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Anne Heche, star with troubled life, dies of crash injuries

Anne Heche arrives at the 74th annual Directors Guild of America Awards on March 12, 2022, in Beverly Hills, Calif.Jordan Strauss/Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP

LOS ANGELES — Anne Heche, the Emmy-winning actor whose dramatic Hollywood rise in the 1990s and accomplished career contrasted with personal chapters of turmoil, died of injuries Sunday from a fiery car crash. She was 53.

Ms. Heche had been on life support at a Los Angeles burn center after suffering a “severe anoxic brain injury,” caused by a lack of oxygen, when her car crashed into a home Aug. 5, according to a statement released Thursday by a representative on behalf of her family and friends.

She was declared brain-dead Friday but was kept on life support in case her organs could be donated, an assessment that took nine days. Most organ transplants are done after such a determination.

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A native of Ohio whose family moved around the country, Ms. Heche endured an abusive and tragic childhood, one that helped push her into acting as a way of escaping her own life. She showed enough early promise to be offered professional work in high school and first came to prominence on the NBC soap opera “Another World” from 1987 to 1991, winning a Daytime Emmy Award for the role of twins Marley and Vicky Hudson, who on the show sustained injuries that anticipated Ms. Heche’s: Vicky falls into a coma for months after a car crash.

By the late 1990s, Ms. Heche was one of the hottest actors in Hollywood, a constant on magazine covers and in big-budget films. In 1997 alone, she played opposite Johnny Depp as his wife in “Donnie Brasco” and Tommy Lee Jones in “Volcano” and was part of the ensemble cast in the original “I Know What You Did Last Summer.”

Ms. Heche and Harrison Ford embraced at the premiere of their film, "Six Days, Seven Nights" in the Westwood section of Los Angeles on June 8, 1998.CHRIS PIZZELLO/Associated Press

The following year, she starred with Harrison Ford in “Six Days, Seven Nights” and appeared with Vince Vaughn and Joaquin Phoenix in “Return to Paradise.” She also played one of cinema’s most famous murder victims, Marion Crane of “Psycho,” in Gus Van Sant’s remake of the Alfred Hitchcock classic, and co-starred in the indie favorite “Walking and Talking.”

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Around the same time, her personal life led to even greater notoriety and both personal and professional upheaval. She met Ellen DeGeneres at a the 1997 Vanity Fair Oscar party, fell in love and began a three-year relationship that made one of Hollywood’s first openly gay couples. But Ms. Heche later said her career was damaged by an industry wary of casting her in leading roles. She would remember advisers opposing her decision to have DeGeneres accompany her to the premiere of “Volcano.”

“We were tapped on the shoulder, put into her limo in the third act and told that we couldn’t have pictures of us taken at the press junket,” Ms. Heche said in 2018 on the podcast Irish Goodbye.

After she and DeGeneres parted, Ms. Heche had a public breakdown and would speak candidly of her mental health struggles.

Ellen DeGeneres (left) and Ms. Heche arrived at the 55th Annual Golden Globe Awards in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Jan. 18, 1998.Mark J. Terill/Associated Press

Ms. Heche’s delicately elfin look belied her strength on screen. When she won the National Board of Review’s 1997 best supporting actress award, the board cited the one-two punch of “Donnie Brasco” and the political satire “Wag the Dog,” in which she portrayed a cynical White House aide and held her own against film great Robert De Niro.

She also called effectively on her apparent fragility. In 2002 she starred on Broadway in the play “Proof” as a woman fearful of losing her sanity just like her father, a brilliant mathematics professor. An Associated Press review praised her “touching performance, vulnerable yet funny, particularly when Catherine mocks the suspicions about her mental stability.”

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In the fall of 2000, soon after her break-up with DeGeneres, Ms. Heche was hospitalized after knocking on the door of a stranger in a rural area near Fresno, Calif. Authorities said she had appeared shaken and disoriented and spoke incoherently to the residents.

In a memoir released the following year, “Call Me Crazy,” Ms. Heche talked about her lifelong battles. During a 2001 interview with TV journalist Barbara Walters, Ms. Heche recounted in painful detail alleged sexual abuse by her father, Donald Heche, who professed to be devoutly religious and died in 1983 from complications of AIDS. Ms. Heche described her suffering as so extreme she developed a separate personality and imagined herself descended from another planet.

In the final days of his life, Ms. Heche said, she learned he was secretly gay and that she believed his inability to live honestly fueled his anger and hurtful behavior. Not long after her father died, her brother Nathan — one of her four siblings — was killed in a car crash.

“I’m not crazy. But it’s a crazy life. I was raised in a crazy family and it took 31 years to get the crazy out of me,” Ms. Heche told Walters. In an effort to escape the past, “I drank. I smoked. I did drugs. I had sex with people. I did anything I could to get the shame out of my life.”

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Ms. Heche dated Steve Martin in the 1990s, and is widely believed to have inspired the childlike, but ambitious aspiring actor played by Heather Graham in his Hollywood spoof “Bowfinger.” She later had a son with camera operator Coleman Laffoon, to whom she was married from 2001 to 2009. She had another son during a relationship with actor James Tupper, her co-star on the TV series “Men In Trees.”

Ms. Heche worked consistently in smaller films, on Broadway and on TV shows in the past two decades. She recently had recurring roles on the network series “Chicago P.D.” and “All Rise,” and in 2020 was a contestant on “Dancing With the Stars.”