Jack Nicholson spent almost half of his life believing that his grandmother was his mother, and that his mother was his sister. He didn’t learn the truth until both had passed away, from a New York Times reporter.
Nicholson was born in 1937 to June Nicholson. He was raised by his grandmother, Ethel May, as her son. His birth mother, June, was a teenager when she gave birth. June had aspirations of stardom and Ethel May didn’t want to bring shame to her family for having a grandchild out of wedlock, or else risk Ethel May’s chances of having a career. They continued life as if Ethel May was Jack’s older sister.
The story gets stranger, after Nicholson catches the acting bug.
“Since my only relative in the world was June, who was out here [Los Angeles], I came out to look around.”
June would pass away in 1963, eleven years before Nicholson would learn the truth. He was thirty-seven years old when he got a phone call from a New York Times reporter, announcing that he had discovered this information and planned to print it. Nicholson, reportedly, asked him not to. Fresh off of the success of “Chinatown”, a headline with such striking resemblance to the plot would surely leave a mark on his career.
Despite the eventual revelation, Nicholson’s career flourished.
“I’d say it was a pretty dramatic event, but it wasn’t what I’d call traumatising. After all, by the time I found out who my mother was, I was pretty well psychologically formed. As a matter of fact, it made quite a few things clearer to me. If anything, I felt grateful.”
“I was very impressed by their ability to keep the secret, if nothing else,” he told Rolling Stone. “It’s done great things for me.”
“My only emotion is gratitude, literally, for my life. “[If June and Ethel had been] of less character, I never would have gotten to live. These women gave me the gift of life.”