Born: Feb. 8, 1940
Birthplace: Omaha, Neb.
Education: Pasadena City College and five other universities
Family: Ex-wives: Sheila Page, Sharon Haddad, Rebecca Linger (1984-94); companion: Vicki Lewis (actress); son: Brawley King Nolte (with Linger)
Career in brief
Nick Nolte discovered acting as an adult.
He spent his teen years in college on football scholarships, but he had terrible grades and was kicked out of five different schools.
At age 21, he began his acting career by traveling around the country with various regional theater companies. When he was 35 years old, he landed his breakthrough role in 1976 with the television miniseries "Rich Man, Poor Man" He was nominated for an Emmy for his role. After this success, Nolte was cast opposite Jacqueline Bisset in "The Deep."
Nolte's early film work included roles as a drug-smuggling Vietnam veteran in "Who'll Stop the Rain;" a disillusioned football star in "North Dallas Forty," which he developed with author Peter Gent; free-spirited beat-era writer Neal Cassady in "Heart Beat" and a reclusive marine biologist in "Cannery Row." Nolte continued to challenge himself with character roles such as an American photojournalist in "Under Fire," a determined lawman in "Extreme Prejudice" and an ex-con turned playwright in "Weeds."
Best known for his roles in comedies and action films like "48 Hours" and "Down and Out in Beverly Hills," Nolte has also garnered acclaim as a dramatic star. He received critical accolades playing a tormented father trying to save his ailing son in "Lorenzo's Oil" and as a man trying to face his family's tragic past in Barbara Streisand's "The Prince of Tides," for which he was nominated for an Academy Award and won the Golden Globe for Best Actor. Recently, Nolte has starred in films such as Merchant Ivory's period drama "Jefferson in Paris" as Thomas Jefferson; Martin Scorsese's "Cape Fear," with Robert De Niro and Jessica Lange; "I Love Trouble" opposite Julia Roberts; James L. Brooks' "I'll Do Anything;" Lee Tamahori's "Mulholland Falls;" Keith Gordon's "Mother Night," based on the Kurt Vonnegut novel; and Oliver Stone's "U-Turn." Nolte recently completed "Nightwatch," co-starring Patricia Arquette and Ewan McGregor, and Paul Schrader's "Affliction" with James Coburn, Willem Dafoe and Sissy Spacek.
Nolte's acting career has been haunted by his many problems with women and alcohol. He had a string of bad marriages: to Sheila Page, Sharon Haddad and Rebecca Linger. His companion of eight years, Karen Louise Eklund, hit Nolte with a $4.5 million palimony suit.
Director Lee Tamahori, who worked with Nolte in "Mulholland Falls," told an Hollywood Online interviewer what he thinks of the actor.
"I've always considered Nick Nolte one of the finest actors in American cinema," Tamahori said. "He is afraid of nothing, will go anywhere. He just inhabits space like no one else I've ever seen, and he will go the distance to accomplish a role.
"The Best of Enemies," 1999
"Breakfast of Champions," 1998; with Bruce Willis
"Affliction," 1999; with Sissy Spacek and James Coburn (Oscar nomination, best actor)
"The Thin Red Line," 1998; with Sean Penn, George Clooney, Woody Harrelson, Bill Pullman and John Cusack
"Nightwatch," 1998; with Ewan McGregor and Patricia Arquette
"Afterglow," 1998; with Julie Christie and Lara Flynn Boyle
"U-Turn," 1997; with Sean Penn, Jennifer Lopez, Billy Bob Thornton, Joaquin Phoenix and Claire Danes
"Mother Night," 1996; with Bronwen Mantel and his son, Brawley Nolte
"Mulholland Falls," 1996; with Melanie Griffith, Michael Madsen and Jennifer Connelly
"Jefferson in Paris," 1995; with Simon Callow and Gwyneth Paltrow
"Blue Chips," 1994; with Alfre Woodard and Shaquille O'Neal
"I Love Trouble," 1994; with Julia Roberts, Robert Loggia and Olympia Dukakis
"I'll Do Anything," 1994; with Albert Brooks, Tracey Ullman and Anne Heche
"Lorenzo's Oil," 1992; with Susan Sarandon and Peter Ustinov
"The Player," 1992; with Tim Robbins and Whoopi Goldberg
"Cape Fear," 1991; with Robert De Niro, Jessica Lange and Juliette Lewis
"The Prince of Tides," 1991; with Barbra Streisand, Melinda Dillon and George Carlin (Oscar nomination, best actor Golden Globe: Best Drama Actor)
"Another 48 Hours," 1990; with Eddie Murphy and Brion James
"Everybody Wins," 1990; with Peter Appel and Frank Converse
"Q & A," 1990; with Timothy Hutton, Armand Assante and Patrick O'Neal
"Farewell to the King," 1989; with Nigel Havers and Gerry Lopez
"New York Stories," 1989; various segments directed by Woody Allen, Francis Coppola and Martin Scorsese
"Three Fugitives," 1989; with Martin Short, James Earl Jones and Alan Ruck
"Extreme Prejudice," 1987; with Matt Mulhern and Larry B. Scott
"Weeds," 1987; with Ernie Hudson and Rita Taggart (Golden Globe Nomination: Best Drama Actor.)
"Down and Out in Beverly Hills," 1986; with Bette Midler, Richard Dreyfuss and Little Richard
"Grace Quigley," 1985; with Katharine Hepburn and Kit Le Fever
"Teachers," 1984; with JoBeth Williams and Judd Hirsch
"Under Fire," 1983; with Gene Hackman, Ed Harris and Joanna Cassidy
"48 Hours," 1982; with Eddie Murphy and Annette O'Toole
"Cannery Row," 1982; with Debra Winger and Audra Lindley
"Heart Beat," 1979; with Sissy Spacek and John Heard
"North Dallas Forty," 1979; with John Bottoms and Walter Brooke
"Who'll Stop the Rain," 1978; with Tuesday Weld and Michael Moriarty
"The Deep," 1977; with Jacqueline Bisset and Dick Anthony Williams
"Return to Macon County," 1975; with Don Johnson and Robin Mattson
"Rich Man, Poor Man," 1976; miniseries
"Adams of Eagle Lake," 1975; series
"The Runaway Barge," 1975; movie
"The California Kid," 1974; movie
"Nakia," 1974; series
"Death Sentence," 1974; movie
"Winter Kill," 1974; movie
"Cannon," 1971; playing "Ron Johnson" in episode "Arena of Fear"
"Emergency!" 1972; playing "heart surgeon"
"The Streets of San Francisco," 1972; playing "Captain Alan Melder, U.S. Marine Corps" in episode "Crossfire"
"The Last Pad," 1973
The epic ABC miniseries made Nolte, who played black sheep Tom Jordache, an overnight sex symbol. "I was 35. I was a theater actor and just picking up some extra money in television. I auditioned with Peter Strauss. After the scene I said to him, 'I'll see you the day we start shooting.' Peter said, 'You can't tell that!' I said, 'I'll bet you.' I remember discussions while we were doing Rich Man, Poor Man, [the network] saying 'You know, if this works, we'll do that book Roots next.'"
THE DEEP (1977)
Meant to be a follow-up to Jaws, this Peter Benchley adventure became best known for Jacqueline Bisset's wet T-shirt. "Columbia kept pushing The Deep at me, and I kept saying no, but after a year it was the only [offer] there. There was no character in the script. It was about the monster, the deep, the treasure, and Jackie's breasts."
WHO'LL STOP THE RAIN (1978)
Director Karel Reisz's post-Vietnam drama was the first to showcase Nolte's acting chops. "In the film industry, my mentor has been Karel. He came on [the set of] The Deep and watched. He said, 'You don't need to communicate to the crew so much; a lot of your work is wasted entertaining them.' So right away, he took the reins. He turned me from that big commercial picture to the heart and soul of the work. Had I not been able to do that, I don't know where I would have gone."
NORTH DALLAS FORTY (1979)
Nolte helped develop this adaptation of Peter Gent's controversial novel exposing the dark side of pro football. "I got a call from the owner of the San Diego Chargers. He said, 'If you're going to make North Dallas Forty, I'll finance the whole thing.' That was their attempt to gain control of the film and destroy it. They would've never made it."
CANNERY ROW (1982)
While shooting the Steinbeck adaptation, Nolte and Debra Winger developed a rocky relationship on and off screen. "Cannery Row is a lovely piece. Winger--just like she's said about me, 'He's weird'--she's got her weirdness too. Those weirdnesses always fit together in some ways. She drove me crazy; she'd say I drove her crazy too."
48 HRS. (1982)
Walter Hill's buddy movie spawned countless imitators (including its own lackluster sequel, 1990's Another 48 HRS.) and helped make Eddie Murphy a superstar; ironically, Paramount execs initially weren't sold on the Saturday Night Live star. "[During shooting] Walter said, 'You know, they want to fire Eddie. They don't think he's funny.' We refused. After three weeks they just forgot. Years later we said, 'We should do a sequel.' But it was a bad idea. We should never have done it. We got a big payday. It was a mistake."
UNDER FIRE (1983)
A drama set during Nicaragua's Sandinista revolution, Fire was accused of being too leftist. "That's a wonderful film that didn't get an audience. We approached Julie Christie to play in it. She didn't think it was left enough."
GRACE QUIGLEY (1985)
Katharine Hepburn starred as an old woman who tries to kill herself by hiring hitman Nolte. This famous flop was most notable for the clashes between Nolte and Hepburn, who considered him unprofessional. "We had to drown at the end, so they scheduled this morning of drowning tests out in the Atlantic Ocean. Katharine would yell from the shore, 'I hope you drown!' Afterwards she came up to me and said, 'You know, Nick, Spencer [Tracy] drank quite a lot. But he never drank when he was going to work. You've really got to get a handle on yourself. You've been drunk in every gutter in this town.' I said, 'Almost. I haven't quite made 'em all.'"
DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS (1986)
To play a bum who moves in with millionaires Richard Dreyfuss and Bette Midler, Nolte did his own brand of research. "I didn't bathe, didn't shower, didn't brush my teeth, wore the same clothes, slept outside downtown, and still, Bette refused to believe I was the bum. So then I slept outside and accidentally slept in some poison oak. I got it all across my body. My skin would actually bubble out. So my makeup man had a big trash can with an herbal mix and cheesecloth. I would strip down to my underwear and he would wrap me in these cheesecloths. When Bette saw that, she said, 'I'm not ever gonna touch that guy! I'm not going near him!' From then on, I was the bum."
NEW YORK STORIES (1989)
This trilogy of shorts by Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, and Woody Allen marked the first of two collaborations with Scorsese. "It was a very gutsy thing for all those guys to do. They knew the critics would compare them all. But I thought it was one of the smartest things the business has ever done."
EVERYBODY WINS (1990)
Despite its pedigree--Nolte, Winger, Reisz, and an Arthur Miller script--the film was a total disappointment. "We had problems with that piece. It just misses. That, by the way, is the end of Karel Reisz's career in film. I always felt in an odd way responsible about that."
Nolte added a walrus mustache, six-inch lifts, and dozens of pounds for Sidney Lumet's top-notch crime drama. "I went to Sidney's office to read. I was real skinny 'cause I had just come off Everybody Wins. Sidney looked at me and said 'Oh, no, this won't do!' I said, 'It'll be fine. I'll go down to West Virginia and I'll come back every three weeks and we'll talk about it.' So I'd go down to West Virginia and I'd eat and eat and eat. After three months I had gained 40 or 50 pounds. I was 240 pounds."
CAPE FEAR (1991)
To win the role of Sam Bowden, the lawyer terrorized by an ex-con played by Robert De Niro, Nolte auditioned for the part by showing up at the premiere of Martin Scorsese's GoodFellas in character. "I thought to myself, Marty's only seen me as that big fat painter guy [from New York Stories]. And I'm real thin now. So I combed my hair back and put a suit on and went over there. Marty saw me and he goes, 'Nick! Jesus, you look...wait right here! I gotta get Bobby!' And he said, 'Listen, can you come for a meeting tomorrow at two?' I went up there and that was it."
THE PRINCE OF TIDES (1991)
Nolte earned his first Oscar nomination as emotionally scarred football coach Tom Wingo in Barbra Streisand's adaptation of Pat Conroy's 1986 novel. "Streisand was just so complete in her process. She had it all together. Barbra knows lighting really well. She's lit really well. She was just nailed into it."
I'LL DO ANYTHING (1994)
James L. Brooks' infamous musical--which became a nonmusical in the editing room--still had a happy ending for Nolte. "I thought [the songs] were really good. After the first screening, [Brooks] said the first two or three songs would work and then the audience would catch on to the device. Half of our shooting was the musical. Vicki [Lewis] was a Broadway actress cast out of New York. We started to date, and we've just been together ever since."
BLUE CHIPS (1994) I LOVE TROUBLE (1994) MULHOLLAND FALLS (1996)
These constitute what Nolte considers his emptiest period, professionally; he and his Trouble costar, Julia Roberts, are said to have despised each other. "After [Tides], I sat with my lawyers and they said, 'Well now, here's the big money.' And I took a dive, I went for it. I convinced myself that the scripts were good. I convinced myself that people were there to make a film. And it really wasn't about that. It was about making money. [I Love Trouble] was a studio film, that's all it was. Not my ball game. I didn't belong there. I've never commented about [Roberts]."
Alan Rudolph's drama (produced by Robert Altman) starred Nolte as a womanizing handyman and Julie Christie, who garnered an Oscar nomination, as an aging ex-actress. "When Julie was receiving all these accolades at film festivals--Altman and Rudolph quite frankly were pushing her, and rightly so--I had a house in Fort Lauderdale, so I said, 'Do you want Afterglow in the [Fort Lauderdale International] Film Festival?' And, of course, out of that I won Best Actor. Not that I didn't deserve it! But I was able to call Rudolph and Altman and say, 'Hey, I just won a film festival as Best Actor. I was getting so damn jealous that I just wanted you guys to know that there are other performances in this film too!'"
Danish director Ole Bornedal remade his 1994 thriller only to see Miramax sit on it for almost two years. "I knew we were in trouble. I had seen the original and it was slow, European, psychological. It was one of the scariest films I've ever seen. I said to Ole, 'Why do you want to remake this?' As the studio got it, they realized that they had a European-paced film, and they kept hacking at it and hacking at it. Ole has gone back to Denmark, and I've never seen the film."
THE THIN RED LINE (1998)
Nolte was supposed to follow Terrence Malick's WWII epic with the Merchant Ivory drama A Soldier's Daughter Never Cries--until the Line shoot went long. "I realized quickly that you can't lock dates with Terry. You're either in the film or you can't do the film. I finally had to make the phone call. I just said to James [Ivory], 'I'll be a detriment to the film.' I imagine they cussed me up one side and down the other. I heard Kris Kristofferson did a wonderful job with it."
Did you know ...
... that Nolte lost 50 pounds for his role in "Q & A"?
... that he once dated Debra Winger?
... that "Rich Man, Poor Man," was television's first miniseries?
Nick Nolte Made the cover of these Magazines.
Australian magazine Movie News 1977
Playgirl Dec. 1979
People Oct. 1979
Peoples "Sexist Man Alive" 1992
Us June 14, 1977
Superstar magazine 1977
After Dark magazine 1980
French magazine: Positif