The actor Anne Heche has been declared brain-dead at the age of 53, her family confirmed earlier today. “Today we lost a bright light, a kind and most joyful soul, a loving mother, and a loyal friend,” read a statement shared with multiple outlets on behalf of Heche’s family and friends. “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.” While Heche is now legally dead in the state of California, she remains on life support while her family awaits news of potential matches for organ donations.
The news comes after Heche was involved in a devastating car crash on 5 August, driving into a home in the Mar Vista neighbourhood of Los Angeles and causing a fire that took emergency services more than an hour to extinguish. The owner of the home suffered only minor injuries, but the building was rendered uninhabitable by the fire and the majority of her possessions destroyed. Immediately following the crash, Heche was reportedly conscious and able to communicate, but her condition soon deteriorated. By 8 August, she had slipped into a coma.
Earlier this week, a representative for Heche described her as being in a critical condition. “She has a significant pulmonary injury requiring mechanical ventilation and burns that require surgical intervention,” they explained. A warrant was obtained by the Los Angeles Police Department for a blood sample taken on the day of the crash as a result of Heche’s erratic driving, and on Wednesday, an officer confirmed that the blood work had revealed the presence of narcotics. On 11 August, Heche’s family released a statement saying that she was unlikely to survive and that they were in the process of determining whether any of her organs could be donated before making the difficult decision to remove her from life support.
Heche was born in 1969 in Aurora, Ohio, the youngest of five children. She had a troubled upbringing, which she described with candour in her 2001 memoir Call Me Crazy. The family was poor and moved regularly, and at the age of 13, Heche’s father died of AIDS, which she believed he contracted from a male partner. Heche has also described the extensive sexual abuse she suffered at her father’s hands, having been raped from an early age and contracting genital herpes as a result. After her brother, Nathan, was killed in a car crash at 18, Heche’s family moved to Chicago, where Heche was spotted by an agent in a school play. She subsequently auditioned for a role on the daytime soap opera Another World in New York, leaping at the opportunity to escape her difficult home life with her mother.
After receiving a Daytime Emmy for her role in Another World, Heche began to move into the world of independent film. In 1996, memorable roles opposite Cher in the celebrated HBO abortion drama If These Walls Could Talk and Catherine Keener in the cult indie Walking And Talking led to her most high-profile role yet, in the 1997 crime drama Donnie Brasco; later that year she also appeared in films including Volcano, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and Wag the Dog. In 1998, Heche had a series of leading roles in studio films: opposite Harrison Ford in the romantic drama Six Days, Seven Nights; opposite Vince Vaughn in the thriller Return to Paradise; and playing the iconic role of Marion Crane in Gus Van Sant’s controversial shot-for-shot remake of Psycho.
In 1997, Heche went public with her relationship with Ellen DeGeneres, leading to heavy tabloid coverage around both their three-year romance and eventual break-up in 2000. (Heche later suggested that the relationship negatively impacted her career, with senior figures in Hollywood telling her that she was no longer credible as a romantic interest as a result.) Shortly after the break-up became public, Heche suffered a highly publicised psychotic break, driving to Fresno and walking into a stranger’s ranch home; after being briefly admitted to a psychiatric unit, she became more open about her previous struggles with mental health, with Call Me Crazy describing them as the result of the sexual abuse she endured as a child.
In the 2000s, Heche returned to independent film, appearing in the big-screen adaptation of the Elizabeth Wurtzel memoir Prozac Nation and with Nicole Kidman in Jonathan Glazer’s Birth. Other well-received roles during this period came on stage, as the lead in David Auburn’s Proof on Broadway; on film, in the indie comedy Spread opposite Ashton Kutcher; and on television, costarring in the HBO comedy-drama Hung. Heche continued to work consistently over the last decade, earning particular acclaim for her performance as Jeffrey Dahmer’s mother in the 2017 Hulu film My Friend Dahmer.
Heche is survived by her two children, Homer and Atlas. (Homer was born in 2002 with Heche’s ex-husband – Coley Laffoon, whom she married in 2001 and divorced in 2009 – while Atlas was born in 2009 with her ex-partner James Tupper, whom she dated from 2009 and 2018.) In a statement shared with People today, Homer paid tribute to his mother and her legacy. “My brother Atlas and I lost our mom,” he said. “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.”