Jack Nicholson with his then partner, Anjelica Huston, surrounded by two female police officers in 1970

Jack Nicholson turned 80 years old in 2017. He is the icon of postmodern Hollywood, of the interpretation taken to the limit, of the wild life, and of an art achieved by very few: jumping comfortably from commercial products to more intimate and artistic projects. Nicholson also has a section of his curriculum vitae that shows he has no reason to envy Julio Iglesias: the one concerning his sex life.

One of Nicholson’s best anecdotes – and one that is among those least known to the general public – is that at the end of the 1960s he decided to live completely naked for three months. It was, more than a sexual act, a kind of obsession. According to one of his biographies, Five Easy Decades, the actor did not dress to receive producers (Roger Corman is a witness), his family (including his daughters) or journalists who came to his mansion on Mulholland Drive to interview him (thank goodness that Los Angeles is not cold).

He talked about this stage of his life with Rolling Stone magazine in 2006. “I felt it was totally necessary. I’m self-conscious about body image. I don’t have a great body shot. And it was an era of ‘Let’s get free’. I know it drove my oldest daughter insane. I just wanted to be more relaxed within my skin. But it didn’t totally resolve all that, like many experiments you think you’ve concluded on yourself but you haven’t really.”

Nicholson may not have the great body of Warren Beatty, but he had no trouble maintaining one of the most active sex lives in Hollywood. During the 1960s and 70s, his level of conquests rivaled his number of Oscar nominations (five in just seven years) and his addiction to substances (marijuana, cocaine and LSD). “I still love to get high, I’d say, about four days a week. I think that’s about average for an American. Last year on a raft trip I had a little flavour of the season – peach mescaline,” he told People magazine in a 1980 interview. Of course, those were different times.

Actresses, singers and models such as Diane Keaton, Kelly LeBrock (of The Woman in Red ), Candice Bergen, Rachel Ward, Joni Mitchell, Janice Dickinson and Margaret Trudeau (yes, the mother of Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada) are some of his conquests. Anjelica Huston endured 20 years by his side. Kim Basinger, who shot Batman with him (directed by Tim Burton in 1989), described Nicholson as “the most sexual individual I’ve ever met”. Actress Karen Mayo-Chandler recalled her sex life with Nicholson in an interview with Playboy in 1989: “He’s a nonstop sex machine. He’s into fun and games… like spanking, handcuffs, whips and Polaroid pictures…”.

Nicholson’s understanding of sex as something alive, organic and gross came to the set of The Postman Always Rings Twice (directed by Bob Rafelson in 1981), which includes one of the most famous sex scenes in the history of cinema (which Nicholson shares with Jessica Lange in a kitchen). Determined to make this scene realistic, Nicholson insisted that his character should show an erection under his pants. He asked the director, Bob Rafelson, to provide him with a prosthesis, but no-one took him seriously. Rafelson told him “if you’re so red-hot about this, go upstairs and see what you can do there”.  And Nicholson did, walking away from the set while unzipping his pants. Later he realised that this was not going to end well.

The difficulty of getting an erection in public is shocking in an actor who, based on data published by tabloids such as The Sun or The Mirror, has had sex with some 2000 women. According to a report in the US magazine Closer, the actor was honest, admitting that he had everything a man could want, but had not been successful in matters of the heart. As if it were the third act of an erotic comedy of conquests, the hero is seen with an enviable sexual curriculum, but no-one sitting at his side on the porch.