By Laurence Lerman / New York City
Actress Anne Heche’s talents were apparent from her very first role in 1987. It was dual roles, actually, as good and evil twins Vicky and Marley in the TV soap opera Another World. But as critics and fans noted at the time, the “good” and “evil” characters were more complex, more shaded, than the ones usually seen in daytime dramas. Heche would always add layers to her characters, even the less tricky ones, just to keep things a little off-center, a little more surprising. It’s that aspect of her identity that made last week’s news even more upsetting.
Heche passed away on Sunday, Aug. 14, from injuries she sustained after crashing her car into a home in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Mar Vista nine days earlier. Left in a coma and in “critical condition” following the fiery crash, Heche was declared “legally dead” from a severe brain injury before being taken off life support at Los Angeles’s West Hills Hospital on Sunday.
Heche’s four years as a fan favorite on Another World led to a number of featured and leading roles in the Nineties in such films as the John Grisham-based legal thriller The Jury (1996), the indie rom-com Walking and Talking (1996), the lava-filled disaster epic Volcano (1997), the mob thriller Donnie Brasco (1997), the political satire Way the Dog (1997) and Gus Van Sant’s remake of Hitchcock’s Psycho (1998), where she makes the mistake of taking a shower in the wrong place at the wrong time. Clearly, the actress was on the fast track.
It was in the late Nineties that Heche enjoyed her highest profile in Hollywood. A lively and attractive screen presence, she seemed comfortable in all genres. And even if the films in which she starred were rarely referred to as “Anne Heche movies,” she was able, effective and natural in them.
From the popular horror-mystery franchise launcher I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) to the romantic tropical adventure Seven Days Seven Nights (1998) opposite Harrison Ford, Heche was never a grandstander but rather an assured and poised performer. Even when she appeared in such outlying projects as the bizarre erotic thriller Wild Side (1995) with Christopher Walken and Joan Chen and the made-for-Showtime cult favorite Women in Prison (1994), she was always at ease and seemed like she belonged there.
The grandstanding, if one wants to describe it as that, came in the form of Heche’s personal life and private affairs, which became the stuff of tabloid fascination just as her career was kicking into high gear.
It began when Heche became romantically involved with comedian/TV star Ellen DeGeneres in 1997, a relationship that garnered widespread media coverage.
In 2000, Heche left DeGeneres for Coleman “Coley” Laffoon, a cameraman she met the previous year on DeGeneres’s stand-up comedy tour. They had a son, Homer, in 2002. Five years later Laffoon filed for a divorce, which was finalized in 2009.
Since that time, Heche has spoken openly of the problems she encountered during her relationship with DeGeneres, which Heche said was the first time she had ever been with a woman. (Previously, she was in relationships with comedian/actor Steve Martin and musician Lindsay Buckingham.) The Heche-DeGeneres pairing was one of the highest-profile lesbian relationships of its day.
Notably, Heche announced to the New York Post’s Page Six celebrity gossip column that her “bosses” told her not to take her then-girlfriend DeGeneres to the 1997 Volcano premiere. “I was told if I took Ellen, I would lose my Fox contract,” Heche told Page Six.
Heche didn’t lose her escort for the evening—nor did she lose her contract.
Heche also had a known history of mental problems. Following her separation from DeGeneres in August, 2000, Heche drove from Los Angeles to Cantua Creek, Calif., and clad in only a bra and shorts, knocked on a stranger’s door and asked if she could take a shower. The homeowner didn’t realize that Heche was under the influence of alcohol and drugs and allowed it, but after the actress wouldn’t leave after a half hour, the police were called. The actress later told the deputies that she was “God” and was “going to take everyone back to heaven in a spaceship.”
She continued in that vein over the next couple of years on various televised interviews. In her 2001 memoir Call Me Crazy, she claimed she was “Celestia,” the daughter of God and the half-sister of Jesus Christ (the Ohio-born Heche’s actual middle name is Celeste). She also said that as Celestia, she had had contacts with extraterrestrial life forms.
Most disturbing was Heche’s insistence that she was “insane” for the first 31 years of her life, a state that was triggered by being sexually abused by her father during infancy and childhood. Heche’s estranged mother denied these allegations.
For the 20-plus years following the publication of her memoir, Heche’s career continued to be one of consistence and quality, albeit in projects that were not quite as conspicuous. Her personal life showed signs that she was on a healthier track, led by a long-term relationship with Canadian actor James Tupper, with whom she had a second child, her son Atlas.
In 2002, Heche made her Broadway debut in a production of the Pulitzer Prize-winning drama Proof, followed up by her receiving a Primetime Emmy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in the Lifetime Movie Grace’s Choice. The same year, she acted opposite Alex Baldwin in the Broadway revival of Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s 1932 play Twentieth Century, for which she received a Tony Award nomination for Best Actress.
There were a handful of other well-received films, like the 2011 ensemble comedy-drama Cedar Rapids and the 2017 biographical drama My Friend Dahmer, in addition to more television. Between 2006 and 2022, Heche acted in leading, featured or recurring roles in nearly a dozen TV series, including the critically embraced romantic comedy-drama Men in Trees (2006-08) and audience favorite Chicago P.D. (2018-19). She even hoofed it across the stage in the 29th season of Dancing with the Stars (2020).
Heche was never honored with any of the big show business awards before her demise, though she did pick up a Daytime Emmy and a pair of Soap Opera Digest Awards for Another World. But her record of steady, respectable and at times outstanding work, particularly during what seems to have been some exceptionally fraught years, is a fine accomplishment in a profession filled with potential landmines.
I've always enjoyed watching Anne Heche and with the upcoming release of her remaining projects, the upcoming HBO series The Idol and the big screen action-adventure Supercell, there will at least be a few more pleasures to enjoy.
Laurence Lerman is a film journalist, former editor of Video Business--Variety's DVD trade publication--and husband to The Insider's own Gwen Cooper. Over the course of his career he has conducted one-on-one interviews with just about every major director working today, including Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Clint Eastwood, Kathryn Bigelow, Ridley Scott, Walter Hill, Spike Lee, and Werner Herzog, among numerous others. Once James Cameron specifically requested an interview with Laurence by name, which his wife still likes to brag about. Most recently, he is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of the online review site DiscDish.com.