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Jack Nance

Jack Nance

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Also Known As: John Nance, Marvin John Nance Died: December 30, 1996
Born: December 21, 1943 Cause of Death: murdered
Birth Place: Boston, Massachusetts, USA Profession: actor, hotel clerk, paper boy

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

A cult celebrity as the star of David Lynch's nightmarish directorial debut "Eraserhead" (1977), Jack Nance lived a life every bit as bizarre as any scenario Lynch ever filmed. Born in Boston on December 21, 1943, Nance was raised in Dallas, Texas. Moving to California to join the American Conservatory Theater, Nance met an artist and aspiring filmmaker named David Lynch, who cast him as the hapless Henry Spencer in his student film "Eraserhead." Filming, which was scheduled to take six weeks, stretched from May 1972 to early 1977. (The filming outlasted Nance's marriage to his first wife, Lynch's assistant director Catherine Coulson, whom Nance had married in 1976.) After a supporting role in the Chuck Norris action drama "Breaker! Breaker!" (1977), Nance retreated from acting for five years, resurfacing in Wim Wenders' "Hammett" (1982), horror comedy "Ghoulies" (1984), and action comedy "City Heat" (1984). Along with small roles in all of Lynch's films between "Dune" (1984) and "Lost Highway" (1997), Nance worked steadily as a character actor through the '80s and into the early '90s. His highest-profile role outside of his work with Lynch came in the gritty indie drama "Barfly" (1987) and the...

A cult celebrity as the star of David Lynch's nightmarish directorial debut "Eraserhead" (1977), Jack Nance lived a life every bit as bizarre as any scenario Lynch ever filmed. Born in Boston on December 21, 1943, Nance was raised in Dallas, Texas. Moving to California to join the American Conservatory Theater, Nance met an artist and aspiring filmmaker named David Lynch, who cast him as the hapless Henry Spencer in his student film "Eraserhead." Filming, which was scheduled to take six weeks, stretched from May 1972 to early 1977. (The filming outlasted Nance's marriage to his first wife, Lynch's assistant director Catherine Coulson, whom Nance had married in 1976.) After a supporting role in the Chuck Norris action drama "Breaker! Breaker!" (1977), Nance retreated from acting for five years, resurfacing in Wim Wenders' "Hammett" (1982), horror comedy "Ghoulies" (1984), and action comedy "City Heat" (1984). Along with small roles in all of Lynch's films between "Dune" (1984) and "Lost Highway" (1997), Nance worked steadily as a character actor through the '80s and into the early '90s. His highest-profile role outside of his work with Lynch came in the gritty indie drama "Barfly" (1987) and the Dennis Hopper-directed gang drama "Colors" (1988), but he gained his widest audience as sawmill worker Pete Martell in Lynch's TV series "Twin Peaks" (ABC 1990-91). During this period, Nance was struggling with alcoholism and had a tumultuous relationship with his second wife, adult film actress Kelly Jean Van Dyke, who committed suicide on November 17, 1991. After a period of sobriety, during which he appeared in an episode of teen cult favorite "My So-Called Life" (ABC 1994-95) and indie drama "Love and a .45" (1994), Nance began abusing alcohol again. He died, under mysterious circumstances, of a subdural hematoma in Los Angeles on December 30, 1996.

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Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Lost Highway (1997) Phil
2.
 Assault on Dome 4 (1997) Mellow
3.
 Joyride (1997)
4.
 Little Witches (1996)
6.
 Across the Moon (1995) Old Cowboy
7.
 Voodoo (1995)
9.
 Love & A. 45 (1994) Justice Thurmar
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

:
Began acting career at the Dallas Theater Center; toured doing childrens' theater
1996:
Completed "Joyride", unreleased at time of death
1970:
Made feature acting debut as an unnamed hippie in the romantic drama "Fools," starring Jason Robards and Katharine Ross
1983:
Returned to film with a supporting role in Wim Wenders' "Hammett"
2001:
Was subject of the film documentary "I Don't Know Jack"
1992:
Starred in comedy sequel "Meatballs 4"
1988:
Made TV-movie debut in "Tricks of the Trade" (CBS)
:
Moved to Los Angeles; relocated to San Francisco and performed with the American Conservatory Theater; met first wife Catherine Coulson while performing in a stage adaptation of Kafka's Amerika at SFSU; she was a student, he a guest artist
1986:
Appeared in Lynch's "Blue Velvet"
1990:
Appeared in Lynch's "Wild at Heart"
1996:
Filmed final role, Phil the mechanic, in Lynch's "Lost Highway", released after his death
1985:
Appeared in a small role in Lynch's "Dune"
:
Starred in radical West Coast stage hit, "Tom Paine" in the late 1960s; director David Lindemann would actually introduce Nance to David Lynch when he was casting "Eraserhead"
1972:
Began work on David Lynch's student film "Eraserhead" (released 1977); filming took nearly five years to complete
1990:
Appeared in a supporting role on David Lynch's TV series "Twin Peaks"
VIEW ALL MILESTONES

Education

North Texas State University: Denton, Texas -

Notes

Many sources say he worked at Pasadena Playhouse, but PREMIERE (August 1997) says when he arrived in Pasadena, the Playhouse had shut down; he relocated to San Francisco

"He was the most eccentric and entertaining man I've ever met." --friend and former agent Carmella Gallien quoted in THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, January 3, 1997

"I've known Jack for 25 years. Every one of us is unique and individual, but I've never met anyone as individual as Jack. He was a one of a kind. I used him in every film I made except 'Elephant Man'. He told the best stories I've ever heard, and he had a great, dry and absurd wit. He didn't care about money and he loved acting." --director David Lynch quoted in THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, January 3, 1997

"...For the central character, Henry Spencer (a befuddled nebbish in an ill-fitting suit, a crammed plastic penholder clipped to his front pocket), he was lucky enough to meet John Nance, an actor whom everyone called Jack. Jack had done theater work in San Francisco, knew Francis Ford Coppola when the latter was still based there, and had recently come to L.A. to look for film work. Apart from some small parts in AIP programmers, 'Eraserhead' was his first movie. [His second would be Wim Wenders's 'Hammett', produced by Coppola.] 'He's a strange guy and doesn't go out looking for work," writer-director David Lynch told one interviewer. 'If you wanted him for a film, you'd have to go get him and dust him off.'" --From From "Midnight Movies" by J Hoberman and Jonathan Rosenbaum (NY: Harper & Row, 1983)

"Considering Nance to be the equal of actors like John Gielgud, Anthony Hopkins, and John Hurt [once he'd directed all three in "The Elephant Man"], Lynch first had him get his hair cut so that it stood out like the electrified pompadour sported by the Bride of Frankenstein. [In CAHIERS DU CINEMA, French critic Charles Tesson would later refer to Henry as the spitting image of Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein.] Shooting starting on May 29, 1972; little did Nance realize at the time that he would have to keep getting his hair styled for years to come as the film dragged on. Eventually he took to wearing a little hat to conceal his affliction. 'Making a film with you, Lynch, is one frame at a time,' he was prone to mutter at certain moments in the middle of the night. Nance had to become Henry, even down to wearing Henry's slippers when he went home after shooting. . . ." --From "Midnight Movies" by J Hoberman and Jonathan Rosenbaum (NY: Harper & Row, 1983)

Companions close complete companion listing

wife:
Catherine E Coulson. Actor. First wife; divorced; appeared as the "Log Lady" in "Twin Peaks".
wife:
Kelly-Jean Van Dyke. Actor. Second wife; married June 21, 1991 in Lake Tahoe, Nevada; committed suicide on November 17, 1991; daughter of actor Jerry Van Dyke and niece of actor Dick Van Dyke; according to Nance, was four-months pregnant at the time of her death.

Family close complete family listing

father:
Hoyt Nance. Executive. Worked at Neiman Marcus survived him.
mother:
Agnes Nance. Survived him.
brother:
Richard Nance. Software firm executive. Younger; survived him.

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