not going to work until the day I die, that’s not why I started this. I mean, I’m not driven.” The actor then went on to elaborate, saying, “I was driven—but I’m not [now], I don’t have to be out there anymore.”
In other words, the actor was getting up there in years and just didn’t want to be in the spotlight all the time. “I mean, I’m not a loner, I’m not a recluse,” Nicholson explained, “but I don’t need all that anymore. I don’t enjoy it, simple as that.”
Jack Nicholson turned down quite a few roles
When you’re an acting icon like Jack Nicholson, you can afford to be picky when it comes to choosing parts. Throughout his career, the man has said no to some pretty big projects, including Close Encounters of the Third Kind and The Godfather. And things haven’t changed in recent years, as Nicholson has allegedly turned down the chance to work with filmmakers like Alexander Payne, Warren Beatty, and Brian Helgeland.
For example, the actor reportedly passed on starring with Robert Downey Jr. in The Judge, turning down the part that eventually went to Robert Duvall. The star also supposedly said no to playing Branch Rickey in the Jackie Robinson biopic 42, stepping aside for Harrison Ford. According to Deadline, Warren Beatty tried to get him for his Howard Hughes picture, Rules Don’t Apply (though not for the Hughes role), and he was also involved in St. Vincent before recommending Bill Murray for the lead. It was also reported that Nicholson was offered the part of the elderly dad in Nebraska, a role that eventually earned Bruce Dern an Oscar nomination.
In fact, the actor has been absent from the movie business for so long that in January 2017, his buddy Peter Fonda said, “I think [Nicholson] is basically retired,” although he did claim if the star ever found the perfect role, he just might come back to acting.
Jack Nicholson contemplated a comeback
So what kind of role would draw Jack Nicholson back into theaters? Well, for a little while, it looked like he might have been interested in Toni Erdmann, a remake of the German comedy that earned an Oscar nod for Best Foreign Feature. Directed by Maren Ade, the film focuses on an elderly prankster who “tries to reconnect with his hardworking daughter by creating an outrageous alter ego and posing as her CEO’s life coach.” The critically acclaimed movie made its way onto multiple “best of the year” lists and was declared the greatest film of 2016 by the Sight & Sound poll, beating out Moonlight, La La Land, and Manchester by the Sea.
Initially, Nicholson was set to take the role of the elderly practical joker, with Kristin Wiig playing his daughter and Adam McKay and Will Ferrell on board to produce. Original director Maren Ade was even totally on board with the project, saying that, “Jack Nicholson is one of the best actors that has ever been alive….I actually think I will enjoy sitting and watching a remake of Toni Erdmann.”
Unfortunately, things didn’t pan out. In the late summer of 2018, it was announced that Nicholson had dropped out of the project, extending his long hiatus from the big screen.
Jack Nicholson has nothing left to prove
Here’s the truth about Jack Nicholson. Even if he never acts again, he doesn’t need a comeback. After all, he’s a man with nothing left to prove. During his incredible career, Nicholson has won three Academy Awards (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Terms of Endearment, and As Good As It Gets), and he’s been nominated a whopping 12 times. In fact, he’s earned more Oscar nominations than any other male actor in history.
On top of the awards, he’s worked with directors like Martin Scorsese, Stanley Kubrick, and John Huston. He’s starred alongside the likes of Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep, and Robert De Niro, and he’s played in quite a few classic films. Check out his filmography, and you’ll see titles like Chinatown, Easy Rider, Batman, and The Shining. On top of that, he’s generated two of the all-time great movie lines: “Here’s Johnny” and “You can’t handle the truth.” So while we all hope to see Nicholson onscreen again someday, we’ll be okay if he decides to call it quits for good. After all, the man has given us some of the greatest movies ever made.