Anne Heche, the Emmy-winning actress who starred in films like Six Days, Seven Nights and the Psycho remake, but whose own career was curtailed by struggles with mental illness, died August 12 at the age of 53 following injuries she sustained in a car crash in Los Angeles.
“Today we lost a bright light, a kind and most joyful soul, a loving mother, and a loyal friend,” Heche’s rep tells Rolling Stone on behalf of her family and friends. the day of her death “Anne will be deeply missed, but she lives on through her beautiful sons, her iconic body of work, and her passionate advocacy. Her bravery for always standing in her truth, spreading her message of love and acceptance, will continue to have a lasting impact.”
A report from the L.A. County Medical Examiner-Coroner’s office, released on Aug. 17, declared the manner of her death an “accident” caused by “inhalation and thermal injuries.” (Inhalation injuries are typically caused by severe damage to the respiratory system due to extreme heat.)
The MEC report also listed a “sternal fracture due to blunt trauma” as a significant condition that led to Heche’s death.
The family of Heche added to Rolling Stone that the actress had yet to be taken off life support for organ donation purposes but was legally dead per California law last week. “My brother Atlas and I lost our mom,” Heche’s son Homer told People in a statement. “After six days of almost unbelievable emotional swings, I am left with a deep, wordless sadness. Hopefully my mom is free from pain and beginning to explore what I like to imagine as her eternal freedom.”
Heche was pulled out alive from the fiery wreckage of the Aug. 5 crash — where the actress drove at a high speed into a house in the Mar Vista neighborhood, reportedly with narcotics in her system — but suffered a severe anoxic brain injury as well as extensive burns. Although Heche was able to communicate with paramedics after the crash — it took over an hour for firefighters to extricate her from the blaze — she soon lost consciousness and entered the hospital in “extreme critical condition.” (The owner of the house survived as she evacuated on impact.)
In a statement on Aug. 11, her family announced that Heche would not survive the crash — which was being investigated as a felony DUI — and that she was being kept on life support to donate her organs.
“Anne had a huge heart and touched everyone she met with her generous spirit,” Heche’s family said in a statement. “More than her extraordinary talent, she saw spreading kindness and joy as her life’s work — especially moving the needle for acceptance of who you love. She will be remembered for her courageous honesty and dearly missed for her light.”
Heche began her acting career in 1987, when she spent four years playing the Daytime Emmy-winning dual role of twins Vicky Hudson and Marley Love on the soap opera Another World before she found footing on the big screen, making her debut in 1993’s The Adventures of Huck Finn.
After appearing in bit parts in early-Nineties films like Milk Money, I’ll Do Anything, and The Juror, Heche quickly ascended in Hollywood almost overnight, going from smaller indie films in 1996 to significant roles in a string of 1997 hits alongside stars like Johnny Depp (Donnie Brasco), Tommy Lee Jones (Volcano), and Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman (Wag the Dog).
That same year, Heche started dating then-sitcom star Ellen DeGeneres; the couple was already together when DeGeneres came out as a lesbian in 1997, making them Hollywood’s most high-profile openly gay couple at the time.
During their three-year relationship, Heche would appear on an episode of Ellen, while DeGeneres starred in a Heche-directed segment of the HBO film If These Walls Could Talk 2, where DeGeneres and Sharon Stone play a lesbian couple wanting a baby, a desire Heche and DeGeneres both spoke openly about in interviews at the time.
“This is a sad day,” DeGeneres tweeted. “I’m sending Anne’s children, family and friends all of my love.”
The relationship, coupled with Heche’s box-office emergence, made the pair a favorite of tabloid headlines, but Heche would later claim that it negatively impacted her career — as Heche was previously in straight relationships, she was “pilloried as both publicity hound and career opportunist,” The New York Times wrote in 2009 — and nearly “blacklisted” her from the film industry; she surmised that openly being a lesbian made her an unmarketable leading lady in the eyes of Hollywood execs.
In 1998, Heche starred in the adventure rom-com Six Days, Seven Nights alongside Harrison Ford, followed by the much-maligned remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, where Heche played the Marion Crane role made famous decades earlier by Janet Leigh.
Heche traced much of her personal struggles to her difficult childhood: In interviews to promote her 2001 memoir, Call Me Crazy — Heche deemed herself “insane” on numerous occasions — the actress revealed that she was sexually abused from infancy to adolescence by her late father, who died of HIV/AIDS when Heche was 12; Heche also said she learned as a young teen that she had gotten herpes from her father. Soon after her father’s death, her older brother died in a car crash that Heche claimed was suicide.
During the press tour for the memoir, the actress also spoke candidly about her struggles with mental illness, including the revelation that she retreated to a fantasy world she called the “Fourth Dimension,” where she was “Celestia,” the half-sister of Jesus Christ. Heche was also estranged from her deeply religious mother, who has written books claiming that being gay was a sin and that belief in Jesus Christ could change one’s sexual orientation.
Heche’s memoir also followed an incident — in the days leading up to Heche and DeGeneres’ breakup — where a shaken and disoriented Heche appeared at a stranger’s house near Los Angeles and, after being invited inside, refused to leave. When sheriff’s deputies asked her why she was there, she reportedly told them she was “God, and was going to take everyone back to heaven in a spaceship.” Soon after that bizarre incident and the stars’ breakup, it was revealed that Heche was dating a male cameraman she met while filming DeGeneres’ stand-up special; the two married in 2001 and had one son. Heche also had a son with her Men in Trees co-star James Tupper in 2009.
Although her time as a box-office star elapsed quickly, Heche continued to act steadily for the next 20 years, appearing in films like John Q, Cedar Rapids, Rampart, and Catfight. The actress also was a special guest on TV series like Ally McBeal, Nip/Tuck, and Everwood before starring in the shows Men in Trees, Dig, and Hung. Most recently, Heche appeared on the 2020 season of Dancing With the Stars and will be seen posthumously in the Weeknd’s upcoming HBO series, The Idol.
This story was updated on Aug. 17 at 6:30 p.m. ET to include the cause and manner of death revealed by the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner-Coronor.
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