NEW YORK — You might remember Nick Nolte’s infamous mug shot from 2002, the one where the three-time Oscar nominee wears his hair wild and his shirt Hawaiian. But did you know he has another one from many years before that arrest?
In 1961 Nolte was busted for selling fake draft cards, fined $75,000 and sentenced to 75 years in prison, later suspended. In that booking photo, a pre-famous Nolte wears his hair short and a button-down shirt.
Both embarrassing incidents are heartily discussed in his new memoir, “Rebel: My Life Outside the Lines.” Nolte, 77, is now ready to tell his story — warts and all. The arrests act almost like bookends to a sometimes crazy life.
“I’ve had two mug shots in my lifetime. It’s hard to get those. And if you get them, you better make sure you examine the circumstances that you got them,” Nolte told The Associated Press. “The best way to deal with the biggest mistakes in your life is to discuss them. With everybody, including God.”
The autobiography traces the rise of the headstrong Nolte — literally, because he had the bizarre habit of head-butting parked cars. He was a Midwestern boy, a natural jock, who found fame later in life when he traded in performing on the stage to movies.
“Acting always appealed to me a lot because it’s risk taking. And it’s something I don’t do naturally. I mean when I’m standing backstage and that curtain is about to open I say, ‘Why would you do this to yourself? Are you really that much of an idiot to just expose yourself to a thousand people?’” he said.
“And then the curtain opens and, if it goes all right, you don’t remember opening night — there’s too much adrenaline. Actors are risk takers. And they’re taking the risks for their own sanity.”
Nolte, whose hits include “The Prince of Tides,” “Cape Fear,” “Lorenzo’s Oil,” “The Good Thief,” “The Thin Red Line” and “48 Hrs.,” self-medicated to quell his inner demons. “A little chaos around keeps me sane,” he writes.
The book recounts his amazing appetite for drugs — including coke, LSD, HGH and GHB — and the time he single-handedly saved the movie “Under Fire” by smuggling the film canisters out of Mexico, one step ahead of the law.
We learn he ate real dog food in “Down and Out in Beverly Hills,” and he took real heroin during the eight-week shoot of “The Good Thief” to better portray a heroin addict. He slept with Jacqueline Bisset during filming of “The Deep” but his inability to skate lost him a part in “Slap Shot.” He was offered “Superman” but saw nothing super about the role.
Nolte has nice things to say about co-stars Eddie Murphy, Katharine Hepburn and Barbra Streisand. He has less than nice things to say about Debra Winger (“hellfire”) and Edward Norton (Nolte vowed to “slit his throat”). He recounts a spectacular prank pulled by Woody Harrelson on Sean Penn in Australia that involved real cops and gunshots.
May Chen, his editor at HarperCollins, said Nolte wrote some of the book by telling his stories out loud. Those anecdotes were later stitched together, alongside journal entries and his own longhand writings. She calls him a “very self-aware” author, not afraid to delve into his own darkness.
“He’s not embarrassed about it. This is his life. Obviously, I’m sure he’s regretful of some of these things, but he’s not embarrassed by it. He owns up to it,” she said. “Now with hindsight, all these decades later, he can look back, and I think he realizes how often things could have really gone wrong for him.”
Nolte describes his own #MeToo moment when, at 21, a Hollywood agent invited him to his Bel Air home for dinner. After the man excused himself, he returned wearing only a silk dressing gown and announced: “Hello, cuddle bunny.” Nolte was out the door quick. “That would be a casting couch. But I was not an actor at that time at all,” he said.
Nolte also has a dim view of Harvey Weinstein, the one-time Miramax company head who had a reputation as a ruthless film editor. (Multiple allegations of sexual misconduct last year upended his career.) Nolte recounts how his film “The Golden Bowl” was “reduced to shreds” by Weinstein’s cut before it was sold back to the filmmakers.
Nolte said Weinstein tried to “bully me into a couple of roles” — including “Copland” — and was “manipulative” during awards season. “I never had much admiration for Miramax or Harvey primarily because I had friends who made movies that were shelved,” he said.
And, of course, there’s the story of his infamous Sept. 11, 2002, arrest. That day he’d gone to the gym for a GHB-enhanced workout but felt too messed up. So he headed toward an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting but didn’t go in, instead weaving down the Pacific Coast Highway.
“I needed help,” he wrote. He says his booking photo resembles “an asylum inmate out for a lark in his flower-print Hawaiian shirt.” Now sober, Nolte can chuckle. “I take full responsibility for that one,” he said.