Anne Heche started acting in her teens, but despite her successes in television, film, and on stage, her career was overshadowed by a life steeped in tragedy and controversy. Heche, who died in a car accident at age 53, rose to fame in the tabloids in the late 1990s as the girlfriend of Ellen DeGeneres, who was then the star of a hit TV comedy series.
Heche later blamed the publicity surrounding their relationship for stunting her career, saying Hollywood wasn’t ready for a lesbian star in heterosexual love roles. That was exactly what her first lead role was; in Six Days, Seven Nights (1998), stranded on a desert island with Harrison Ford. After a string of roles last year, including in Volcano and I Know What You Did Last Summer, and critical successes in films like Donnie Brasco and Wag the Dog, Heche was cast in the film not long before her relationship with DeGeneres was broken. made public.
They broke up in 2000, and a year later, after she married Coleman Laffoon, a cameraman who worked on DeGeneres’ stand-up tour, Heche published a memoir, Call Me Crazy, in which she describes how she grew up was abused by her father. of 12. She said the abuse had “driven her insane for 31 years.”
Anne was born in Aurora, Ohio, the youngest of five children of Donald Heche, a choir director in fundamentalist churches, and his wife, Nancy (nee Prickett), who Anne described as “uncannyably accommodating”. The firstborn child, Cynthia, died in infancy. The family moved 11 times during Anne’s childhood, often living off the charities of church members. At age 12, Anne began working at a supper theater in Ocean City, New Jersey; she was the main breadwinner of the family for a while.
When she was 13, her father died of AIDS; Heche believed that his hidden homosexuality was part of his life as a sexual predator. Three months after Donald’s death, Heche’s brother, Nathan, died when his car crashed into a tree. Though his death was considered an accident, Heche believed Nathan had taken his own life, unable to carry his father’s legacy.
Nancy Heche moved the family to Chicago, where she became a Christian therapist and motivational speaker, advocating for “overcoming” the sin of homosexuality. Anne attended Chicago’s progressive Francis Parker School and was spotted by a cop in a school play when she was 16. After an audition, she was offered a part in the long-running soap opera As the World Turns; but she turned it down because her mother insisted that she finish school first.
Shortly before her graduation, Heche was offered a double role in the soap opera Another World. Her mother again said no, but Heche, now 18, left for New York and later wrote, “I passed my time with my mother in a tacky one-bedroom apartment and I was done.”
For the rest of her adult life, she would be estranged from her mother and older sister Susan, who died of brain cancer in 2006. Heche reconciled with her remaining sister, Abigail.
Heche’s play of Vicky Hudson and Marley Love in Another World won her a daytime Emmy award in 1991; she went on to guest star in TV shows and TV movies. Her first feature film was The Adventures of Huck Finn (1993) and in 1995 she played Joan Chen’s lover in Wild Side, whose writer-director Donald Cammell committed suicide shortly after seeing the release version edited by the producers. Heche received good reviews for a co-starring role in the indy film Walking and Talking (1996), starring Catherine Keener, and in 1997 as Johnny Depp’s wife in Donnie Brasco.
In the same year as Six Days, Seven Nights, she starred with Vince Vaughn in Return to Paradise and took the Janet Leigh role of Marion Crane in Gus Van Sant’s shot-by-shot remake of Hitchcock’s Psycho, with Vaughn as Norman Bates, who kills her in the shower. Heche was a future saint alongside Ed Harris in Agnieszka Holland’s The Third Miracle (1999).
Feeling stymied after her split from DeGeneres, Heche appeared on the hit TV show Ally McBeal in 2001, then left Hollywood for Broadway. In 2002, she starred in David Auburn’s Pulitzer-winning play Proof, as the daughter of a math genius who fears she’s inherited her father’s talent as well as his mental instability. But despite her good announcements, when the play was filmed in 2005, the lead role went to Gwyneth Paltrow.
In 2004, she was nominated for a Tony Award opposite Alec Baldwin in a Twentieth Century revival, nominated for an Emmy for the TV movie Gracie’s Choice, and won a Saturn Award for Best Actress in the sci-fi TV movie The Dead. Will Tell.
She kept busy playing lead roles in TV movies and roles in theatrical films that brought good news, most notably as one of two sisters, both ex-wives of a cop (Woody Harrelson) in the otherwise disappointing Rampart (2011) , written by James Ellroy , an impersonation of Colin Firth and Emily Blunt in Arthur Newman (2012), starring alongside Sandra Oh in the underrated Catfight (2016), which follows an ongoing rivalry between two classmates, and excellent in My Friend Dahmer (2017), as the mother of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer.
Meanwhile, she starred in a series of TV series. In Men in Trees (2006-08), she was a relationship coach in New York City who ends up in Elmo, Alaska. A mix of well-known tropes, it was notable because Heche started a relationship with her co-star James Tupper; their son, Atlas, was born in 2009, the same year that her divorce from Laffoon was finalized. She and Tupper broke up in 2018.
In Hung (2009-11), Heche played the ex-wife of a downtrodden basketball coach turned gigolo. Save Me (2013) lasted seven episodes; she was a woman whose near-death experience turns her into a pipeline of God. In 2016, she starred in Aftermath as part of a family fighting for post-apocalyptic survival, and in 2017 she was Deputy Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in The Brave, in which she and her control team manipulate agents in the field.
Her most recent film, Wildfire, is due out later this year, based on Michael Martin Murphey’s hit song as the mother of the girl lost in the song looking for her pony in the snow. She also starred in the TV movie Girl in Room 13, which premieres next month.
After a crash in Los Angeles on August 5 that caused her car to catch fire, Heche was hospitalized and spent nearly a week in a coma before being pronounced legally dead on August 12 under California law. Life support was withdrawn two days later.
Heche is survived by her sons, Homer, from her marriage to Laffoon, and Atlas.