One of the greatest actors of our time is playing out his last scene, shut away in his Beverly Hills home with dementia. Jack Nicholson is 84.
When the scene fades to black, Jack will live on. More than 60 movies over half a century, including 12 Academy Award nominations — the most for a male actor in Academy history. He won Best Actor three times, for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest in 1976, Terms of Endearment in 1984, and As Good As It Gets in 1998.
One of his best films is Five Easy Pieces, the 1970 classic of the disillusioned misfit, the outsider, the guy who doesn’t fit in anywhere, and in the end says Fuckit and leaves his life behind in a highway rest stop.
Director Bob Rafelson made the picture for under $2-million and it earned more than $18-million at the box office.
Five Easy Pieces spoke to so many of us at that time in history and in our lives.
The 1960s was a decade of assassinations — JFK in 1963, and Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King in 1968 — the Vietnam War, bloody protest and revolution, and to cap it off, the Manson slaughter in 1969 of beautiful young actress Sharon Tate and six others.
We all wanted out of the ‘60s. We wanted a new decade. And the 1970s lived up to our hopes. Nixon resigned in 1974, the Vietnam War ended in 1975, and we all partied wild and free in a decade of sex, drugs and some of the best music we ever heard.
Bobby Dupea, Jack’s character in Five Easy Pieces wanted out of the ‘60s too, out of his life, out of his relationship with the neurotic, tedious Rayette, played by Karen Black.
Bobby was a piano prodigy raised in a privileged family in the Pacific Northwest but he chucked it all away to see the world. He ended up working on an oil rig in California. When he learns his father has had a stroke he and Rayette drive north to visit his family.
There, in the midst of his past, his disillusionment with life become quietly unbearable.
On the drive back, Bobby stops for gas at a rest stop. Rayette goes into the cafe to get some snacks. Bobby goes into the men’s room. He looks at himself in the mirror, decides he can’t live this life any more. It’s fuckit time. He leaves his jacket in the men’s room, goes outside and hitches a ride north on a logging truck, leaving Rayette behind.
Just about all of us have wanted to bug out like that at one time or another — just leave your jacket and ID and tiresome girlfriend behind and hitch a ride to a new life.
Now Jack in real life appears to be coming to the end, but it’s been one hell of a ride.