Anne Heche, the Emmy- and Tony-nominated actress who came to prominence in the 1990s in films like Walking and Talking and I Know What You Did Last Summer, has died at the age of 53 after suffering injuries from a car crash. The news was confirmed on August 12 by her family and rep in a statement to People. “Today we lost a bright light, a kind and most joyful soul, a loving mother, and a loyal friend,” the rep 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.”
Born to a large family in Aurora, Ohio, in 1969, Heche had a difficult childhood: Her family dealt with poverty, and her father sexually abused her, which she wrote about in her 2001 memoir, Call Me Crazy. When she was 13, Heche’s father died of HIV/AIDS, and her older brother died later that year in a car crash. Heche’s career began a few years after these tragedies, when she began playing twins on legacy NBC soap-opera Another World, a role which earned Heche her first Daytime Emmy nomination in 1989 and first win in 1991 in the category of Outstanding Younger Actress in a Drama Series.
In 1996, Heche earned acclaim for her starring role opposite Catherine Keener in the Nicole Holofcener indie Walking and Talking, which continues to rank highly on lists of the greatest female-friendship movies to date. The year 1997 was a landmark in Heche’s career, as she starred in four high-profile features: playing Johnny Depp’s wife in the box-office-hit crime drama Donnie Brasco, leading the ensemble in disaster movie Volcano, scene-stealing in iconic teen slasher I Know What You Did Last Summer, and going toe-to-toe with heavyweights Dustin Hoffman and Robert De Niro in Barry Levinson and David Mamet’s political satire Wag the Dog. That same year, Heche began dating Ellen DeGeneres, who had only just publicly come out herself. On April 14, 1997, DeGeneres came out as gay on the cover of Time; the next day, she attended the Volcano premiere as Heche’s date. In 1998, Us Weekly described the celebrity couple as “the ’90s version of Bogey and Bacall.”
Heche starred in two romantic leading roles in 1998: opposite Harrison Ford in Six Days, Seven Nights and Vince Vaughn in Return to Paradise. As she noted at the time, “A gay actress has never starred in a romantic comedy before” (by which she probably meant openly gay). She also had her most divisive part yet reprising Janet Leigh’s role as Marion Crane in Gus Van Sant’s shot-for-shot remake of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. This cemented Heche’s place in film history and garnered both Saturn and Razzie nominations.
Heche’s biggest projects shifted from film to Broadway in the early 2000s with starring roles in Proof and Twentieth Century — the latter earning her a Tony nomination in 2004, the same year that she received her first and only Primetime Emmy nom for the TV movie Gracie’s Choice.
Heche believed that openly being in a same-sex relationship at the height of her Hollywood new-girl fame hampered her film career. Meanwhile, she enjoyed a series of leading roles on television — first on the ABC rom-com-dram Men in Trees, then on HBO’s Hung as Jessica Haxon. While Heche never again enjoyed the blockbuster success of her early career, she had a number of well-received roles — including in the Nicole Kidman drama Birth and starring alongside Ed Helms and John C. Reilly in the 2011 Sundance breakout Cedar Rapids.
On August 5, 2022, Heche crashed her car into a Los Angeles home and sustained burns, pulmonary injuries, and a severe anoxic brain injury. Heche remained in a comatose state until Friday, August 12, and the details of the crash are reportedly under investigation. She had plans to donate her organs. Heche is survived by her two children, Homer and Atlas.