One of Hollywood’s enduring bad boys is ready to tell all, on his terms.
Three-time Oscar nominee Nick Nolte first broke through in the 1976 miniseries Rich Man, Poor Man, which catapulted him to the top of the call sheet with hit psychological thrillers and action comedies including The Deep, 48 Hrs., Affliction and Cape Fear.
But as the Nebraska native details in his sprawling, if somewhat stilted, new memoir Rebel: My Life Outside the Lines (William Morrow, ★★½ out of four), his success didn’t come straightaway, with years spent chasing dashed football dreams and honing his craft on community-theater stages. All of which gets ample ink in his authorial debut, as do his varied sordid romances and run-ins with the law.
Much of the book reads like a self-congratulatory Wikipedia page, as Nolte, 76, rattles off box-office receipts and accolades for each of his movies, even quoting many of the critics who praised his performances through the years. While this provides useful context for younger readers who may not be as familiar with his earlier filmography, it can also become quite dry.
True to the gruff characters he inhabited in later movies such as Tropic Thunder and Warrior, Nolte’s writing style is squarely to the point with no descriptive flourishes. He only adds pops of color when describing the hard-partying young bombshell who would become his second wife (Sharyn Haddad, simply referred to as “Legs”) and his general annoyance working with ex-girlfriend Debra Winger, whose “capricious behavior” on the set of Cannery Row he blames for the film’s so-so turnout.
Like any celebrity memoir, the frequent name-drops and tidbits about behind-the-scenes dirt are often what’s most fascinating about Rebel. Woody Harrelson and Sean Penn, for instance, had something of a sportive one-upmanship on the set of The Thin Red Line, culminating in an elaborate prank that ended at a police station.
Nolte nearly starred in the crime drama Pride and Glory, but was so put off by Edward Norton’s apparently cocky attitude that he quit the project and was replaced by Jon Voight.
Nolte readily admits that he’s fond of telling tall tales — a trait he shares with Warrior co-star Tom Hardy — which makes it difficult to parse whether some of his more outrageous anecdotes about youthful rebellion and ex-wives are true or not.
But there are moments that are genuinely poignant, as he recounts his lifelong struggles with alcohol and drug addiction, and how fatherhood and close brushes with death compelled him to break his habits. The most moving and morbidly funny passage is a tribute to his own late dad, whose wooden leg Nolte evidently lost in New Mexico during a week of post-funeral revelry with his mom and sister.
He ends Rebel by reflecting on the prospect of dying, predicting, “I’ve got five years or so before I, too, get to head ‘elsewhere’ to be rebellious and cause more glorious havoc.”
We can only hope that Father Time doesn’t come knocking then, or frankly, any time soon, because this scintillating screen legend clearly has many more yarns to tell.