Jack Nance

Actor, Paper boy, Hotel clerk
An instant cult celebrity as the star of David Lynch's nightmarish directorial debut "Eraserhead" (1977), Jack Nance lived a life every bit as bizarre as any scenario Lynch ever lensed. An alcoholic for much of his ... Read more »
Born: 12/20/1943 in Boston, Massachusetts, USA


Actor (30)

Joyride 1997 (Movie)


Little Witches 1997 (Movie)


Lost Highway 1997 (Movie)

Phil (Actor)

Fallen Angels 1995 - 1996 (Tv Show)


Across the Moon 1995 (Movie)

Old Cowboy (Actor)

My So-Called Life 1994 - 1995 (TV Show)


Voodoo 1995 (Movie)


Another Midnight Run 1993 - 1994 (TV Show)


Love & A. 45 1994 (Movie)

Justice Thurmar (Actor)

Motorama 1993 (Movie)


Meatballs 4 1992 (Movie)

Neil Peterson (Actor)

Whore 1991 (Movie)

Middle-Aged Man (Actor)

The Hot Spot 1990 (Movie)

Julian Ward (Actor)

Wild At Heart 1990 (Movie)

OO Spool (Actor)

Colors 1988 (Movie)

Officer Samuels (Actor)

The Blob 1988 (Movie)

Doctor (Actor)

Barfly 1987 (Movie)

Detective (Actor)

Blue Velvet 1986 (Movie)

Paul (Actor)

Ghoulies 1985 (Movie)

Wolfgang (Actor)

City Heat 1984 (Movie)

Aram Strossell (Actor)

Dune 1984 (Movie)

Nefud (Actor)

Johnny Dangerously 1984 (Movie)

Priest (Actor)

Hammett 1982 (Movie)

Gary Salt (Actor)

Eraserhead 1978 (Movie)

Henry Spencer (Actor)

Jump 1970 (Movie)

Ace (Actor)

Another Midnight Run (Movie)

Reilly (Actor)

Assault on Dome 4 (TV Show)


Tricks of the Trade (TV Show)


Twin Peaks (TV Show)

Music (2)

The Singing Detective 2003 (Movie)

("It's Only Make Believe") (Song)

Catch Me If You Can 1989 (Movie)

("It's Only Make Believe") (Song)


An instant cult celebrity as the star of David Lynch's nightmarish directorial debut "Eraserhead" (1977), Jack Nance lived a life every bit as bizarre as any scenario Lynch ever lensed. An alcoholic for much of his life, he recognized in Dennis Hopper on the set of Lynch's "Blue Velvet" (1986) a man who had battled and defeated similar demons and asked for his help. Hopper personally took him to the rehab center Studio 12, out in the valley, and when he emerged he was sober for the first time in memory and had a new friend, Kelly Jean Van Dyke, the troubled daughter of actor Jerry Van Dyke, best known for his role on the television series "Coach".

Nance wed Van Dyke in May 1991 and stuck by her when she slipped back into substance abuse, even though being around drugs and alcohol was torture for the recovering alcoholic. It was November 17, 1991, and Nance called his wife from the lake near Yosemite where he was filming a leading role in the forgettable "Meatballs 4". He had been thinking of leaving his wife and expressed his concern that the close proximity to her drinking and drugging might unleash his sickness. "Don't do this to me," Van Dyke had pleaded. "I've got to be with you," and later she said, "If you hang up on me, I'm going to kill myself," just as the storm that had been raging outside killed the phone line in some cruel, almost Lynchian twist of fate. His wife of six months hung herself, and Jack Nance would never be the same, although he would remain sober for another two years before giving up and crawling back inside the bottle for good.

Nance was a committed theater performer who had attracted his greatest attention in the title role of "Tom Paine" director David Lindemann introduced him to Lynch in the early 70s. Lynch cast him in his notorious student film "Eraserhead", telling him it would take six weeks, but the reality was almost five years would pass before its completion. Described by English horror specialist Kim Newman as "an Oliver Hardy lookalike with a 'Bride of Frankenstein' coif", Nance's Henry Spencer was a hapless nebbish sucked into a shadowy and surreal dream world of dark and terrible things after submitting to the advances of a creepy seductress. His committed performance in "Eraserhead" is nearly as expressionistic as Lynch's mise-en-scene, and Lynch rewarded the actor by making him part of his stock company. Nance had roles in every Lynch feature except "The Elephant Man" (1980), though the director fought unsuccessfully for him in the title role. (John Hurt would eventually win that honor.)

In addition to his roles in the Lynch movies "Dune" (1985), "Blue Velvet", "Wild at Heart" (1990) and "Lost Highway" (1997, released after his death), Nance was a regular in Lynch's cult mystery soap "Twin Peaks" (ABC, 1990-91) as Pete Martell, the fish-loving husband of Piper Laurie. He appeared on TV in several guest shots and telefilms and had done character work in a number of features including two helmed by Dennis Hopper ("Colors" 1988; "The Hot Spot" 1990). He had also completed "Joyride" (1997) which had not been released at the time of his death.

In a final twist worthy of Nance's weird life, the circumstances surrounding his death were questionable, and the LAPD case remains open. Whether his demise was a result of blows suffered in a brawl outside Winchell's Donut House the night before he died or from a drunken fall, may never be known for sure, but the autopsy revealed a blood alcohol level of .24 at the time of his death, not to mention a ravaged liver. To those who would characterize Jack Nance's death as "Lynchian", the man whose name inspired the term can only scoff, "Oh, that's baloney. It's really Nanceian."


Catherine Coulson

first wife divorced appeared as the "Log Lady" in "Twin Peaks"

Kelly-Jean Dyke

second wife married June 21, 1991 in Lake Tahoe, Nevada committed suicide on November 17, 1991 daughter of actor Jerry Van Dyke and niece of actor Dick Van Dyke according to Nance, was four-months pregnant at the time of her death

Hoyt Nance

worked at Neiman Marcus survived him

Agnes Nance

survived him

Richard Nance

younger survived him


North Texas State University

Denton , Texas
studied with Paul Baker, founder of Dallas Theater Center; dropped out and moved to California to study acting



Was subject of the film documentary "I Don't Know Jack"


Completed "Joyride", unreleased at time of death


Filmed final role, Phil the mechanic, in Lynch's "Lost Highway", released after his death


Rare feature lead in "Meatballs 4"


Appeared in Lynch's "Wild at Heart"


Was a regular on David Lynch's TV series "Twin Peaks"


TV-movie debut, "Tricks of the Trade" (CBS)


Appeared in Lynch's "Blue Velvet"


Played, in own words, a "doormat" in Lynch's "Dune"


Returned to films with a supporting role in Wim Wenders' "Hammett", produced by Coppola


Met writer-director David Lynch; began work on Lynch's student film, "Eraserhead" (released 1977), their first collaboration


Feature acting debut, "Jump", a racing pic

Starred in radical West Coast stage hit, "Tom Paine" in the late 1960s; director David Lindemann would actually introduce Nance to David Lynch when he was casting "Eraserhead"

Began associating with Francis Ford Coppola in San Francisco

Raised in Texas

Moved back to Los Angeles

Began acting career at the Dallas Theater Center; toured doing childrens' theater

Moved to Los Angeles; relocated to San Francisco and performed with the American Conservatory Theater; met first wife Catherine Coulson while performing in a stage adaptation of Kafka's Amerika at SFSU; she was a student, he a guest artist

At time of death, working on autobiographical screenplay "A Derelict on All Fours"

Suffered a heart attack; friends reported a history of heart problems

Bonus Trivia


Many sources say he worked at Pasadena Playhouse, but PREMIERE (August 1997) says when he arrived in Pasadena, the Playhouse had shut down; he relocated to San Francisco


"He was the most eccentric and entertaining man I've ever met." --friend and former agent Carmella Gallien quoted in THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, January 3, 1997


"I've known Jack for 25 years. Every one of us is unique and individual, but I've never met anyone as individual as Jack. He was a one of a kind. I used him in every film I made except 'Elephant Man'. He told the best stories I've ever heard, and he had a great, dry and absurd wit. He didn't care about money and he loved acting." --director David Lynch quoted in THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, January 3, 1997


"...For the central character, Henry Spencer (a befuddled nebbish in an ill-fitting suit, a crammed plastic penholder clipped to his front pocket), he was lucky enough to meet John Nance, an actor whom everyone called Jack. Jack had done theater work in San Francisco, knew Francis Ford Coppola when the latter was still based there, and had recently come to L.A. to look for film work. Apart from some small parts in AIP programmers, 'Eraserhead' was his first movie. [His second would be Wim Wenders's 'Hammett', produced by Coppola.] 'He's a strange guy and doesn't go out looking for work," writer-director David Lynch told one interviewer. 'If you wanted him for a film, you'd have to go get him and dust him off.'" --From From "Midnight Movies" by J Hoberman and Jonathan Rosenbaum (NY: Harper & Row, 1983)


"Considering Nance to be the equal of actors like John Gielgud, Anthony Hopkins, and John Hurt [once he'd directed all three in "The Elephant Man"], Lynch first had him get his hair cut so that it stood out like the electrified pompadour sported by the Bride of Frankenstein. [In CAHIERS DU CINEMA, French critic Charles Tesson would later refer to Henry as the spitting image of Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein.] Shooting starting on May 29, 1972; little did Nance realize at the time that he would have to keep getting his hair styled for years to come as the film dragged on. Eventually he took to wearing a little hat to conceal his affliction. 'Making a film with you, Lynch, is one frame at a time,' he was prone to mutter at certain moments in the middle of the night. Nance had to become Henry, even down to wearing Henry's slippers when he went home after shooting. . . ." --From "Midnight Movies" by J Hoberman and Jonathan Rosenbaum (NY: Harper & Row, 1983)