12/12/2011 at 02:10 PM EST
When he first arrived on the scene 35 years ago, Nick Nolte was the instant blue-eyed, blond hunk du jour
. In 1992, he was PEOPLE's Sexiest Man Alive
. Then, nearly 10 years ago, his arrest in Malibu
for driving under the influence put him in a freaky mug shot seen – and parodied
– around the world.
Looking back on that incident – and on life, in general – for GQ
in its January issue, which hits newsstands Dec. 20, Nolte reveals that the infamous photo of him in an Hawaiian shirt and with flyaway hair was, in fact, not the police mug shot at all.
In truth, when Nolte's arrest took him to a hospital for a blood test, the young officer at the scene requested a Polaroid shot of the star. "I said, 'Come on, you don't really want to ask that, do you?' " says Nolte, adding that he finally agreed to pose if the officer shared any proceeds from the photograph with his colleagues. "And I let him shoot the Polaroid."
Besides the embarrassment of the snapshot, the blood test revealed that the medical intoxicant GHB was in Nolte's system. That prompted a phone call from a friend, Marlon Brando.
Recalled Nolte, "He said, 'You know, I don't know if you were drunk or if you're not, I just want to say one thing – don't run away from anything.' I said, 'No, I won't run away.' "
Where Nolte went was rehab, and upon his release he received three years' probation. Has he ever taken GHB since? "No," he says, though he would be willing to try the mood elevator again, this time under strict medical supervision.
As for growing old, the septuagenarian actor, who is receiving Oscar buzz for his role in Warrior
(which is also set for home-video release on Dec. 20), says, "When you start thinking about death more than sex, you know you're getting old. As Katharine Hepburn used to say to me: 'Aging, Nick, is boring
.' Now I know what she means."