Let’s look at Jack Nicholson’s birth chart. The first thing to note is that, essentially, he’s a paradox. One wouldn’t normally think so given the image of the Hollywood Hellraiser; the imposing, self-promoting Romeo with the wicked grin, indistinguishable from his Batman Joker. It is but a smokescreen, not that he hasn’t enjoyed being the ‘ladies man’ of legend, or an ‘unrepentant philanderer’, as he was once described.
In a perfect world we would, instead, be discussing how sharp and intelligent he is, and how much he invests in his chosen craft as an actor. Indeed, biographers who want to know about him come to realise there’s a tremendous depth there. For he’s also a person of ‘character’ , meaning that his personality has been forged by ‘experience’ – in many cases personal pain and suffering. This is exactly what we find on Jack Nicholson’s birth chart, and we’ll soon see where it comes from.
He was born in Neptune, New Jersey, on 22 April 1937 at 11.00.a.m. This gives sun in sensual, comfort-loving Taurus with pleasure-seeking, boisterous Leo rising. In many ways, the Leo ascendant conflicts with the Taurean sun – Taurus is earthy, patient, modest and slow to act; Leo often impatient, showy and with a big fiery ego that demands attention. ‘Self-obsessed’ might be the correct term for Leo rising, and as he’s said himself: ‘I don’t like listening to what other people think.’
Jack Nicholson’s birth chart also has Moon in Virgo, imbuing him with a critical, even cynical attitude, in that he’s quick to catch on to things – especially if anyone is trying to bullshit him. It’s also given him a fundamentally realistic, emotionally ‘cool’ edge as he looks at life: clued-in and unwilling to swallow the hype. (Cynical old Frank Zappa had this moon, too.)
Raised in a matriarchal environment, Nicholson has always been fascinated by the power of the opposite sex, whether as mothers or lovers. In fact, he acknowledged early on that his survival depended on them. Nicholson has said about females that they’re ‘stronger [than men], they’re smarter,’ and they don’t play fair, either! On that last he probably means that when it comes to relationships they are subtle, with supposed ‘womanly wiles’ that men allegedly don’t possess. (This acquaintance with archetypal Feminine ‘power’is a result of Pluto rising, the Terrible – as in ‘awesome’- Mother archetype, more of which later.)
Also, the moon-Saturn opposition on Jack Nicholson’s birth chart leads to a great sense of emotional defensiveness, a feeling of being ‘alone’ in the world. Saturn shows our inner fears and Achilles Heel, our sense of separateness, where we build walls around ourselves. The moon symbolises emotional needs, nurture issues, childhood experiences and roots and, moreover, doesn’t like being in aspect to dry, unemotional Saturn. This aspect impacts on a person’s need for emotional comfort, and it isn’t easy to rest in one’s own feelings – one has a kind of vulnerability about being hurt. One is thus bent on emotional ‘survival’ and self control, just as Nicholson admits to. In this state, one cannot open up – the moon-Saturn person just doesn’t trust very easily.
Notice also the sun-Uranus conjunction on Jack Nicholson’s birth chart, whose theme is personal freedom and the drive to be unique, different from everyone else. One insists, on doing things one’s own way! But this can hamper one’s ability to relate, to simply settle down into a committed relationship. On women in general , he has gleefully commented that ‘none of them can take away my freedom. Until the end of my days I’ll remain a bachelor!’
Nevertheless, after Jack met the actress Sandra Knight, they were soon married, in June 1962. Not surprisingly it wasn’t to last, and even at the wedding ceremony when vowing to love and cherish he wasn’t entirely committed and admitted that he quite expected to have intimacies with other women, too. The following year Nicholson learned that his sister, June, had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. They’d had a stormy relationship, though, and she possessed a very ‘fiery, amazing temper.’ This fiery and competitive quality around women fits neatly with Jack’s Venus in Aries – he attracts it, in other words. (We’ll discuss this Venus position in depth further on.)
However, his ‘sister’ wasn’t really his sister. It’s well known among Nicholson aficionados that, up until June 1974, he lived in ignorance of his real parentage, and the woman he’d thought was his sister was his actually his Mother … and the woman he’d been told was his mother was his grandmother. Since being a single mother of an illegitimate child in the 1930’s was to risk being a social outcast, June had been passing herself off as his big sister. It all came to light when a journalist at Time magazine – doing a piece for the upcoming release of the Chinatown movie in 1974 – telephoned Nicholson to confirm this fact.
The news was earth-shaking for him – but look at Pluto on the Leo ascendant. Whenever this planet is prominent there’s often a serious emotional issue (usually involving loss) to deal with and a chart will often indicate ‘fated’ situation like this. Either Pluto exposes us to the dark side early on in life, or he brings us to situations where people have too much control over us, for good or ill. According to Sue Tompkins’s excellent Aspects in Astrology, Pluto on the ascendant can ‘describe a very early life which involved the child in a family secret’1, which perfectly describes the parental trauma we’re describing here. But Pluto can wound us for life, and Jack’s friend Peter Fonda noted that this revelation about his Mother produced ‘real deep hurt inside’.
Commentators and biographers have remarked on the rage in him that never really abated because of this episode, and Nicholson himself notes a ‘tremendous violence’ lurking in his psyche, and a special effort needed to try and control it. ‘I’m not a very Zen guy. I’ve laid in sand traps and cried, and hurled [golf] clubs in lakes.’ This is Pluto to a ‘T’ – which is like a pressure cooker if the steam isn’t occasionally released. This is also connected to his sun-Uranus conjunction, which not only needs to express and release its energies suddenly, but – from early on in life – is determined to rebel, especially against teachers at school. He has said: ‘I was always against authority … at school I created a record by being in detention every day for a whole year.’
However, like a typical, unflappable Taurean, Jack’s anger is usually kept under lock and key. It does, however, occasionally get free. Once, playing the gallant hero (some redneck had been harassing a woman) Jack threw a clumsy punch and cut himself on the guy’s spectacles frame before retreating in disgrace. It’s a comical scene that shows how far he is from the screen image of streetwise Randolph McMurphy in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. He says of himself: ‘I’m a coward, first of all, so when I get to that [angry] place, it’s purely hysterical. When I’m angry and I can’t control myself, I don’t like it. I’ve never liked fighting.’ But this is what the wise ones with Pluto on the ascendant actually do. They’re so aware and afraid of their own capacity for destructive power that they rein it in. Pluto rising people also (usually) shun the limelight, and Nicholson has admitted that he’s often disliked having to live in the media glare (not what one would expect of Leo rising, but Pluto modifies this archetype considerably.)
Jack met the actress Anjelica Huston in April 1973, interestingly the month when Jupiter was crossing the Descendant on his natal chart and entering his seventh house (relationships). Thus commenced a seventeen year on-off relationship, which just about every journalist has since described as ‘tempestuous’. Witness Nicholson’s Venus in Aries (square to Pluto) as he unconsciously attracts drama and tension, putting himself through the emotional wringer, and propelled into situations where he’s forced to confront his own feelings. Venus in Aries is competitive in love, actually enjoying emotional fireworks, ego games and provoking others to jealousy. (Jack has has experienced his fair share of the above with Anjelica Huston. For fans of traditional astrology, Venus is here in its detriment.)
Anjelica Huston is a sun Cancerian (also with a Virgo moon and sun-Uranus conjunction) who was repeatedly hurt by Nicholson’s infidelities, but the real reason here would seem to be his overriding need to control his emotional life – with moon-Saturn opposition, remember, one learns to keep one’s ‘distance’ from others.
At the same time, Kim Basinger once commented that Jack Nicholson is, ‘crazy! I haven`t met anyone so obsessed with sex like him!’ This reflects the obsessive and compulsive nature of Venus-Pluto, but the compulsion is more emotional – power-driven, even – than sexual. With these two planets in hard aspect there is an inability to let go, in fact, a quest to ‘own’ the other person, and to make the partner love them, so to speak. Maybe this accounts for the relative longevity of Nicholson’s and Huston’s affair.
On the Derived Composite chart (set for Los Angeles) there are two major conjunctions: moon-Mars and Venus-Saturn. In the former there are very powerful feelings for each other at work, together with a rather volatile ‘short-fuse’ factor; in the latter, the outside world and everyday realities encroach on the relationship. With Venus-Saturn, expressing true feelings for one another can prove difficult, though Saturn in synastry is often an indicator of durability – the partners try to get to grips with practical considerations. But when we look at the Davison Composite chart, we find Mars conjunct Pluto, a union where one partner is always trying to dominate the other. Tellingly, Composite sun is also conjunct Composite Uranus, which doesn’t bode well for a permanent relationship.
Though no stranger to fatherhood, Jack’s attitude towards domestic life also bears the moon-Saturn imprint. According to Wikipedia, ‘from 1989 to 1994, Nicholson had a relationship with actress Rebecca Broussard. They had two children together.’ However, Jack wasn’t exactly content changing nappies, in fact he didn’t even live with Broussard. When asked why he dismissively replied ‘we have personal differences of opinion. My problem is that when I’m happy I become arrogant and provocative, volatile, difficult to live with. Will that do?’ The real reason, of course, is to preserve that sun-Uranus independence, and the fact that he feels uncomfortable in a such a domestic setting. (Very moon-Saturn.)
Most of the time, then, he guards his real inner self with an ‘I’m just a Playboy having fun’ kind of attitude. Thus Jack’s Leo rising says: ‘I’ve balled all the women, I’ve done all the drugs, and I’ve drunk every drink.’ Responding to others who have criticised this he says: ‘I’m such a wag!’ ‘I’m a scamp. I don’t deny it. I like myself.’ More Leo Rising self-aggrandisement! Here is another classic quote: ‘I love to put myself somewhere where they can say, “Jeez, he’s overacting again.” Which I am, but damn, that’s why I’m good!’
However, Jack’s friends and colleagues are always quick to cite his more sterling qualities, in fact, no one ever says a bad word about him. Instead they remark on his intelligence, professionalism and depth. One was the actor Karen Black who says Jack is: ‘a very big person,’ who ‘fills up the whole room with his presence. He … has a very white aura that kind of glows and shines. He requires of himself to try and truly understand others’ viewpoints, rather than dismissing them before he hears all about it … He really expects nice things from people, because he has a basic kind of respect for others. People feel that they are liked by Jack …’ What she’s describing here are the more noble qualities of Leo rising (and maybe a little Venus-Pluto manipulation to get the sought after response!)
However, as any astrologer can. tell you, we need to understand there’s a great deal going on behind the public face – the one he wants us to see. It all goes back to that past family trauma and those parental skeletons-in-the-closet … and Pluto, the invisible Greek god of the underworld who symbolises matters of life and death, secrecy and hidden, dark truths. And he’s the key to Jack Nicholson’s birth chart, and therefore his whole psyche. It is no wonder that, throughout his life, he sought to erect a smokescreen around himself: he once typically remarked that, ‘I don’t want people to know what I’m actually like.’ (Very Pluto rising.) Then again, one of the greatest American screen actors of all time, with a gallery of memorable performances – indeed, a string of Oscars – is surely entitled to his privacy!
1. Destiny Books, 1989.
Quotations: Hollywood Hellraisers, Robert Sellers, Arrow, 2010, Jack Nicholson: The Early Years (Screen Classics), Robert Crane and Christopher Fryer, University Press of Kentucky, 2012.
Image – Wikimedia (Public Domain)
This is an edited version of The Reluctant Plutonian – Inside the Chart of Jack Nicholson which appeared in Vol. XXXIV (no. 2) of Diamond Fire magazine. Diamond Fire can be found on Facebook.