It’s not every day you get to celebrate a legend. With over 60 years of stellar performances, Jack Nicholson is one of the greatest actors of all time. Known for turning in effortless work, he transformed into just about any role an actor would want to play. From wise guys to gangsters to comic book villains to a romantic leading man, Nicholson knew how to light up a screen. Nominated for 12 Academy Awards and winning three, he is one of the most decorated male actors in Oscar history. While he retired now, we can still book back on his body of work and marvel at it today on his 83rd birthday.
Nicholson’s first big break came in 1969 in Dennis Hopper’s “Easy Rider.” Playing a lawyer with a massive drinking problem, he landed his first Oscar nomination and gained audience’s attention. Then in the 1970s, roles in “Five Easy Pieces,” “The Last Detail,” “Chinatown” secured him more accolades and notoriety as one of Hollywood’s best actors. They were the build-up to his career-defining portrayal of Randle P. McMurphy in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” As a rebellious criminal put in a mental institution, Nicholson’s manic performance felt like someone shot out of a canon. And after five nominations, he finally received the Oscar for Best Actor for the role.
As he transitioned into the 1980s, Nicholson started off the decade with another banger with director Stanley Kubrick. In “The Shining,” he made Jack Torrance one of the scariest figures in horror history, playing a deranged husband who attempts to murder his family. Next up was a supporting role in “Terms of Endearment,” the directorial debut of frequent collaborator James L. Brooks. As a retired astronaut, he brought another complex, tortured performances, garnering him his second Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. He did some more smaller parts in “Reds” and “Broadcast News.” Then Nicholson capped off the 80s with the Joker, a defining accomplishment within the comic book masterpiece “Batman.”
Though Nicholson didn’t have as much success as his past two decades, the 1990s did bring two more memorable roles. In Rob Reiner’s “A Few Good Men,” he mastered another villain with Col. Nathan R. Jessup. While a supporting character, he’s part of one of the most memorable cinematic monologues. The line “You can’t handle the truth” might be the most quoted line in his filmography. Later in the decade, he re-teamed with James L. Brooks for “As Good as It Gets.” As Melvin Udall, he plays a deeply flawed yet funny writer with obsessive-compulsive disorder, who falls in love with his waitress. Nicholson walked home with his final Oscar and second in the Best Actor category for playing Udall.
The new millennium brought on his best work in years. With “About Schmidt,” he gave a gentle performance of a retired man going to his estranged daughter’s wedding. He was so good in Alexander Payne dramedy; it captured him his final Oscar-nominated. Then he went to work on the romantic comedy “Something’s Gotta Give” with Diane Keaton and director Nancy Meyers. Nicholson looked like he had a lot of fun with the role, given the character seemed to be written specifically for him. He then perfectly embodied a notorious Boston crime lord in Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed.”
His last official job was “How Do You Know,” another project with James L. Brooks. Rumors of a return to the big screen have floated around, but he’s stayed in retirement. It would be okay if he never came back because he has enough work to keep audiences entertained for a lifetime. Happy Birthday Jack Nicholson. Thank you for all the work you’ve done.