With his trademark raspy voice and knack for portraying dysfunctional characters, Nick Nolte is one of Hollywood’s most memorable stars. He’s often cast in hugely enigmatic roles – typically outwardly callous men with deep-seated emotional complexities – a testament to his sheer talent and sensitivity to the human condition.
Here are 20 little-known facts about this spellbinding actor.
20. He once grabbed a President’s head and said his hair was like a “bristle brush”
In a 2017 interview with The Telegraph, Nolte recounted a bizarre run-in he had with the President.
Nolte claimed he ran into the Donald and his then-wife, Marla Maples, while walking through Central Park in the 90s. “I had long blonde hair, I don’t know what film it was for, but Trump thought that was pretty amazing,”
“He said, ‘Boy, you got great hair.’ Then he reached up and he touched it and he goes, ‘Oh that’s horrible. It’s baby fine hair.’”
Nolte gave the future POTUS as good as he got: “I just grabbed his head and said, ‘Well you’ve got a bristle brush.’”
The actor told The Telegraph that the two bantered for 20 minutes over who had the better hair.
As a Hollywood star, Nolte has undoubtedly experienced some strange encounters with a variety of celebs – but this has to be the strangest of them all.
19. He feuded with Julia Roberts on the set of I Love Trouble
1994 film I Love Trouble saw Julia Roberts team up with Nolte on the silver screen for the first time.
The movie features the two as a pair of competing journalists who are made to team up while investigating a huge scoop.
In the film, the two journalists end up falling for one another – but Roberts and Nolte did quite the opposite and clashed on-set.
Roberts has described Nolte as a “disgusting human being” while Nolte has argued that “she’s not a nice person.”
Even critics picked up on the friction between the two: in 1994, The LA Times noted the pair’s “less-than-sparkling chemistry.”
The tension between the two was so bad that stand-ins were used on-set as often as possible – so that the two would not have to look at each other when filming.
18. He spent five weeks living as a homeless person to prepare for Down and Out in Beverly Hills
A dedicated method actor, Nolte spent five weeks living as a homeless man in Los Angeles to prepare for his role in Down and Out in Beverly Hills.
The film follows the adventures of Jerry Baskin, a homeless man, as he is welcomed into the household of a rich LA family.
Nolte also ate real dog food twice in the film – once out of a bowl, and once straight from the can.
It’s clear that Nolte gave his all when it came to playing Jerry Baskin – and it paid off.
Distinguished critic Roger Ebert was impressed with Nolte’s performance and said in a 1986 review that “the movie should get some kind of award for its casting.”
The film itself was also largely well-received, with an admirable 79% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
17. He was offered the role of Superman – but turned it down when producers refused to make the character schizophrenic
A lot of big names were in the running to be Clark Kent/Superman, including: Muhammad Ali, Dustin Hoffman, Arnold Schwarzenegger, James Caan, Jeff Bridges, Jon Voight – and Nick Nolte.
Nolte reportedly said that he would accept on the condition that he could play the role as a schizophrenic.
Speaking to The Guardian in 2005, he said: “I told them if I could play Superman as a schizophrenic I would do it.”
“Of course they said no,” Nolte recalled – but it’s certainly interesting to consider what could have happened had they said yes.
Playing Superman as clinically schizophrenic would have certainly added a darker edge to the 1978 classic film.
As we all know, the role eventually went to Christopher Reeve – a then-unknown actor – and the rest is history.
16. He’s dyslexic – so learns his lines by writing them out in full
Nolte struggled at school, but it wasn’t until later in life that he was diagnosed with dyslexia.
Given the amount of reading that his acting career involves, Nolte has had to come up with unorthodox ways of processing his lines.
To learn his lines and get to grips with his characters, Nolte painstakingly transcribes all of his lines by hand.
Writing in his autobiography, Rebel: My Life Outside The Lines, he explains that writing out dialogue “slowed it down so you got the poetry of the words.”
It sounds like a lot of effort, but this bit of trivia is testament to Nolte’s solid work ethic and dedication to acting.
It’s truly inspiring that Nolte has never let his dyslexia stand in the way of his career.
15. He was exempt from serving in Vietnam because he’d just been handed a 45-year prison sentence
In 1965, Nolte was arrested and subsequently charged for forging draft cards for him and his friends to use as fake ID in bars.
Nolte has frequently asserted that there was no hidden political agenda to his crimes – it really was just an elaborate (and very illegal) way of getting into bars while underage.
He was fined $75,000 and given a 45-year prison sentence, which was ultimately suspended.
His conviction also rendered him ineligible for military service – ironically so, as he was dealing in fake draft cards.
Consequently, Nolte did not join the US army as they were deployed in the Vietnamese jungle.
He expressed deep regret over this, and has even gone as far as saying he still feels “incomplete” because of it.
14. He was expelled from high school for fighting and underage drinking
Nolte attended Benson High School in his hometown of Omaha, Nebraska, but was ultimately expelled for engaging in fighting and underage drinking.
Nolte’s penchant for underage drinking seems to have foreshadowed his later problems with alcohol abuse as an adult.
Nolte was never destined to be a straight-A student. After barely graduating from Westside, he attended four different colleges before finally dropping out due to his poor academic record.
It clearly doesn’t seem to have held him back though: Nolte’s trajectory just goes to show that good grades aren’t the be-all-and-end-all of success.
After dropping out of college for the fourth and final time, Nolte briefly worked at the Pasadena Playhouse and attended the Stella Adler Academy in LA.
13. His 2002 mugshot was voted #1 of VH1’s most shocking celebrity mugshots
Nolte was famously arrested in September 2002 after driving under the influence on his way back from an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting.
The mugshot, which features a wild-haired Nolte in a crumpled Hawaiian shirt, came in at #1 on VH1’s list of 40 Most Shocking Celebrity Mugshots.
Speaking to Entertainment Weekly in 2018, Nolte recalled how bedraggled he looked in his mugshot photo.
“It went viral — my hair wild, my expression unsettling, looking like an asylum inmate out for a lark,” he said.
After being released on bail, Nolte arranged to be taken to a rehabilitation centre and received treatment for his addiction problems.
He told Entertainment Weekly that he felt better after just 30 days at the institution and left feeling “renewed.”
12. His absence made Murphy the only SNL cast member to ever host while still on the show
In 1982, Nolte and Eddie Murphy co-starred in the buddy cop action film 48 Hrs.
Nolte was meant to host SNL to celebrate the film’s release in December that year.
However, Nolte was too sick to host the show, and Murphy had to fill in for his absent co-star.
“When Nick got here, and got off the plane, he vomited on my shirt. And we realised Nick was too sick to do the show,” Murphy explained in his opening monologue.
Nolte’s absence made Murphy the only SNL cast member to ever host while still on the show.
Murphy controversially ended his opening monologue by saying, “Live, from New York, it’s TheEddie Murphy Show!“
11. He gained 50 pounds to play an alcoholic cop in the film Q&A
Nolte is dazzling in the 1990 film Q&A as sadistic, boozed-up cop Lt Mike Brennan.
Not one to do things in halves, Nolte gained 50 pounds for the role so as to better embody Brennan’s persona.
Speaking to the Los Angeles Times, Nolte explained what it was like to shed his usual lean and muscular build.
“[Brennan] required that kind of weight – just the sheer mass of brutality […] He had to be on the edge of his own dissipation.”
“It’s fun to change your body and find new things that your body does because of the weight,” he added.
The physical change combined with Nolte’s engaging performance certainly made for a great watch.
10. Harrison Ford stole two potential roles from him
It may surprise some people to learn that in 1976, Nolte was actually on George Lucas’ shortlist for potential Han Solos.
Christopher Walken and Kurt Russell were also on the shortlist, but, of course, Harrison Ford ended up getting the part.
This wasn’t to be the last time Nolte lost out on a role that Ford went on to perform.
Nolte was also originally offered the role of Indiana Jones in the 1981 film Raiders of the Lost Ark.
This time, the actor chose not to take up the role – but as was the case with Star Wars, Ford stepped in and took the part.
Raiders of the Lost Ark went on to be huge hit, and Ford received stellar reviews for his performance as the American archaeologist.
9. He was almost cast in Apocalypse Now – and really wanted the part
Nolte once claimed that he’d never wanted a role more than that of Captain Willard in 1979 classic Apocalypse Now.
Many other actors, including Steve McQueen and Al Pacino, were also considered for the role.
Nolte was gutted when Francis Ford Coppola finally chose Harvey Keitel for the leading part.
No doubt Nolte was left even more frustrated when Coppola fired Keitel – only to replace him with Martin Sheen.
It’s hard to imagine anyone but Sheen playing Willard – but the character definitely tallies with Nolte’s preference for emotionally complex characters.
Perhaps there’s a link to be made between Nolte’s regret over never serving in the Vietnam War and his burning desire to get the Apocalypse Now role, though he’s never explicitly made the connection himself.
8. His father likely suffered from PTSD
Nolte was born in 1941, while his father was stationed in the Philippines during World War II.
When his dad returned in 1944, Nolte remembers him as being markedly withdrawn and quiet.
It seems probable that he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after witnessing the horrors of war firsthand.
Nolte has suggested in the past that he’s drawn on his father’s temperament when playing psychologically complex roles.
Speaking to the Guardian in 2003, Nolte also spoke sympathetically of his father’s traumatic past.
“That’s what happened with the men of that time. They came back, they just wanted to relax. They separated themselves.”
7. He wears surgeon’s scrubs because he finds them “comfortable”
Speaking to The Guardian in 2005, Nolte claimed that he wore surgeons scrubs for 10 years because he found them “comfortable.”
“I was hanging out with a lot of doctors. They were comfortable, cotton and real soft,” he said.
“I pretended I was just out of the institution. Why did I stop wearing them? I found pyjamas.”
In 1992, Entertainment Weekly asked Nolte if his penchant for scrubs was perhaps a symptom of bipolar disorder – to which Nolte responded “I don’t know.”
The same interviewer asked if he wore them to accommodate for his fluctuating weight. Nolte responded: “that’s a good explanation. I like that one.”
It seems the actor hasn’t left scrubs behind entirely: in 2018, Nolte was photographed wearing the infamous Hawaiian shirt from his 2002 mugshot paired with hospital scrubs.
6. He appeared in a Clairol commercial in the 70s – and this remains as the only time a man has ever appeared on a box of women’s hair dye
In 1972 Nolte appeared in a Clairol hair dye commercial, promoting the new colour ‘Summer Blonde’.
The ad was so successful that the company went on to use a photograph of Nolte on the box of dye itself.
This remains as the only time a man has ever appeared on a box of women’s hair dye.
He appeared alongside a female model in the campaign and to this day many falsely believe that the mystery woman is actually Sigourney Weaver.
However, the model is definitely not Weaver, and is instead 70s model Chris O’ Connor.
Nolte did a lot of modelling himself in the late 60s and early 70s, including a campaign for denim brand h.i.s. jeans.
5. He lives in a treehouse
It’s not too remarkable that Nolte lives in Malibu – but it’s pretty wild that he lives in a literal treehouse in Malibu.
He built the house from scratch, electing to construct it around a giant sycamore tree on his property.
He and his wife Clytie live in the two-bedroom, three-story home, with the tree trunk running right through their bedroom.
Why? Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, Nolte said simply: “I wanted to get as close to the tree as possible.” It’s fair to say that’s been achieved.
Nolte claims that the first thing he does when he wakes up in the morning is reach out and hold his palm against the tree.
He says he loves to feel the tree’s “pulse” and appreciate how cool it is that the tree is “alive.”
4. He’s into marble sculpting and glass blowing
Like the rest of us, Nolte enjoys reading and spending time outdoors, but one of the actor’s more niche hobbies is marble sculpting.
Having inherited the passion from his sister, whenever he’s not learning lines or in front of a camera, Nolte enjoys chipping away at marble slabs and expressing his creativity through visual art.
Speaking to Esquire in 2018, Nolte claimed that it’s incredibly hard to mess up when you’re working with marble.
Marble sculpting aside, Nolte also enjoys working with glass and even has a glass blowing studio on his property.
Speaking to CBS in 2016, Nolte explained that he was an instant fan of glass blowing.
He said: “I got hooked on it right away. I thought geez, what a way to calm down, ya’ know?”
3. His daughter calls him ‘Grandpa’
Nolte has two kids from two separate marriages – a 34-year-old son called Brawley, and a 12-year-old daughter called Sophie.
Nolte had Sophie when he was 67 – placing him in the 1% of US men who become fathers over the age of 50.
This has also resulted in his own daughter dubbing him ‘Grandpa’, as her dad is much older than her peers’ fathers.
The two even appeared in Til Schweiger’s 2018 film, Head Full of Honey, as a grandfather-granddaughter duo.
Nolte told People in 2018 that acting alongside his daughter was a “very special” experience.
The film marked Sophie’s acting debut, though we’re yet to see if she’ll follow in her father’s footsteps and pursue an acting career – just like her half-brother has.
2. He went to four different universities
After graduating from high school, Nolte attended four different universities before leaving behind the world of further education entirely.
He began studying at Pasadena City College in southern California before dropping out and enrolling at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona, on a football scholarship.
He then left and started his studies again at Eastern Arizona College in Thatcher, Arizona.
Finally, he tried again at Phoenix College in Phoenix, Arizona, where his studies finally came to an end for good.
After dropping out, Nolte worked at the Pasadena Playhouse and The Stella Adler Academy in Los Angeles.
The aspiring actor then spent several years travelling and working in small, regional theatres, before making a breakthrough with his performance in TV show Rich Man, Poor Man in 1976.
1. He’s struggled with drug and alcohol abuse
Nolte was ridiculed for his disheveled appearance in his 2002 mugshot, but substance abuse has been a very serious problem all throughout the actor’s life.
He was arrested after dealing and using fake IDs to enter bars as a young man, and was even expelled from school for drinking.
Things definitely didn’t get any easier as Nolte entered adulthood and his acting career took off.
Sometimes Nolte would even convince directors to turn his characters into alcoholics so that he could drink on-set.
Nolte kicked the habit after the birth of his son in the 1990s, but after remaining sober for 10 years, he turned to alcohol again in the 2000s.
Nolte has been doing much better recently and lives a much more subdued lifestyle nowadays.