Obituary for Anne Heche

Anne Heche began acting as a teenager, but despite her successes on television, film and stage, her career has been marred by a life of tragedy and controversy. Heche, who died in a car accident at the age of 53, rose to fame in the late 1990s as the girlfriend of Ellen DeGeneres, then the star of a hit TV comedy series.

Heche later blamed the publicity surrounding their relationship for hindering her career and said Hollywood was not ready for a lesbian star in pure love interest roles. That was her first leading role; in Six Days, Seven Nights (1998), Stranded on a Deserted Island with Harrison Ford. After a string of roles in the previous year, including in Volcano and I Know What You Did Last Summer, and critical success in films such as Donnie Brasco and Wag the Dog, Heche was made public shortly before her relationship with DeGeneres was cast for the film.

They separated in 2000 and a year later, after marrying Coleman Laffoon, a cinematographer who had worked on DeGeneres’ standup tour, Heche released her memoir, Call Me Crazy, detailing how she fell from her Father was abused from childhood to old age of 12. She said the abuse had “driven her insane for 31 years”.

Anne was born in Aurora, Ohio, the youngest of five children of Donald Heche, a choirmaster in fundamentalist churches, and his wife Nancy (née Prickett), who Anne described as “uncanny docile.” The first born child, Cynthia, died in infancy. The family moved eleven times during Anne’s childhood, often subsisting on the charity of church members. At the age of 12, Anne began working at a supper theater in Ocean City, New Jersey. She was the family’s main breadwinner for a time.

Anne Heche with Tommy Lee Jones in Vulkan, 1997.Anne Heche with Tommy Lee Jones in Volcano, 1997. Photo: 20th Century Fox/Allstar

When she was 13, her father died of AIDS; Heche believed his covert homosexuality was part of his life as a sexual predator. Three months after Donald’s death, Heche’s brother, Nathan, died when his car crashed into a tree. Although his death was ruled an accident, Heche thought Nathan had taken his own life, unable to carry his father’s legacy.

Nancy Heche moved her family to Chicago, where she became a Christian therapist and motivational speaker, working to “overcome” the sin of homosexuality. Anne studied at the progressive Francis Parker School in Chicago and was spotted by an agent in a school play when she was 16. After an audition, she was offered a role on the long-running daytime soap opera As the World Turns; but she refused as her mother insisted that she finish school first.

Shortly before graduating, Heche was offered a dual role on the soap opera Another World. Her mother said no again, but Heche, now 18, went to New York and later wrote, “I was spending my time with my mother in a shabby one-bedroom apartment and I was done.”

For the rest of her adult life, she would become estranged from her mother and older sister Susan, who died of brain cancer in 2006. Heche reconciled with her remaining sister, Abigail.

Anne Heche in a scene from Donnie Brasco, 1997.Anne Heche in a scene from Donnie Brasco, 1997. Photo: Mandalay/Baltimore/Kobal/Shutterstock

Heche’s portrayal of Vicky Hudson and Marley Love in Another World earned her a Daytime Emmy Award in 1991; She transitioned to guest roles in television shows and television films. Her first feature film was The Adventures of Huck Finn (1993), and in 1995 she played Joan Chen’s lover in the direct video Wild Side, which writer-director Donald Cammell committed suicide shortly after seeing the edited release version producers. Heche received good reviews for a supporting role in the Indy film Walking and Talking (1996) with Catherine Keener and in 1997 for the role of Johnny Depp’s wife in Donnie Brasco.

The same year as Six Days, Seven Nights, she starred opposite Vince Vaughn in Return to Paradise and took on the Janet Leigh role of Marion Crane in Gus Van Sant’s shot-for-shot remake of Hitchcock’s Psycho, starring Vaughn as Norman Bates, the kills her in the shower. Heche was a would-be saint opposite Ed Harris in Agnieszka Holland’s The Third Miracle (1999).

Anne Heche as Marion Crane in Gus Van Sant's remake of Psycho, 1998.Anne Heche as Marion Crane in the Gus Van Sant remake of Psycho, 1998. Photo: Portal

Feeling handicapped after her breakup with DeGeneres, Heche appeared on the hit TV show Ally McBeal in 2001, then left Hollywood for Broadway. In 2002, she starred in David Auburn’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play Proof as the daughter of a mathematical genius who fears she inherited both her father’s talent and mental instability. But despite her good remarks, the lead role in the 2005 filming of the play went to Gwyneth Paltrow.

In 2004, she was nominated for a Tony Award in a revival of Twentieth Century opposite Alec Baldwin, was nominated for an Emmy for the television film Gracie’s Choice, and won a Saturn Award for Best Actress in the science fiction television film The Dead Will Tell.

She stayed busy, playing leading roles in TV films and roles in theatrical films, which garnered much attention, most notably as one of two sisters, both ex-wives of a police officer (Woody Harrelson) in the otherwise disappointing Rampart (2011), written by James Ellroy, a Foil for Colin Firth and Emily Blunt in Arthur Newman (2012), with Sandra Oh in the underrated Catfight (2016), which follows an ongoing rivalry between two college classmates, and credited in My Friend Dahmer (2017), as the serial killer’s mother Jeffrey Dahmer.

Anne Heche with Ellen DeGeneres in 1999;  The couple separated the following year.Anne Heche with Ellen DeGeneres in 1999; The couple separated the following year. Photo: Graham Whitby Boot/Sportsphoto Ltd/Allstar

In the meantime, she starred in a number of television series. In Men in Trees (2006-08) she was a relationship coach in New York City and ended up in Elmo, Alaska. A mix of familiar tropes, it was notable as Heche began a relationship with her co-star James Tupper; Their son Atlas was born in 2009, the same year that her divorce from Laffoon was finalized. She and Tupper split in 2018.

In Hung (2009-11), Heche played the ex-wife of a downtrodden basketball coach who becomes a gigolo. Save Me (2013) lasted seven episodes; She was a woman whose near-death experience turned her into a pipeline from God. In 2016, she starred in Aftermath as part of a family struggling for post-apocalyptic survival, and in 2017 she was Deputy Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in The Brave, in which she and her control team manipulate agents on the ground.

Her latest film, Wildfire, is due out later this year, based on the hit song and directed by Michael Martin Murphey, as the mother of the girl who gets lost in the snow looking for her pony in the song. She also starred in the TV movie Girl in Room 13, which is set to premiere next month.

After an accident in Los Angeles on August 5 that caught fire in her car, Heche was hospitalized and spent nearly a week in a coma before being pronounced dead on August 12 under California law. Life support was withdrawn two days later.

Heche is survived by her sons, Homer, from her marriage to Laffoon and Atlas.

Anne Celeste Heche, actress, born May 25, 1969; died August 14, 2022