Nick Nolte Opens Up in His New Memoir ‘Rebel’

January 26, 2018

“I had become an actor because real life was hard for me. Sometimes it was really tough. Acting was different from real life, yet it gave me the chance to search for complex stories that helped me understand and cope with what I encountered away from the stage lights.”

These are the words of the Hollywood icon Nick Nolte in his intimate memoir entitled Rebel: My Life Outside the Lines. The 76-year-old actor recalls his path to stardom, boasting a five-decade-long career, as well as sharing his personal struggles with addiction, run-ins with the law, Hollywood stories, and multiple marriages.

Nolte has portrayed a wide array of characters throughout his career, always bringing his trademark athletic presence and distinctive gravelly voice to each one. His popular films include Cape Fear, 48 Hours, and Down and Out in Beverly Hills. And his performances in The Prince of Tides, Affliction, and Warrior were honored with Oscar nominations.

Growing up in Omaha, Nick excelled in athletics while he struggled academically. “Football was my world. There was never a Plan B,” he writes. Nick managed to get into trouble whether it be hiding beer before football practice or drinking during the practice season. More seriously, he found himself in hot water with the law for selling counterfeit draft cards to underage kids seeking to buy alcohol–and he barely escaped being sentenced to several decades in jail.

After that close call, Nolte moved to California where he worked construction. As fate would have it, one of his friends invited him to attend an acting workshop. Nolte was 21 years old at the time, and the thought of being an actor had never occurred to him. He recalls his experience at the workshop in his book, writing:

“The acting coach, Bryan, offered me something to read. I can’t remember what it was except that it was some famous soliloquy, and I was nervous as hell. If I’d been trying out a new sport or meeting a girl or something, I would have been fine. But then I thought, f— it, I can read this thing, and I did. Silence followed. It was obvious from their faces that I’d done something right. Later, out of earshot, Bryan said, ‘You don’t know it yet, but you’re an actor. You’ve got the thing–that someone either has or he doesn’t. You’ve got it.”

As intriguing as becoming an actor sounded, Nick continued to pursue his promising athletic aspirations in Arizona colleges; but, poor grades continued to haunt him. Later in life, Nolte would discover he struggled with undiagnosed dyslexia.

When his sports dreams shattered, Nick began to study theater: reading plays, honing his performance skills in many regional theaters, and he studied at the Stella Adler Academy in Los Angeles. He said the theater felt like “comfort, home.” He once spoke about his certainty of pursuing acting, saying:

“When I hit the stage, even though it was the most terrifying experience in my life, opening night, you say to yourself, ‘Why would you do this to yourself? Why would you make yourself even throw up? And go out there and die in front of a thousand people? Why would you do this to you?’ That’s what you say to yourself before you go out. And then you’re so, so freaked out that you don’t remember opening night–you don’t remember a thing. Evidently, the play went well. They applauded at the end; you remember a little bit of that. But you can’t remember a thing about opening night. And that happens for a few nights until you really start to get down into the play. Opening night is terrifying. Even though there’s that, there’s this other thing that just goes into your bones. It’s: This is where I belong.”

Nolte rose to fame when he starred in Rich Man, Poor Man in 1976. “After thirteen years as a professional actor, I was pronounced an ‘overnight sensation,’” Nolte wrote in his memoir.

Now 76 years old, Nolte lives a secluded lifestyle in Malibu with his 10-year-old daughter and her mother Clytie Lane, who he plans to marry. And he stays away from drugs and alcohol–but still acts. His next film role is of an Alzheimer sufferer.

His thoughts on fame these days: “I don’t think about it. You want to be recognized for your craft but not singled out. The story should come first.”