Once one of Hollywood’s most promising young stars and hailed as one of the most beautiful women in the world, Anne Heche’s film career was blighted by mental health problems, drug abuse and homophobia after it was revealed she was in a romantic relationship with chat show host Ellen DeGeneres.
After playing Johnny Depp’s wife in the 1997 crime drama Donnie Brasco, she starred in a remake of Psycho and was cast opposite Harrison Ford in the romantic adventure film Six Days Seven Nights. But Six Days Seven Nights failed to fulfil box-office hopes after news broke of her relationship with DeGeneres and a poll showed that many people were put off by her casting. Heche and DeGeneres became staples of the celebrity gossip magazines in their three years together. But with the relationship over and her career prospects looking uncertain, Heche had a nervous breakdown.
High on drugs, she turned up at a remote desert ranch-house wearing only shorts and a bra and asking if she could use the shower. The owner recognised her and phoned the sheriff’s office. She apparently told deputies she was God and was taken to a psychiatric institution.
She wrote a memoir entitled Call Me Crazy in which she attributed her problems to sexual abuse by her father as a child. Her father was dead by this time and her mother claimed the book was full of “lies and blasphemies”. Her sister Abigail suggested Heche believed the claims were true, but that it was a case of false memory syndrome.
Heche’s thinking seemed to blur the boundary between reality and fantasy. She said that her perception of herself as the daughter of God and half-sister of Jesus was a conscious fantasy to help her deal with reality. After splitting up with DeGeneres, she had several subsequent relationships with men and had two children.
After driving into a house in Los Angeles at high speed on 5 August she was on a life-support system for several days. The crash started a fire that endangered the life of the occupant and took 59 firefighters over an hour to put out. LAPD officials reported that she had narcotics in her blood and that they had opened a criminal investigation, which was dropped after her life-support system was switched off.
The youngest of five children, she was born in the little town of Aurora in Ohio in 1969. Much of Heche’s story is clouded by ambiguity and doubt, right down to something as basic as her father’s job. He said he worked in the oil and gas business. She said he did not. Her parents were ostensibly strict Christians, but she maintained this was a façade and that she was repeatedly raped by her father from infancy onwards.
The family struggled financially, moved home repeatedly and were often dependent on the charity of church members. At 12 Heche was working in supper theatre in New Jersey and was the family’s main earner.
Her father died when she was 13. She said he had AIDS as a result of a promiscuous gay lifestyle. She suggested he raped her because he could not come to terms with his sexuality. “My belief was that my father was gay and he had to cover that up,” she told one interviewer.
After her father’s death and the death of her brother in a car crash, the family moved to Chicago where she was spotted by an agent in a school play. She was still in her teens when she took a dual role in the soap opera Another World, though her mother opposed her becoming an actress. She played twins, one good, one bad. She spent four years on the show from 1987 to 1991 and won a Daytime Emmy.
She made her film debut in Disney’s The Adventures of Huck Finn in 1993 and had a major role in the maverick Scottish director Donald Cammell’s thriller Wild Side. But it was Donnie Brasco that excited most attention and led briefly to producers and directors flocking to her door.
She appeared in the disaster movie Volcano, the horror film I Know What You Did Last Summer and the political satire Wag the Dog, with Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman. And the remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho attracted a huge amount of press attention, with indy favourite Gus Van Sant as director and Heche as the ill-fated motel guest. But critics and audiences were disappointed when it turned out to be almost a shot-for-shot remake.
The announcement of her relationship with DeGeneres just as Six Days Seven Nights was about to shoot was groundbreaking, but undoubtedly dented her career. It seemingly took Harrison Ford to keep her on the film.
It marked the end of her brief career in leading roles in major Hollywood movies and subsequently she worked largely in independent films – including Prozac Nation, Jonathan Glazer’s offbeat drama Birth, with Nicole Kidman and Lauren Bacall, and Cedar Rapids, and in theatre and in television, with a recurring role in Ally McBeal. In 2020 she appeared on Dancing with the Stars, the US version of Strictly Come Dancing.
In 2001 she married Coleman Laffoon, a cameraman she met through DeGeneres. The marriage was short-lived and overlapped with her relationship with James Tupper, her co-star in the sitcom Men in Trees. She is survived by one son from each of those relationships.
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