Icons of the Century

Whether poking his bandaged nose where it isn’t welcome as Jake Gittes in “Chinatown,” or ad-libbing his immortal “He-e-e-re’s Johnny!” while axing through a door in “The Shining,” the charismatic Jack Nicholson holds the center of many of the iconic films of the ’70s and ’80s.

But it was as Randle McMurphy, the swaggering nonconformist who upends a mental ward in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” — perhaps the most daring, outsider film ever to sweep the Oscars — that the actor truly blew the minds and won the hearts of his sophisticated generation (and the first of three Academy Awards).

Nicholson, with his trademark sunglasses, became such a perennial at the Oscars that he and frequent host Billy Crystal seemed to carry on with their own private banter. By that time the actor became known simply as “Jack.” Beyond his cocked eyebrow and leering grin, Nicholson has combined emotional and intellectual complexity with devil-may-care masculinity to become the lasting hero of a generation that fancies itself anti-establishment, even as the torch is passed.

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