Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Remembering the LGBTQ legacy of Anne Heche

Actress Anne Heche died one week after a car crash which left her critically injured, but she left behind in indelible impact on Hollywood’s attitudes to out LGBTQ stars.

The 53-year-old star of films, TV, the stage, and podcasts was pronounced brain dead by her family six days after being critically injured in a fiery car crash in Los Angeles.

TMZ confirmed the news on Saturday Aug. 12 and published a statement from Heche’s family: “We have lost a bright light, a kind and most joyful soul, a loving mother, and a loyal friend.”

“Anne will be 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.”

Heche’s son Homer and her close friend Nancy Davis, posted tributes to her.

Heche, a rising star of the 1990s, became a household name when she started dating Ellen DeGeneres in 1997. The relationship, which lasted three years, put an end to her career as a leading lady. Heche starred in two romantic starring roles in 1998: opposite Harrison Ford in Six Days, Seven Nights and Vince Vaughn in Return to Paradise. But those films suffered at the box office and Heche was never again offered similar roles due to her high profile female partner. Heche said at the time, “A gay actress has never starred in a romantic comedy before.”

DeGeneres had previously not commented on the car crash or Heche’s condition but has broken her silence with a tweet.

After Heche and DeGeneres split up, Heche went on to have relationships with men, producing two sons, Homer and Atlas. The two first clicked at the ’97 Vanity Fair party, and appeared publicly together for the first time at the premiere for the film Volcano where Heche walked the red carpet with DeGeneres. But the evening did not end well, Heche told a podcast. “And 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. And both [Ellen] and I were fired that week.”

Heche confirmed that she was blacklisted by the industry for the relationship, although she went on to have a varied career and had previously played gay opposite Joan Chen in the 1995 film Wild Side.

While her relationship with DeGeneres was brief, it helped pave the way for LGBTQ couples, and started a discussion about bisexuality that even our own community was reluctant to have. Gay columnist Michael Musto lashed out at Heche for going back to men after her split with DeGeneres, and later wrote an open letter to the actress apologizing for his views.

Some tabloids have theorized that Heche’s life fell apart after her breakup with DeGeneres, and shortly afterwards she did suffer a psychotic break and was found wandering the desert outside of Fresno, knocking on a person’s door while wearing just a bra and shorts, and refusing to leave until they called police.

Of the pivotal place of her relationship with DeGeneres, Heche told the New York Times in 2009: “My love was so all-consuming for a human being who would tell the truth. The impact that has on a child who grew up with such shame about who she was, who her father was, the disease he died of, the hatred my mother had for anything gay. And I got to participate in a loving truthful celebration of the way I thought the world should be. How could that destroy my career? I still can’t wrap my head around it.”

Heche had admitted to struggling with substance use to deal with her mental health issues and her family history which included the loss of three of her four siblings, including the possible suicide of brother Nathan in a car crash moments before his high school graduation. In 2001 Heche wrote in her memoir that her father Donald Heche died of AIDS in 1983 and was a closeted homosexual. She maintained that he sexually abused her until the was 12, a claim that her mother, an emotionally abusive evangelical Christian, denied.

According to TMZ Heche was not under the influence of alcohol when she crashed her car into a home last Friday, despite what appeared to be a vodka bottle in the cup holder. Blood tests revealed she was under the influence of cocaine and possibly fentanyl, according to law enforcement sources.

Actress Emily Bergl, who worked with Heche, wrote a lengthy Facebook post that noted: “I don’t justify many of Anne’s actions, and the people, family and children whom she has hurt so deeply. My heart goes out to [ex-husbands] Coley Laffoon, James Tupper, and her sons Atlas and Homer. But we so rarely investigate the abuse, the gaslighting, the misogyny, the homophobia that drives people to finally take up the ‘crazy’ mantle that’s been placed upon them, and in Anne’s case, I imagine it began when she was being abused as a child.”

Heche was taken off life support on Aug. 14 after being matched with an organ donor. The actress had been declared “legally dead” and on life support awaiting an organ recipient match, which was identified yesterday.

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Queer Forty Staff

Queer Forty writing staff work hard to bring you all the latest articles to help inspire and inform.

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