Anne Heche’s family mourned the actress’ passing on Friday after she crashed her car into a Los Angeles home in a fiery wreck last week.
“Today we lost a bright light, a kind and most joyful soul, a loving mother, and a loyal friend,” her family said in a statement. “Anne will be deeply missed but she lives on through her beautiful sons, her iconic body of work, and her passionate advocacy. Her bravery for always standing in her truth, spreading her message of love and acceptance, will continue to have a lasting impact.”
A representative told The Daily Beast that Heche had been declared brain dead Thursday night after previously announcing she had suffered a “significant pulmonary injury requiring mechanical ventilation” as well as a “severe anoxic brain injury.” Her body is being kept on life support so that her organs can be donated.
She was 53 years old.
On social media, tributes poured in from the likes of fellow actors Rosanna Arquette, Ed Helms, and director James Gunn.
Rest In Peace now Anne .
— ✌🏼rosanna arquette (@RoArquette) August 12, 2022
Honest to God, I think maybe the best acting performance I’ve ever seen in my life was Anne Heche in PROOF on Broadway. #RIP
— James Gunn (@JamesGunn) August 12, 2022
Robert De Niro, her co-star in the political satire Wag the Dog, said through his representative, “I’m very sad to hear of the tragic passing of Anne Heche. She was a wonderful actress and I enjoyed working with her tremendously in Wag the Dog.”
Heche is survived by two children: Homer Laffoon, 20, and Atlas Heche Tupper, 13.
“My brother Atlas and I lost our Mom,” Homer said in a statement shared with People. “After six days of almost unbelievable emotional swings, I am left with a deep, wordless sadness. Hopefully my mom is free from pain and beginning to explore what I like to imagine as her eternal freedom.”
Born in Aurora, Ohio, in 1969, Heche attended high school in Chicago and got her start playing twins on the long-running soap opera Another World, for which she won a Daytime Emmy in 1991. She then branched out into film, featuring as one of the leads in Nicole Holofcener’s acclaimed indie Walking and Talking; in a scene-stealing cameo as a backwoods spook in the celebrated teen horror flick I Know What You Did Last Summer; as the female lead opposite Johnny Depp in mob drama Donnie Brasco; toplining the blockbuster epic Volcano alongside Tommy Lee Jones; a presidential aide plotting with Dustin Hoffman and De Niro in the critically lauded Wag the Dog; the adventure-romance Six Days, Seven Nights with Harrison Ford; and stepping into shoes once filled by screen siren Janet Leigh as Marion Crane in Gus Van Sant’s notorious shot-for-shot remake of Psycho. She was also a regular in the HBO series Hung, and in 2004 received an Emmy nod for her supporting turn in the Lifetime movie Gracie’s Choice.
Heche struggled with her mental health in the past, detailing her highs and lows in the 2001 memoir Call Me Crazy. In August of 2000, the actress drove to a sparsely populated town four hours north of Los Angeles and, wearing little clothing, parked her car and walked to the home of a stranger, who let her into their abode. She reportedly asked for a pair of slippers and suggested that the two of them watch a movie. The man contacted the authorities after recognizing her from a movie. This troubling episode received a great deal of ugly mockery by the tabloid media, late-night comics, and the public.
In an interview with Larry King a year later, she explained that she protected herself from painful child sexual abuse memories by disappearing into “another world” and creating an alter ego to communicate with God. She said that her father had sexually assaulted her from the age of 12 before passing away from AIDS, calling him “sexually deviant,” which contributed to her mental-health struggles. Heche also had a strained relationship with her mother, Nancy, who pushed dangerous conversion therapy on behalf of the Christian fundamentalist organization Focus on the Family.
The events leading up to Friday’s fateful car accident are still under investigation.
Hours before the crash, Heche visited a hair salon in Los Angeles, where she bought a bright red wig. The salon’s owner, stylist Richard Glass, said she did not appear inebriated at the time. He said she seemed more like “a sweet little girl,” adding that the Emmy winner “grabbed” his face, cuddling it, before they took a selfie for Glass’ Instagram.
Heche’s Mini Cooper was traveling at about 90mph when it crashed into a home on the 1700 block of South Walgrove Avenue in the Mar Vista neighborhood of Los Angeles, according to footage from a neighbor’s doorbell camera. Her car was engulfed in flames, and the woman inside the home escaped with minor injuries. Photos from the scene show first responders carrying Heche out face-down in a stretcher. Before that, TMZ reported that the actress had crashed into a garage at an apartment complex, backed up, and sped off.
Heche married camera operator Coleman “Coley” Laffoon on Sept. 1, 2001. He filed for divorced in February 2007, according to People magazine. The divorce was finalized in 2009. Together they had one son, Homer.
Reports of a romance between Heche and actor James Tupper, who played her love interest in the ABC comedy Men in Trees, began surfacing in 2008. The pair announced their split in 2018.
Heche’s three-year relationship with comedian Ellen DeGeneres, meanwhile, attracted heavy media scrutiny as one of the few out lesbian couples in Hollywood at the time. The pair dated from 1997 to 2001, and the union, and the frenzied tabloid coverage of it, seemed to unfairly overshadow the actress’ on-screen achievements.
“Anne Heche: I’m Ellen’s significant other,” read a Paper magazine headline from February 1998. “Woman in love,” read the cover of Los Angeles magazine a month earlier, “Anne Heche wants it all: Power, fame… and Ellen.”
Their first joint public appearance, at the 1997 premiere for Heche’s movie Volcano, turned heads.
Speaking to the “Irish Goodbye” podcast in 2018, Heche said, “We went to the premiere, 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.”
In an interview with Page Six in October, the actress further explained that the highly scrutinized lesbian romance made her “patient zero in cancel culture.”
“I didn’t do a studio picture for 10 years. I was fired from a $10 million picture deal and did not see the light of day in a studio picture," she said.
She recalled feeling like the studio behind the 1998 romantic comedy Six Days, Seven Nights no longer supported her as the lead. She called co-star Harrison Ford her “hero” for standing in solidarity with her “at such a time when the force of what I was standing up for could have been toppled.”
DeGeneres, for her part, has mostly remained quiet about their relationship through the years, though she seems to agree that the public’s reaction to their romance took a toll on them.
“I tried to back out of her life,” the former talk show host told the Tampa Bay Times in May 1998, according to Us Weekly. “I said, ‘I think I’m ruining your career and your life and I don’t think that I’m good for you. I think I should get out of here.’”
Asked about Heche’s condition on Tuesday, DeGeneres simply told a reporter, “We are not in touch with each other, so I would not know,” according to a video posted in the Daily Mail. DeGeneres elaborated on her feelings on Friday after news of Heche’s passing broke, tweeting: “This is a sad day. I’m sending Anne’s children, family and friends all of my love.”