ELEVEN years ago he played an ageing sexist womaniser dating a much younger woman, who ends up finding true love when he is nursed back to health after a heart attack, by his girlfriend’s mother.
In that film, Something’s Gotta Give, actor Jack Nicholson’s character, Harry Sanborn, comes to terms with his feckless chasing of younger females and finds a meaningful connection with a woman more appropriate to his age.
Nicholson received a Golden Globe nomination for his portrayal of the 60-something Sandborn in the romantic comedy, but part of the film’s enjoyment for his fans must surely lie in how the actor’s on screen portrayal of randy charm, mirrors his real-life waywardness.
In the earlier decades, when celebrity tweets did not exist, Nicholson was one of the bad-boy actors who kept us entertained with his partying lifestyle and hopeless Lothario antics, including famously breaking the heart of actress Anjelica Huston, with whom he had his longest relationship.
Now 77, Nicholson is still making headlines; remarks made in his recent interview with US magazine Closer went viral when he declared he would still love “one last romance”.
But rather than this being a bold sexual challenge made with that famous glint in his eye, Nicholson’s confession smacked more of a soulful plea, from an older man struggling with his changing self-identity.
Though he blamed his hell-raising reputation for why women would not be attracted to him, Nicholson’s honest portrayal of his ageing angst surely speaks to all men challenged by their flagging libido and older bodies.
He may still feel “wild at heart” he said: But “what I can’t deny is my yearning. I’m not very realistic about it happening. I’ve struck biogravity. I can’t hit on women in public anymore. I didn’t decide this; it just doesn’t feel right at my age.”
Yes, Nicholson may be a famous actor living in a Californian mansion but more pertinently — because of seeming to have it all — his dilemma becomes even more poignant.
Being in his late 70s he’s also challenging the ageist stereotype that the spark dies as we move on in years.
This stereotype — that older men and women don’t have sexual needs and body esteem issues — is challenged by Dr Leonard Condren, medical editor of irishhealth.com.
“Older people look in the mirror too. They may fear being less attractive to their partner as their hair recedes, the wrinkles increase and the varicose veins start to get bigger,” he says. “Some couples learn to accept these changes and focus on wider aspects of their relationship and can continue to enjoy physical intimacy to an advanced age. Others are less successful at making this transition at a great loss to themselves.”
Nicholson’s yearning for intimacy in his life — or even one last fling — is typical of the older men seen by psychotherapist and author Jed Diamond in is practice.
US-based Diamond, who specialises in male sexuality and intimacy says: “This reflects what I see in 100% of the older men I work with. There are two forces at the centre of our sex and love life from the time our sexuality emerges when we hit puberty until we die.
“One involves the need to procreate — and drives us to find as many attractive females (if we’re heterosexual) as we can bed. The other involves a desire for love, emotional intimacy and deep friendship — and drives us to find that one special someone we can go through life with, and grow old with.”
He says as men age, they generally find they are more interested in love, friendship, and intimacy: “Yes, we still have desires for one more fling, but often we long even more for a lover who knows us deeply and loves us unconditionally.”
However, men like Nicholson who have spent so much of their lives chasing women often haven’t learned to have a deeply intimate relationship, he points out. As a result they often become depressed at the loss of their drive for bedding beautiful women and at the loneliness that invades their lives when they don’t have that deeply satisfying emotional relationship.
Diamond, who is the founder of a health programme called MenAlive, says: “I work with a lot of guys like Jack who’ve been successful in their work and have had more than their share of sexual conquests, but haven’t learned the real skills of emotional intimacy. What I tell them is: ‘It’s never too late to find the love of your life’.”
It’s a hopeful message, but he urges men to access the more emotional, gentle, and “deeply serious” sides of themselves; to start telling the truth to themselves and those who care about them.