An actress who is known as much -- if not more -- for her offscreen life as for her onscreen performances, Anne Heche had the distinction of being one of Hollywood's most surprising success stories and also one half of its most famous lesbian couple. Heche's hyper-publicized former relationship with actress and comedienne Ellen DeGeneres was particularly notable -- and refreshing -- for its degree of openness, something that made the two women veritable poster children for gay pride in Hollywood and elsewhere.
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Born in the small town of Aurora, OH, on May 25, 1969, Heche was raised as part of a fundamentalist Christian family. Her father, an itinerant choir director, was constantly running from both debt and his immediate family; the former was due to his lack of a steady job and the latter to his secret life as a gay man. Both conditions resulted in a tumultuous childhood for Heche, who began performing in dinner theatre at the age of 12 to help pay her family's bills. Her life changed dramatically when she was 13 and her father died of AIDS, something that revealed his other identity and confounded Heche's entire family. Compounding the tragedy was her brother's death in a car accident just months later; following this double blow, Heche lived with her mother in Chicago and kept acting to help pay the rent. When she was 17, she moved to New York and was cast as identical twins on the long-running soap opera Another World; Heche stayed with the show through 1991, earning a Daytime Emmy Award for her work in the process.
Following her departure from Another World, Heche struggled in obscurity for a few years, turning up on the occasional TV show. Her fortunes began to shift in 1996, when she had her breakthrough film role in Nicole Holofcener's Walking and Talking, a well-received independent that co-starred Heche and Catherine Keener as best friends experiencing various romantic ups and downs. That same year, she had a supporting role as Demi Moore's best friend in The Juror and although the film wasn't particularly successful, it did give Heche greater exposure. Her exposure increased exponentially when, after appearing in Wag the Dog and as Johnny Depp's wife in Mike Newell's highly acclaimed Donnie Brasco in 1997, she made public her relationship with Ellen DeGeneres.
Heche's disclosure came directly against the advice of her agents -- whom she subsequently fired -- and the intense amount of hooplah surrounding it severely compromised her casting opposite Harrison Ford in the romantic comedy Six Days Seven Nights. Fortunately, Ford stood firm on his insistence that Heche star with him in the film and the actress managed to weather the ridiculous skepticism voiced by those who doubted a lesbian actress -- one who had made a career thus far out of portraying blatantly heterosexual women -- could convincingly play Ford's love interest. Although Six Days Seven Nights was savaged by most critics and failed to perform as well as had been expected, Heche earned a number of positive reviews for her performance, as well as a choice position on many Hollywood casting lists.
She went on to give another strong performance as a lawyer in Return to Paradise and then landed the much-sought-after role of Marion Crane in Gus Van Sant's relentlessly publicized 1998 remake of Psycho. The film, which also starred Vince Vaughn as Norman Bates and Julianne Moore as Lila Crane, turned out to be a sizable disappointment, and after starring alongside Ed Harris in the similarly disappointing religious drama The Third Miracle, Heche decided to try her hand at directing. She made her directorial debut with Reaching Normal in 1999 and the following year, wrote and directed a segment of the HBO drama If These Walls Could Talk 2 (2000). Her segment centered on a lesbian couple willing to do anything to have a baby and starred Sharon Stone and DeGeneres. That same year, Heche returned to acting as one of the stars of Auggie Rose, a drama about a man who gets the opportunity to assume a new identity.
While Heche and DeGeneres chose to amicably part ways in 2000, their high-profile relationship left an indelible mark on US culture, helping to usher in an era of increased tolerance toward homosexuals within mainstream America. Along with the much publicized break-up, Heche found herself in the news for another reason that year. Upon having an emotional breakdown, the actress was found on a stranger's doorstep claiming to be Celestia, the daughter of God. However, rather than shy from the controversy, Heche chose to tackle it head-on, documenting the experience in the 2001 autobiography Call Me Crazy. Capping off a rollercoaster period of her personal life, Heche married camera-man Coley Lafoon in September of 2001.
While she had certainly remained in the public eye, it had been a while since audiences had seen much acting from Heche, so it certainly pleased her fans when she assumed a recurring role on the quirky Fox series Ally McBeal. Next up, she could be seen on the big screen in the Denzel Washington thriller John Q and with Nicole Kidman in 2004's Birth.
Heche lent her voice to the 2007 animated fantasy adventure Superman: Doomsday, and took on the lead role of Marin Frist, a relationship expert who finds herself in an isolated Alaskan town following the dissolution of her own marriage in the television series Men in Trees (2007-2008). Though she participated in several moderately successful films in the coming years (The Other Guys, That's What She Said, Rampart), the actress wouldn't find mainstream success until 2011, when she worked with Ed Helms and John C. Reilly in the role of an insurance salesperson in the comedy Cedar Rapids. ~ Rebecca Flint Marx, Rovi