Actress Anne Heche dies at 53 from injuries sustained in car crash
LOS ANGELES — Anne Heche, the Emmy- and Tony-nominated actress whose work in “Six Days Seven Nights,” “Another World” and dozens of other projects dovetailed with a groundbreaking romance with Ellen DeGeneres that challenged homophobia in Hollywood, has died. She was 53.
Her son Homer confirmed her death in a statement to the Los Angeles Times on Friday.
“My brother Atlas and I lost our Mom. After six days of almost unbelievable emotional swings, I am left with a deep, wordless sadness,” he wrote. “Hopefully my mom is free from pain and beginning to explore what I like to imagine as her eternal freedom.
“Over those six days, thousands of friends, family, and fans made their hearts known to me. I am grateful for their love, as I am for the support of my Dad, Coley, and my stepmom Alexi who continue to be my rock during this time. Rest In Peace Mom, I love you, Homer.”
Heche was removed from life support after being hospitalized after crashing her car into a Mar Vista home, which then caught on fire. After the Aug. 5 crash, Heche was rushed to a Los Angeles hospital in critical condition. She was declared brain dead Thursday night but was kept on life support for possible organ donation.
She suffered significant burns in the crash. On Thursday, a spokesperson for the Los Angeles Police Department confirmed that a blood test showed Heche was under the influence of narcotics at the time, and another law enforcement source told the Times that Heche’s initial blood test showed cocaine in her system.
Before Heche died, the LAPD was planning to administer a second blood test to rule out hospital treatments as the reason for narcotics showing up in her initial screen. Shortly after the crash, Heche fell into a coma with a major injury that required her to be put on mechanical ventilation, her spokesperson said.
By Thursday night, it was clear that Heche would not survive. A statement on behalf of her family and friends said the actor had suffered “a severe anoxic brain injury” and would be kept on life support to determine whether any of her organs were viable for donation, as had long been her wish.
“Anne had a huge heart and touched everyone she met with her generous spirit,” the statement said. “More than her extraordinary talent, she saw spreading kindness and joy as her life’s work — especially moving the needle for acceptance of who you love. She will be remembered for her courageous honesty and dearly missed for her light.”
Throughout her decadeslong career, Heche delivered nearly 100 performances on TV, stage and film. In the late 1980s, she got her big break with a dual role on the long-running NBC soap opera “Another World.” By 1991, she won a Daytime Emmy for her acclaimed work as Vicky Hudson and Marley Love on the show.
After rising to prominence on the daytime TV circuit, Heche made the leap to the big screen, where she starred in high-profile films including “Donnie Brasco” (1997), “Volcano” (1997), “I Know What You Did Last Summer” (1997), “Six Days Seven Nights” (1998), “Return to Paradise” (1998) and “John Q” (2002).
Her professional life took a turn, however, when she began publicly dating DeGeneres, who had just come out as gay on her hit sitcom and in real life. Both performers endured major career setbacks as a result of being open about their sexuality at a time when that was much less accepted.
In a 1998 interview with the Times, Heche accused Fox of refusing to hire her after she and DeGeneres made their relationship official around the time the studio’s “Volcano” debuted — and tanked — at the box office.
“They still have this bitterness about the timing of my falling in love with Ellen and the opening of ‘Volcano,’ ” Heche told the Times.
“I have my own opinions about why that movie didn’t do well, as anybody with half a brain would, but they want to blame it on somebody. I won’t say doors are shut for me. I know there are studios that will hire me (laughing).”
On Friday, DeGeneres tweeted her support for her former partner.
“This is a sad day,” DeGeneres tweeted. “I’m sending Anne’s children, family and friends all of my love.”
Heche was born May 25, 1969, in Aurora, Ohio. During her childhood, Heche and her family moved often when her father, a choir director, pursued different gigs. At 12 years old, she worked with her mother at a dinner theater in Swainton, New Jersey, then eventually moved with her family to Chicago.
In the Windy City came her big break. A talent scout invited a 16-year-old Heche to audition for CBS’ “As the World Turns.” However, before she could take on that daytime drama, her mother insisted that she finish her high school education. After graduating in 1987, Heche debuted as Vicky Hudson and Marley Love in NBC’s “Another World.”
“I think everything in my childhood led me to being an actress,” she told Larry King in 2001. “I not only wanted to leave the planet, I wanted to be anything other than who I was. And so did my family.”
In 1991, Heche earned her first Daytime Emmy for her work in the NBC soap and soon made her film debut. Throughout the ’90s, she appeared in “An Ambush of Ghosts,” “The Adventures of Huck Finn,” “I’ll Do Anything” and others. She eventually became a screen staple, acting alongside Cher, Demi Moore and Alec Baldwin. In 1996, she appeared in Nicole Holofcener’s Sundance film “Walking and Talking,” then in Mike Newell’s “Donnie Brasco” with Johnny Depp a year later. She also shared the screen with Tommy Lee Jones in “Volcano.”
Heche met DeGeneres in March 1997 at the Vanity Fair Oscar party. The two went public with their relationship on an episode of “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” shortly after Heche joined the cast for “Six Days Seven Nights.”
“I don’t think it was immediately a sexual attraction,” Heche told Winfrey about meeting DeGeneres. “I just think it was, ‘Wow, you are just the most incredible person I’ve ever met and I want to be with you.’”
The women ended their relationship in August 2000. A day after the breakup, Heche made headlines when she dropped by a stranger’s home in Fresno and claimed that God “was going to take everyone back to heaven in a spaceship.”
In the early aughts, she scaled back her time in the mainstream spotlight, instead opting for roles in indie films and TV series such as “Ally McBeal,” “Prozac Nation” and “Gracie’s Choice.” In 2001, Heche released her memoir, “Call Me Crazy.” In it, she alleged that her father, who was gay and died of AIDS in 1983, abused her when she was young. She previously told the Times that she intended for her autobiography to help others.
“It’s who I am. I hope the fact that I talk about these things in my life might help other people find peace in their own conflicts,” she told the Times in 2004. “People are curious about it, but I think it will become less and less, and hopefully I’ll have more and more topics to add on so that there won’t always be questions about the last seven years of my life.”
In September 2001, Heche married Coleman Laffoon, a cameraman whom she had hired in 2000 to film a documentary about DeGeneres. The next year was a busy one as Heche gave birth to their son, Homer, and made her Broadway debut in a production of “Proof.”
In 2004, she earned a Primetime Emmy Award nomination for her work in “Gracie’s Choice” and a Tony nomination for her work in a Broadway production of the play “Twentieth Century,” where she starred opposite Alec Baldwin. That year also saw Heche appear in films “Sexual Life” and “Birth.”
In 2007, Heche filed for divorce from Laffoon and began dating her “Men in Trees” co-star James Tupper. In December 2008, she gave birth to her second child, Atlas. From 2009 to 2011, Heche starred in HBO’s “Hung.” She also had a recurring arc as Susan Rodriguez-Jones in “The Michael J. Fox Show” from 2013 to 2014. Her additional television credits throughout the ’10s were “The Legend of Korra,” “Dig” and “Aftermath.”
Heche revisited Broadway in 2016 with Topher Grace in “Opening Night.” She also starred with Sandra Oh in the indie film “Catfight.”
“Oh and Heche are great here, giving performances entirely lacking in vanity and self-consciousness,” the Times’ “Catfight” review said. “They aren’t afraid to get ugly, both in their treatment of everyone around them as well as in their post-brawl bruises, which makes them that much funnier.”
“I created characters out of the funniness of life,” Heche told the Times in 2010, speaking about her process. “And I also loved physical comedy, not over the top, but born of what I thought was true in life, fumbling over the journey through life, which is so complicated and painful.”
In 2017, Heche appeared in the film’ “My Friend Dahmer” and took up a lead role for the NBC series “The Brave.” In 2018, she and Tupper split. In 2020 she was a contestant on the 29th season of “Dancing With the Stars,” being voted off third among the contestants. In the same year, she took up a recurring role on the CBS legal drama “All Rise.”
In recent years Heche continued to keep busy, launching the “Better Together with Anne & Heater” podcast with co-host Heather Duff in 2020. In June 2022, she also landed a starring role in Lifetime’s upcoming film “Girl in Room 13,” directed by Elisabeth Rohm. As of Thursday, the film was still on track for its September release.
Heche is survived by her sons Homer and Atlas.
(Times staff writer Richard Winton contributed to this report.)