Anne Heche: Star of the small and silver screen

·5-min read
American actor Heche  (20th Century Fox)
American actor Heche (20th Century Fox)

Anne Heche, who has died aged 53 following a car crash, was an American actor who swapped daytime soap opera for Hollywood films.

After several supporting roles alongside stars such as Johnny Depp, her big breakthrough came in the 1998 movie Six Days Seven Nights with Harrison Ford. She starred as a Tina Brown-style New York magazine editor marooned on a desert island with a gruff pilot after his small plane crashes.

Passion was not on the cards once he saw her engagement ring, so the result never had the electricity captured between Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr in Heaven Knows, Mr Allison or Burt Lancaster and Kerr in From Here to Eternity, but Heche brought a charm to the screen that might have promised a glittering future in film.

But, in 1997, just a day after being cast in Six Days Seven Nights, Heche went public over her relationship with TV star Ellen DeGeneres when they arrived hand-in-hand at the premiere of the disaster movie Volcano, in which she played a seismologist.

This action – followed by an official declaration of their love for one another on The Oprah Winfrey Show – triggered its own earthquake, with an explosion of newspaper headlines.

Heche later said that the revelation of her same-sex relationship hampered her career and Hollywood turned its back on her. Most of her subsequent acting parts were away from the big studios, in independent films or television series.

She enjoyed her best role in the sitcom Men in Trees (2006-8), starring as Marin Frist, a New York author and relationship coach whose been cheated on by her husband and finds a string of available men after moving to a small Alaskan town.

Heche and DeGeneres, a stand-up comedian and star of her own internationally popular sitcom Ellen, had met at an Oscars party just weeks before the premiere of Volcano.

“I saw the most ravishing woman I had ever seen in my life standing across the room,” recalled Heche, who described falling for another woman as “uncharted territory”.

But the couple split up in 2000 and, following a brief relationship with Alexandra Hedison, an actor and photographer who later married Jodie Foster, Heche was linked with a string of men.

Heche with Tommy Lee Jones in ‘Volcano’ (Getty)
Heche with Tommy Lee Jones in ‘Volcano’ (Getty)

Her 2001 marriage to Coleman Laffoon, who ironically had shot some of a documentary she directed about DeGeneres on a stand-up tour, ended in divorce in 2009, two years after she began an 11-year relationship with James Tupper, her Men in Trees co-star.

Heche’s demons ran deep and, in her 2001 autobiography, Call Me Crazy, the actor, born Anne Celeste Heche in Aurora, Ohio, in 1969, to Christian fundamentalists – Nancy (nee Prickett) and Donald Heche, a choir director and unsuccessful entrepreneur – claimed that her father had sexually abused as a child.

Anne, the youngest of five children, was 13 when his death from Aids was followed by the revelation that he had been having homosexual affairs.

The family had already experienced tragedy, when the eldest child, Cynthia, died in infancy. When, three months after her father’s death, Anne’s brother Nathan died when his car crashed into a tree, she believed it was suicide rather than an accident. Later, in 2006, her surviving elder sister, Susan, died of a brain tumour.

Heche with DeGeneres at the Emmys in 1998 (AFP/Getty)
Heche with DeGeneres at the Emmys in 1998 (AFP/Getty)

The actor’s decision to come out also led to estrangement from her mother, who described it as “like a betrayal of an unspoken vow”, adding: “We will never have anything to do with homosexuals.”

Following her split from DeGeneres, Heche experienced a breakdown. She walked over a mile through a ploughed cotton field wearing just a bra and shorts having taken ecstasy, knocked on the door of a ranch house and declared herself to be God, offering to take everyone to heaven in her spaceship.

Nevertheless, she rebuilt her acting career, which had begun with a four-year run (1987-91) in the soap opera Another World in the dual roles of Vicky Hudson and her evil twin sister, Marley Love, winning her a 1991 Daytime Emmy Award.

A string of one-off roles in TV series such as Murphy Brown (1991) and The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles (1993) led her into feature films.

Heche at an awards ceremony in Beverly Hills in March earlier this year (Getty)
Heche at an awards ceremony in Beverly Hills in March earlier this year (Getty)

She played Laura, the best friend whose impending marriage brings anxiety to Catherine Keener’s unlucky-in-love Amelia, in the romantic comedy Walking and Talking (1996); the tough-as-nails wife of Johnny Depp’s undercover FBI agent in the crime drama Donnie Brasco (1997); and a White House aide in the political satire Wag the Dog (1997), alongside Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro.

Heche also appeared in the director Gus Van Sant’s 1998 pointless “shot by shot” remake of the Hitchcock film Psycho, playing Marion Crane, famously stabbed in the shower scene by Norman Bates (with Vince Vaughn taking the part originally played by Anthony Perkins). For research, Heche bought a video of the 1960 original, with Janet Leigh in her role.

Her later films were unremarkable but, as she recovered from her breakdown and came back from what she described as being “blacklisted” by Hollywood, Heche re-established her television career and became one of the medium’s most prolific stars.

As well as recurring parts in various American series, she played a drug-addicted mother in the 2004 TV movie Gracie’s Choice, a performance that earned her an Emmy nomination.

There were also other starring roles, as Beth Harper, the sinner-turned-repenter claiming a direct line to God, in the sitcom Save Me (2013); Lynn Monahan, boss and lover of Jason Isaacs’s FBI agent, in Dig (2015); Karen Copeland, a US Air Force pilot, in the apocalyptic drama Aftermath (2016); and Patricia Campbell, leading a covert operations team, in The Brave (2017-18).

The actor was hospitalised on 5 August when her car crashed into an apartment block’s garage, then into a house. After a week spent in a coma, she was declared legally dead under California law on 12 August, with life support withdrawn two days later.

Heche is survived by her sons, Homer, from her marriage to Laffoon, and Atlas, from her relationship with Tupper, as well as her mother and sister Abigail.

Anne Heche, actor, born 25 May 1969, died 14 August 2022