Actress Susan Anspach, who had several acclaimed film roles in the 1970s and 1980s and later had legal and personal disputes with her onetime lover and co-star, actor Jack Nicholson, died Monday at her home in Los Angeles, according to the Washington Post.
The death of his 75-year-old mother was announced by her son, Caleb Goddard. Anspach had an apparent heart ailment.
After making her acting debut on the New York stage, Anspach moved to Hollywood and had a breakthrough role in the 1970 film “Five Easy Pieces,” opposite Nicholson. Two years later, she portrayed Woody Allen’s haranguing ex-wife in “Play It Again, Sam,” delivering some of the comedy’s sharpest lines.
In 1973, Anspach starred in “Blume in Love,” a sophisticated film written and directed by Paul Mazursky, in which she played Nina, the straying wife of a divorce lawyer, played by George Segal. Soon afterward, Anspach’s career slowed down. She had roles in television but did not make another movie until “The Big Fix” with Richard Dreyfuss.
She later starred in the 1981 film “Montenegro” (1981) as the American wife of a Swedish businessman. In the film, she grows bored in her marriage and begins to hang out with a hard-living group of Yugoslav guest workers in Sweden. New York Times critic Vincent Canby praised Anspach as “one of America’s most daring and talented actresses … who has yet to land a film role that shows her off to full advantage.”
“Montenegro” would be her last major film role. She played the wife of Dabney Coleman in “The Slap Maxwell Story,” a sitcom about a sportswriter that was canceled in 1988 after one season, but had few other high-profile parts. Anspach taught acting and had occasional stage and TV roles, but she increasingly turned to Nicholson for financial support, according to press reports.
They had worked together on “Five Easy Pieces,” in which Nicholson played a once-promising classical musician who was working as an oil field roughneck. Anspach portrayed a pianist engaged to the brother of Nicholson’s character.
In the film, they had a steamy love scene, which they apparently re-enacted in an off-screen romance. Anspach later said Nicholson was the father of her son, who was born in 1970. In a 1994 Vanity Fair profile, Nicholson said he had one son, Raymond (with Rebecca Broussard), which prompted Anspach to write to the magazine, saying, “Our son, Caleb, is Jack’s older son and second oldest child.”
Within months, she received a letter from Nicholson’s business manager, asking her to repay more than $600,000 in loans or risk losing her house, on which Nicholson held the mortgage.
“He (Nicholson) is trying to ruin me absolutely,” Anspach told People in 1996. “The only power he finally had over me was to have me sign my house over to him.” She filed for bankruptcy and sued Nicholson for $1 million.
In a deposition, Nicholson said he gave the loans to Anspach because “I’m a humanitarian,” but that the legal proceedings caused him to view her with “mild antipathy.” The dispute was settled out of court, and Anspach kept her home. Nicholson has never publicly acknowledged that he is the father of her son.
Susan Florence Anspach was born Nov. 23, 1942, in Queens, N.Y. Her father worked in a factory. Her mother, the daughter of a Wall Street banker, was disowned by her family for marrying a blue-collar worker. Anspach studied theater at Catholic University in Washington and was the school’s homecoming queen in 1961. She later took classes at the Actors Studio in New York and appeared in off-Broadway productions with Robert Duvall, Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight.
She had small parts on Broadway before landing the lead role in “Hair,” the landmark counter-cultural musical play that featured full nudity. She later revealed that her male co-star in “Hair,” Steve Curry, was the father of her daughter. Both of her children were adopted by her first husband, actor Mark Goddard, whom Anspach later divorced.
She had a long-term romance in the 1970s with musician Robbie Robertson of the Band. Her second marriage, to musician Sherwood Ball, ended in divorce. Survivors include her children, Catherine Goddard and Caleb Goddard; and three grandchildren.