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From his film debut as a juvenile delinquent in The Cry Baby Killer to his brilliant and honored performances in films throughout the last three decades, Nicholson has emerged as not only one of the most popular and celebrated actors of his generation, but also as one of American cinema's most charismatic movie stars. Stanley Kubrick, who directed Nicholson in The Shining, once said that Nicholson brings to a role the one unactable quality-great intelligence. "He's a serious artist," said Meryl Streep, his Heartburn co-star. "I think he's a master."
The master exploded onto the American landscape in 1969 with
his Oscar-nominated role in Easy Rider, instantly becoming
the classic anti-hero, and uniquely defining the zeitgeist of
the 1970s. More than three decades later, he remains at once an
enduring counterculture icon and the very symbol of contemporary
Hollywood. An actor, director, screenwriter, and producer, Nicholson
won his third Academy Award in 1997 for As Good As It Gets
(One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Terms of Endearment
were his other winning performances)-only two other actors, Ingrid
Bergman and Walter Brennan have been so honored. He has also been
nominated 11 times (seven for Best Actor and four for Best Supporting
Actor), a record bested only by Katharine Hepburn. He has been
named "Best Actor" by the Cannes Film Festival, the
National Society of Film Critics, the New York Film Critics Circle,
the National Board of Review, the Los Angeles Film Critics Association,
and the Broadcast Film Critics Association, and he has won five
Golden Globe Awards. In 1994, he received the American Film Institute's
Life Achievement Award.
Born on the East Coast, Nicholson traveled
to California at age 17 and landed a job as an office boy in MGM's
animation department. Soon he began studying acting and eventually
appeared on television and the stage. While appearing in a now-forgotten
play, he was spotted by "B"-movie producer Roger Corman,
who cast him in his first film in 1958, and a decade-long career
of toiling in cheap monster and biker epics began. With films
such as The Wild Ride, Little Shop of Horrors, The
Raven, Hell's Angels on Wheels, and The Terror
behind him, Nicholson tried his hand at writing scripts and the
results were the cult classics The Trip, which co-starred
Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda; Head, a psychedelic nightmare
starring The Monkees; and Psych-Out, directed by Bob Rafelson.
They seemed inconsequential at the time, but Hopper and Fonda
soon asked him to appear in their 1969 film Easy Rider
and a year later Rafelson directed him in Five Easy Pieces.
The former earned him his first Oscar nomination (for Best Supporting
Actor) and the film revolutionized Hollywood. The latter earned
him his second Oscar nomination (this time for Best Actor) and
firmly established him as one of the very best actors in the world.
For the next three decades, Nicholson would appear in many of
the landmark films of our age, guided by some of the world's most
notable directors: Roman Polanski's Chinatown, Michelangelo
Antonioni's The Passenger, Ken Russell's Tommy,
Milos Forman's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Stanley
Kubrick's The Shining, George Miller's The Witches of
Eastwick, Bob Rafelson's The Postman Always Rings Twice,
Warren Beatty's Reds, James L. Brooks' Terms of Endearment,
John Huston's Prizzi's Honor, Hector Babenco's Ironweed,
Tim Burton's Batman, Rob Reiner's A Few Good Men,
and Sean Penn's The Crossing Guard.
The roles have spanned most genres, but Nicholson invests each
of his characters with humanity and intelligence, and his presence
in every film is riveting. He is a star, with irresistible charm
and personality, but also an artist, with a seemingly effortless
technique, a willingness to place the demands of the dramatic
truth over concern for his own vanity, and a limitless devotion
to the job at hand. "I just love the work," he has said.
"I love to act."
And that love translates to quality. Jack Nicholson's achievement consists of some of the finest work in cinema.