There’s the smile, which always seems to broadcast that an entire alleyway of cats have just lapped up a dairy’s worth of cream. There are the eyebrows, able to waggle and arch skyward in a single bound. There are the sunglasses — all the better to hide what’s he thinking, or maybe what he’s been toking, my dear. There’s that nasally twang, which can suggest a come-on or a snarky comeback is on deck, or if you’re unlucky, that a fit of rage is brewing. There’s the reputation, which precedes him and regards his love of a good time. And then there’s that presence that he brings with him whether it’s courtside at a Lakers game or front row at the Oscars, an aura of coolness that somehow hints that, yes, you’ve seen him in a million movies and at a million awards ceremonies, but really: You don’t know Jack.
Jack Nicholson has become such a part of the Hollywood firmament — a link back to the shaggy 1960s, the age-of-antiheroes 1970s, and the old-school notion of 1980s movie stardom — that it’s easy to forget that he’s not just a celebrity. The man is first and foremost an actor, one of the most talented and memorable film performers to grace screens for five decades. And though Nicholson, who turns 84 today, has long retired from acting, he’s left behind a legacy of rebels, rabble rousers, angry young (and old) men, saints, sinners, jokers, artists, authority figures, killers, and saviors. To celebrate his career, we’re shining the spotlight on 25 of his greatest performances — from memorable cameos to Oscar-winning roles. Here’s Jack!