How Jack Nicholson Learned His Sister Was Really His Mother

Academy Award winner Jack Nicholson is one of Hollywood’s most prolific actors, known for his roles in films such as The Shining, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, The Departed, Batman, and As Good as It Gets.

Moreover, he also has a reputation for being a Lakers superfan. Most fans are familiar with this talent and credentials, but Nicholson has maintained a cloak of privacy around his personal life. The 83-year-old star had humble beginnings, but one of the truths he learned later in life had to do with his mother.

Jack Nicholson
Jack Nicholson at the Regency Village Theatre, 2010 in Los Angeles, California | Jason Merritt/Getty Images

Jack Nicholson grew up in New Jersey

Born in 1937, Nicholson was brought up near Neptune, New Jersey where his family had roots. At least three generations of his family were established in the northern section of the state where he attended school. He was raised by Ethel May and John J. Nicholson, a couple who married young.

Nicholson would eventually leave New Jersey for California close to when he turned 18, and that’s where he started a new life — with the help of his sister, June.

She moved out there first and secured an apartment. But at the time, he didn’t realize said sister was carrying an old secret.

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What Nicholson learned about his mother

In August 1974, Nicholson was interviewed for a Time Magazine cover story in anticipation of an upcoming movie. As part of the journalist’s research, they did some digging into his family history and discovered Ethel May and John Nicholson were actually his grandparents, and his “sister” June was his biological mother.

According to Biography.com, June died in 1963 before the secret was revealed to Jack. Patrick McGilligan published a biography on Nicholson and delved into his family tree. In Jack: A Biography of Jack Nicholson, he wrote that June, a budding stage performer, began dating a man named Don Furcillo-Rose. She became pregnant.

Because he was married to someone else (but in the process of getting a divorce), Ethel May would not consent to him marrying her daughter. As June was still a teenager, Ethel May chased him out of their lives, much to her daughter’s disappointment.

Ethel May, a heartbroken June, and June’s sister Lorraine swore that the baby would be raised by Ethel May and to keep it a secret.

People in the town gossiped about it, thinking June was either pregnant by Furcillo-Rose or her dance partner, Eddie King. Furcillo-Rose — who always claimed he was the father — eventually lost contact with the family and the Nicholsons relocated to New York. Relatives were informed that Ethel May was the pregnant one.

McGilligan wrote, “Ethel May told everybody she was Jack’s mother. She filed a birth certificate in 1954, when Jack was of driving age and needed identification papers before heading to California.”

Nicholson took the revelation in stride

Biography.com reported that when Nicholson found out about his birth mother from the Time reporter, he wasn’t angry.

“I’d say it was a pretty dramatic event, but it wasn’t what I’d call traumatizing,” Nicholson said. “After all, by the time I found out who my mother was, I was pretty well psychologically formed. As a matter of fact, it made quite a few things clearer to me. If anything, I felt grateful,” he shared.