Jack Nance, 1943-1996
Jack Nance was born in Boston, Massachusetts of Irish ancestry and was raised in Dallas, Texas. He graduated from South Oak Cliff High School, and travelled throughout the country performing in children's theatre. For eight years, he performed with the
American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco. Later, he became involved with avant-garde theatre. He first met David Lynch in the early 1970s in Philadelphia while he was performing in a local theatre, and Lynch decided to cast him as the lead in Eraserhead (1977). At the time, Nance was married to the actress Catherine E. Coulson (the future Log Lady in Twin Peaks), but they divorced in 1976.
Originally, it was to be a six-week shooting project, but due to budget restrictions and technical complications, the production and filming took nearly five years to complete. Nance relocated to Los Angeles in the early 1980s, where he appeared in unusual and widely praised films that were not always considered mainstream Hollywood. He has appeared in almost every movie by Lynch, including the television series Twin Peaks (1990), usually playing secondary characters or quirky supporting parts.
In his later years, Nance grew a small white moustache and was a distinctive presence in many films with his peculiar twisted smile and blue eyes. After Eraserhead, Nance remained on good terms with Lynch. Nance also guest-starred on a 1995 episode of My So-Called Life entitled "Weekend", in which he played an innkeeper. He also made a cameo appearance with actress Mary Woronov in Suicidal Tendencies' 1983 "Institutionalised" music video.
In May 1991 Nance married Kelly Jean Van Dyke (who worked in the adult film industry under the name Nancee Kelly). Kelly was the daughter of Jerry Van Dyke. Kelly Van Dyke committed suicide by hanging on November 17, 1991. According to his younger brother Richard Nance, Jack, who was in Bass Lake, California, filming 'Meatballs 4' at the time, attempted to console her on the phone as she threatened suicide. A lightning storm knocked out the phones in Oregon, subsequently taking over 45 minutes for Nance and the director, Bobby Logan, to find a deputy sheriff who contacted Los Angeles police and the apartment manager. They broke in and found that she had hanged herself.
Five years later Jack Nance died in South Pasadena, California, on 30th December, 1996 under mysterious circumstances. Jack it was claimed had been involved in a brawl outside a Winchell's Donuts store on the morning of 29th December. It is unclear if he was still drunk from the previous night or if he had begun drinking that morning, but it is certain that he was intoxicated at the time. He said to friends, “I told off some kid, I guess I got what I deserved.”
Later he lunched with friends Leo Bulgarini and Catherine Case. Nance had a visible "crescent shaped bruise" under his eye; and, when asked about it, he related to them the story about the fight. Nance claimed that at around 5:00 am, he got into a fistfight with two men who he referred to as "long-haired hippies" or"homeless crack-heads" in the parking lot outside the donuts store while waiting for it to open. According to Nance, “two homeless bums” walked up to him asking for spare change. Nance refused by mouthing off to them and saying: “get a job and a haircut”, and a brawl ensued where Nance received several punches (and possible kicks) to his face during the fight. There were no witnesses to the incident and it remains unclear if Nance had been drinking during that morning or who threw the first punch. After relating his story he soon went home, complaining of a headache. The injuries he received caused a subdural hematoma, resulting in his death the following morning, over 24 hours later after receiving the injuries. Nance died alone in his apartment. His body was discovered on the bathroom floor by Bulgarini.
Jack’s death remains open, and is likely to be for quite a long time. There were no witnesses. There are no suspects. To his friends, Nance painted himself as the victim of an act of random violence. After months of investigation, one of the two officers on the case is said to be unsure that such an act even occurred.
The coroner's report indicates that Nance's blood-alcohol level was .24 percent at the time of death and that his liver had been ravaged due to his alcoholism. According to a police source, an investigator on the case thinks it is more likely that Nance just got drunk and banged his head.
A documentary about Nance funded by Lynch, titled ‘I Don't Know Jack’ was released in 2002.