Picks and Pans Review: Jack's Life: a Biography of Jack Nicholson

updated 04/04/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/04/1994 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Patrick McGilligan

Even at 56, Jack Nicholson drips hedonism: he's a paunchy Peter Pan with Lakers tickets. But America's most beloved rascal is also one of it's best actors. This book dissects his career, not his carousing.

McGilligan, a celebrity journalist who has interviewed Nicholson in the past but not for this unauthorized biography, dutifully charts Jack's rise to stardom, from the drug-filled days of Easy Rider all the way to Hoffa. His book richly details the making of a dud like Goin' South, for instance, but skimps on key milestones like Nicholson's failed marriage, his tumultuous romance with Angelica Huston and his recent fathering of two children.

Jack's Life does delve into Nicholson's murky genealogy (the woman he thought was his sister was actually his mother), tracing the actor's noncommittal nature back to a fatherless past. Beyond this, there's little insight into Nicholson's complexity: He's intensely private but goes to Lakers games without a bodyguard; he's terrified of the cancer that killed his mother but smokes incessantly. McGilligan drops in such contradictions without much explanation.

Too bad, since America's fascination with Nicholson is based as much on his epic bacchanalian lifestyle as on his movies. It certainly inches us closer to Jack, however, to know that an ex-lover claims he keeps up his strength during lovemaking by eating peanut-butter sandwiches. (Norton, S25)

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