Obituaries: Anne Heche, star whose career was marred by mental health issues

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Once one of Hollywood’s most promising young stars and hailed as one of the most beautiful women in the world, Anne Heche’s film career was blighted by mental health issues, drug addiction and homophobia after that it was revealed that she was in a romantic relationship with the host of a chat show. Ellen Degeneres.

After playing Johnny Depp’s wife in the 1997 crime drama Donnie Brasco, she starred in a remake of Psycho and was cast alongside Harrison Ford in the romantic adventure film Six Days Seven Nights. But Six Days Seven Nights failed to live up to box office hopes following news of his relationship with DeGeneres and a poll showed many people were put off by his casting. Heche and DeGeneres have become celebrity gossip magazine staples during their three years together. But with the relationship over and her career prospects looking uncertain, Heche suffered a nervous breakdown.

Drugged, she showed up at a remote desert ranch wearing only shorts and a bra and asked if she could use the shower. The owner recognized her and called the sheriff’s office. She apparently told deputies she was God and was taken to a mental institution.

Anne Heche attends a 2019 film premiere in New York (Photo: Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images)

She wrote a memoir called Call Me Crazy in which she attributed her problems to her father’s childhood sexual abuse. Her father had died by this time and her mother claimed the book was full of “lies and blasphemies”. His sister Abigail suggested that Heche believed the claims to be true, but that it was a case of false memory syndrome.

Heche’s thought seemed to blur the line between reality and fantasy. She said her perception of herself as a daughter of God and half-sister of Jesus was a conscious fantasy to help her face reality. After breaking up with DeGeneres, she had several subsequent relationships with men and had two children.

After speeding into a Los Angeles home on August 5, she was on life support for several days. The accident started a fire that endangered the life of the occupant and took more than an hour for 59 firefighters to put it out. LAPD officials reported that she had narcotics in her blood and they opened a criminal investigation, which was dropped after her life support was turned off.

The youngest of five children, she was born in the small town of Aurora, Ohio in 1969. Much of Heche’s story is clouded by ambiguity and doubt, until something as fundamental as his father’s work. He said he worked in the oil and gas industry. She said no. Her parents were apparently strict Christians, but she maintained that this was a facade and that she had been repeatedly raped by her father since childhood.

The family struggled financially, moved many times, and often depended on charity from church members. At age 12, Heche was working at a supper theater in New Jersey and was the primary breadwinner.

Her father died when she was 13. She said he had AIDS due to a promiscuous gay lifestyle. She suggested that he raped her because he couldn’t come to terms with her sexuality. “I thought my dad was gay and he had to hide it,” she told an interviewer.

After her father died and her brother died in a car accident, the family moved to Chicago where she was spotted by an agent in a school play. She was still a teenager when she played a dual role in the soap opera Another World, although her mother was opposed to her becoming an actress. She played twins, one good, one bad. She spent four years on the show from 1987 to 1991 and won a Daytime Emmy.

She made her film debut in Disney’s The Adventures of Huck Finn in 1993 and played a major role in Scottish maverick director Donald Cammell’s thriller Wild Side. But it was Donnie Brasco who garnered the most attention and briefly led producers and directors to flock to his door.

She appeared in the disaster film Volcano, the horror film I Know What You Did Last Summer and the political satire Wag the Dog, starring Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffman. And Alfred Hitchcock’s remake of Psycho garnered huge press attention, with indy favorite Gus Van Sant as director and Heche as the hapless motel guest. But critics and audiences were disappointed when it turned out to be almost a shot-for-shot remake.

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News of his relationship with DeGeneres just as Six Days Seven Nights was about to film was groundbreaking, but undoubtedly rocked his career. It apparently took Harrison Ford to keep her on film.

This marked the end of her brief career in leading roles in major Hollywood films and thereafter she worked extensively in independent films – including Prozac Nation, Jonathan Glazer’s quirky drama Birth, starring Nicole Kidman and Lauren Bacall , and Cedar Rapids, and in theater and television, with a recurring role on Ally McBeal. In 2020, she appeared in Dancing with the Stars, the American version of Strictly Come Dancing.

In 2001, she married Coleman Laffoon, a cameraman she met through DeGeneres. The marriage was short-lived and overlapped with her relationship with James Tupper, her co-star in the sitcom Men in Trees. She is survived by one son from each of these relationships.

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