Everything-but-the-kitchen-sink style portrait of the noted actor and unstoppable womanizer.
The pseudonymous Douglas (author, we are told, of previous biographies) admires baby-boomer icon Nicholson, theorizing that his most notable roles—in Easy Rider, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Carnal Knowledge, About Schmidt—anticipated seismic shifts in the American psyche. This early sentence gives a fair idea of the project’s tone: “Loving Jack Nicholson [was] a maze with no way out, like the treacherous hedge that defeated Jack Torrance in The Shining.” The author’s major psychological insight concerns the not exactly breaking news that Nicholson, conceived by an unmarried woman, grew up believing his grandmother to be his mother and his mother his sister; he learned the devastating truth well after he became a star. The actor spent years honing his craft in B pictures, then incarnated the new, countercultural Hollywood in his riveting early-1970s performances. Douglas’s hectic prose swerves to link Nicholson’s antics to larger trends in drugs, fashion, and restaurant culture with mixed success. Fellow rogues like Robert Evans, Dennis Hopper, and Nick Nolte drift through the narrative, while Nicholson’s own musings demonstrate him to be witty, intelligent, but ultimately arrogant, embodying Tinseltown’s complicated solipsism as well as any living actor. (On his outsized fees: “The minute someone signs a deal with me they’ve made money, so what does it matter?”) The author offers recollections and caustic commentary from many of Nicholson’s old flames, detailing his “wild” seduction tactics and inner isolation, but the mirth is dampened by his refusal to utilize condoms. In the 1990s, notable for bitter litigation with the mother of his oldest child and incidents of road rage, Nicholson’s life seemed flaccid and ugly, although he still provided reliable box office and the occasional strong performance in, for example, As Good As It Gets. Rich in scandal-sheet anecdotes—bed-hopping, copious drug use, and real-estate coups abound—but oddly hagiographic overall, this is a flat, uninflected read.
Detailed, mildly salacious, not especially moving or surprising.