"Both grandmother and mother were deceased before this particular group of facts came to my attention."
It's not unusual for parents to keep a few secrets from their children. But the one secret that veteran actor Jack Nicholson's family kept from him was so out of the ordinary that some might even go as far as to say that his entire childhood was basically a lie.
Until the age of 37, Nicholson had no doubt that John and Ethel May Nicholson, the couple who raised him, were parents to him and his two sisters, June and Lorraine. It wasn't until 1974, over a decade after his sister June died of cancer, that Nicholson was confronted with a startling revelation when a TIME reporter reached out to him to verify some facts for a cover story, according to Today I Found Out.
Nicholson learnt that June was actually his biological mother and Ethel was, in fact, his maternal grandmother. The worst part was that neither of the two women were around to give him an explanation as both of them had passed away by then. So he reached out to his other "sister", Lorraine.
After the strange call he had with the reporter, Nicholson called up the man he thought was his brother-in-law—Shorty—Lorraine's husband. Just like Nicholson, Shorty also wasn't in on the secret and told him it couldn't be true. But a few hours later, Shorty called him back and said, "Jack, it’s Shorty, I’m gonna put Lorraine on the phone. I just want to say one thing – she’s been crying all night. Here she is."
He told Rolling Stone, "Both grandmother and mother were deceased before this particular group of facts came to my attention. I was very impressed by their ability to keep the secret, if nothing else. It’s done great things for me."
"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."
After finally having found out, Nicholson later said in an interview, as quoted by cnsnews.com, "June and I had so much in common. We both fight hard. It didn’t do her any good not to tell me, but she didn’t because you never know how I would’ve reacted when I was younger."
According to Biography, June was 17 when she gave birth to Nicholson. Since she was unmarried and reportedly unsure of who the father was at the time, June's parents Ethel and John stepped in and raised their grandson as their own son, alongside his mom and aunt as his sisters.
For the award-winning artist who is now 82 years old, finding out the truth changed so much of what Nicholson grew up believing. He took things well and believes that they made the best of the situation, despite having been raised in an unconventional way.
"My only emotion is gratitude, literally, for my life," said Nicholson. "[If June and Ethel had been] of less character, I never would have gotten to live. These women gave me the gift of life."