Why Jack Nicholson Disappeared From Hollywood

Jack Nicholson is one of the greatest actors to bless our screens. From Easy Rider to The Bucket List and the many gems in between, he has been a fan favorite for viewers and a model for actors. But Nicholson's also been absent for more than a decade. Last appearing in How Do You Know in 2010, the man with the iconic smile has been gone so long many have begun to wonder if he will ever return.

What a sad fact it would be if we really never got to see Nicholson in a film again. Sure, we might catch him courtside at a Los Angeles Lakers game or see him win an honorary award at an awards show, but many fans want to see him showcase his acting talents, if only one last time. But the question has never really been answered. Where is Jack? What made him step away from the limelight? Is it something to do with Nicholson's complex and tragic past? We'll try to answer these questions by looking at some of the reasons why Jack Nicholson disappeared from Hollywood.

Does Jack Nicholson have memory loss?

In 2013, three years after his last film, R Online published the claim that Jack Nicholson had retired from acting. According to an alleged insider, "There is a simple reason behind his decision — it's memory loss. Quite frankly, at 76, Jack has memory issues and can no longer remember the lines being asked of him." A couple of weeks later, the publication doubled down and suggested that Nicholson's cocaine use could have sped up the memory loss process.

Yet, those close to Nicholson said the reports were flat-out false, and he was "actively reading scripts and ... looking forward to his next project," as per E!. The actor also claimed he had "a mathematician's brain" in an interview with The Sun. He also disputed the claims that his drug use had impacted his health. "The only person I've ever had to say, 'I have to go home now' to is Jack Nicholson," he said. "Contrary to opinion, however sated I got, I always looked after myself. I'm in good shape — a little stout, but healthy. And I've done it all. I've woken up in trees, I've woken up almost hanging off cliffs, but I've always known how to sort myself out."

In 2019, The Hollywood Reporter spoke to Duke Nicholson, Jack's grandson. He had just spent Thanksgiving with his grandfather and was asked about his health. "He's doing great," the young Nicholson said, dispelling any unfounded worries. "He's 100 percent."

He's lost his mojo

For many years, Jack Nicholson was one of the kings of Hollywood, throwing some of the hottest parties, hanging around with the biggest names in town, and romancing some of the most desirable women on the planet. According to The Telegraph, Cher once said that Nicholson "likes women more than any man I've ever known," and Kim Bassinger claimed he was "the most highly sexed individual I have ever met."

But age has taken a bite out of Nicholson's complicated love life. "There were points in my life when I felt oddly irresistible to women," he said in an interview with The Sun. "I'm not in that state now, which makes me sad." For someone like Jack, a decreased sex appeal does more than just sour a mood. It fundamentally changes his thoughts on acting and just about everything else he does. "I'm still wild at heart but I've hit bio-gravity. I can't hit on women in public any more. I didn't decide this, it just doesn't feel right at my age," he said. "If men are honest, everything they do and everywhere they went was for a chance to see women. A lot of me being an actor was about that, and about me."

Yet, as Nicholson has come to terms with the physical drawbacks of aging, he's found himself developing in other areas. "I so believe that a lot of the improvements in my character have come through aging and the diminishing of powers," he said.

A romcom bomb

If the legendary Jack Nicholson never acted in another film, the saddest part might be that his final film was the gigantic flop, How Do You Know. According to The Bomb Report, the film's worldwide theater release recouped less than $50 million of the enormous $120 million budget. Starring Reese Witherspoon, Paul Rudd, Owen Wilson, and Nicholson, the all-star cast alone cost over $40 million. You rarely find those kinds of numbers in romantic comedies these days — but this was a James L. Brooks film. He and Nicholson were trying to recatch lightning in a bottle a third time, with two of their films, Terms of Endearment and As Good As It Gets, earning Jack Academy Awards, for best-supporting actor and best actor, respectively.

According to Forbes, despite playing a part in the death of the bloated romcom era, How Do You Know found new life on Netflix. In the summer of 2020, streaming audiences took in this decade-old film and moved it into the top five of the most-watched movies on the platform. While it may not make up for the quality of the film or that it's akin to finding what might be Nicholson's last film in the discount bin at Walmart, Netflix at least gave this unloved film the space to stretch its legs and run free, enjoying the fresh air before it's ultimately forgotten forever.

Is Jack Nicholson looking for inspiration?

Rather than retired, Jack Nicholson appears to be uninspired. His selectiveness has taken on a new life lately. "In my profession, a retirement statement is the most unnecessary statement that you could possibly make," he joked to MTV. "If I get a good script tomorrow that I want to do, I'm sure I'll be doing it. If I don't, I won't." For Nicholson, it's about quality. To get him back in the saddle, he'll need to read something great.

"The movie business is the greatest business but I only want to do films that move people, films about emotions and people." he said in an interview with The Sun. But Nicholson sees an unsettling shift happening in audiences, one that he's not about to embrace any time soon. "Maybe people in their twenties and thirties don't actually want to be moved any more," he said. "They may want just to see more bombs, more explosions, because that is what they have grown up with. And I'll never do that type of movie."

If that means he never acts again, Nicholson sounds perfectly capable of sleeping easy at night. "I like not working," he said to SheKnows. "I know that's hideous and maybe even blasphemous, but I really do." He suggests there may also be a competitive element to his absence. "I'm kind of a guy who likes to prove things. Everybody always said, 'There's no way you could not work.' Well, I'm kind of proving them wrong."

He's living a quiet life

In recent years, Jack Nicholson's life has quieted down, but some reports would have you believe he's become a hermit. In early 2015, the Daily Mail painted him as a recluse, stating that he rarely leaves his house or dresses in anything other than a bathrobe. "He lives like a slob," sources allegedly told the publication. "They describe a bizarre, chaotic and scruffy household that smacks of a down-at-heel retirement home rather than a bachelor love pad."

Long-time friend, the late Harry Dean Stanton, described Nicholson's quiet lifestyle more appealingly. "We're both pretty reclusive," he said. "Jack's got a cook and a secretary. He paints. I saw some of it a few years ago, it's nice. He enjoys it. I would imagine it's relaxing for him." According to Nicholson himself, slowing down suits him beautifully. "I'm not going to work until the day I die, that's not why I started this. I mean, I'm not driven," he said to The Sun. "I was driven — but I'm not, I don't have to be out there any more. In fact, there's part of me that never really liked being out there. I learnt how to function within 'out there.'" And the reclusive bit? That's just a natural progression. "You get older, you change," he said. "I mean, I'm not a loner, I'm not a recluse, but I don't need all that any more. I don't enjoy it, simple as that."

An exhausting method

Daniel Day-Lewis may employ the most well-known Method acting approach, but Jack Nicholson is no slouch. "There's probably no one who understands Method acting better academically than I do, or actually uses it more in his work," he once told Variety. "But it's funny — nobody really sees that. It's perception versus reality, I suppose." Like Day-Lewis, Nicholson gets completely invested in his characters and his preparation. And like Day-Lewis, that process may have taken a toll on Nicholson.

In 2017, Day-Lewis announced that he was retiring after he couldn't shake The Phantom Thread after completing it. Years earlier, he had left both film and stage acting for similar reasons. So you have to wonder how much Nicholson's preparation routines affect him. According to Film School Rejects, he lived in a psychiatric hospital while filming One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. He incorporated intense amounts of research and commitment for The Witches of Eastwick. Then there was The Shining, which saw him reach extreme manic levels. 

But did these roles weigh on Nicholson, and is that something that could dissuade him from acting? It's difficult to say one way or the other. Though, when he was asked to comment on Heath Ledger's death after playing the role of the Joker in The Dark Knight, Nicholson announced, rather cryptically, "well, I warned him." Unclear if he was referring to the role or the drugs, it's possible that Nicholson felt the part came with a price.

Jack Nicholson is a man who has everything

When you reach the level of fame and success of Jack Nicholson, outdoing yourself may be difficult. This is the man whose "best of" film reel looks like a Hollywood highlights package. He's earned 12 Academy Award nominations and has won three times. He's also worth over $400 million, according to Celebrity Net Worth. With the riches and accolades, should he really continue working?

"If he's not being offered anything as delicious as he has done in his past, why would he?" Angelica Huston asked in a Vulture interview. " He has enough money to live three lifetimes more, and particularly in the way that he lives; he doesn't go out and spend tons of money buying fur coats for girls. I don't even know if he buys art anymore. Also in terms of the work that's out there, what are they going to give him, The Bucket List? That's an insult."

As for playing it safe and taking on family films, Huston hopes it never comes to that. "You don't want to see Jack do that," she said. "I don't want to see Jack doing Meet the Fockers. I already get depressed if I see him in perfectly good Nancy Meyers movies. I like to see Jack in full rebellious feather, and that's how I love him best on film. I loved him in Terms of Endearment, where he plays this incredibly romantic no-goodnik."

He wants things done his way

In 2014, Robert Duvall and Robert Downey Jr. appeared in David Dobkin's film, The Judge. Pegged as a family courtroom drama, the film almost came out looking much different than the version that hit theaters, as well as the one that was originally planned. According to Dobkin, the film almost nabbed Jack Nicholson as its star. "We had two meetings with him," he said in a Collider interview. "He wanted the script rewritten much more than we did, which was a concern."

Apparently, Nicholson felt that the film was missing something, but his list of notes ran on too long, and the director wasn't willing to give the script a complete scrubbing in order to land the star. "Jack is a hell of a storyteller," Dobkin said. "It was a different movie. It wasn't right or wrong notes, it was a little bit different. A little more isolated. A little smaller." Eventually, they sided with the material and cast Duvall in Nicholson's role. "You'd do almost anything to get him in a movie," he said. "Man, he's one of my all-time favorites. It was a hard call."

In the end, however, it appears that the film could have used some changes. USA Today said it was bogged down by subplots and filler. Maybe Nicholson's idea for a "smaller" and "more isolated" movie would have worked better.

Jack Nicholson almost returned to the big screen

Jack Nicholson fans were given incredible news in 2017 when Variety announced that the iconic actor was finally attached to another film. According to the reports, Nicholson saw the German film, Toni Erdmann, and went to Paramount with an idea for an English remake. The studio would go on to cast both Jack and Kristen Wiig and then began its search for a director.

Fans wouldn't be so lucky, it seems. More than one year later, the film still had not got off the ground. IndieWire reported that Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner, who were set to write the screenplay, backed out, and Lisa Cholodenko stepped in as the new writer and director. Unfortunately, about six months after that, reports came out that Nicholson had dropped out of the film, thus dashing whatever dreams we had of seeing him return to the big screen. As for the film, 2019 and 2020 saw no changes. As of this writing, the film has not replaced Nicholson's role nor has it made any other major news.