I think it’s safe to say that Jack Nicholson has lived a life quite like no other. The Chinatown star is one of the most iconic actors of all time, with one of the most colourful personalities to boot, and you can’t help but think that one day, there will be a biopic made of his life, and it will be luminous.
Nicholson has been friends with a series of notable counterculture figures over the years, such as Hunter S. Thompson, Warren Beatty and Dennis Hopper, and it is with the latter that we find our story today.
Appearing in Playboy in 1972, the actor looked back on the filming of the 1969 film Easy Rider and recalled an acid trip he took with co-star Dennis Hopper. The beauty with which Nicholson looks back on this life-affirming experience is palpable and is a reminder of his genius. Nicholson sheds light on his and Hopper’s friendship, showing it to be one of tenderness, echoing the sentiment of the classic film that they were shooting.
He said: “If properly used, acid can also mean a lot of kicks. During the shooting of Easy Rider in Taos, New Mexico, for example, Hopper and I dropped a little of the drug and a couple of guys drove up to D. H. Lawrence’s tomb. It’s on the side of a mountain and there’s this great huge granite tomb where his wife is buried. Lawrence is indoors in a kind of crypt. When we got there, we were just starting to come on. The sun was going down, so that it was only slightly above eye level. Dennis and I get very sentimental about each other at these moments; we love to cry about old times and talk about how it’s gonna be.”
He continued: “So we were up there rapping about D. H. Lawrence and how beautiful it was. We decided we were going to sit on the tomb with D. H. and that was it. From then on, this was where we were going to make out stand in life, and if they wanted to go on with the movie, they’d have to come up here and get us; ’cause this is where we were and this was where we’d be. We looked at trees and talked about art and the nature of genius and asked ourselves why people couldn’t be more open. And after a while, the guys in the van came back to get us”.
Fast-forwarding to later in the day, Nicholson remembered: “Later on, Dennis went off with a lady and I went back to the motel we were staying in. Keep in mind that we were in the middle of Western country, reeking with Indian lore. So back at the motel, I spent a certain amount of time acting out guarding our rooms, watching where the Indian attack would come from. Then I listened to the electric buzz on the television for about ten minutes that began to make me feel as if I were a bunch of wiring. I had this enormous energy, a need to do something, so I went outside and started walking. You’re always very sensitive to light under acid; so when light began appearing around the mountain corner, I knew that dawn was coming. It was getting cold, like it does just before the sun comes up. I thought I’d better get somewhere where I could see the dawn, so I climbed up to the top of a 10-foot tree. I was very happy up there.”
Adding: “By now I had passed the peak of it. I was watching this meadow – looking at the light coming on. The meadow seemed to have all these rocks, especially a big white rock that was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen. At a certain point, the white rock stood right up and suddenly turned into this fabulous white horse. He went up on his hind legs once, came down stiff-legged and his tail went around in a circle, exactly like a propeller, as if he were going to take off. I’d never seen this in a horse before. Now I thought, ‘Well, maybe I’m not peaked on this acid, ’cause this is far out.”
This moment then touched Nicholson even more, as he explained: “He just went tearing around this meadow and throwing his neck up and bouncing and kicking. It was so beautiful to see. Then all the other darker rocks became horses and went racing around to each of them. The moment filled me with fantastic emotion. Later, I climbed down the tree, walked out into the meadow and actually followed a cattle herd. I was about ready to go home when I looked down at my feet and found an inflatable plastic pork chop – apparently a squeaker toy for a dog. It was so incongruous. You can imagine what that did to me. I carried that pork chop in my suit pocket through most of the shooting of Easy Rider.”