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Jack Nicholson & Cigars

J. Bennett Alexander Alexander's picture

J. Bennett Alexander

If you are a fan of movies, almost any kind of movie made up until 2010, you have probably seen Jack Nicholson act. He was an alcoholic lawyer in Easy Rider (1969), a taciturn concert pianist turned oil rig worker in Five Easy Pieces (1970), a snarky private eye in Chinatown (1974), an “inmate” in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), a disturbed husband in The Shining (1980), a mob hitman in Prizzi’s Honor (1985), the “Joker” in Batman (1989), a hard-ass Marine colonel in A Few Good Men (1992), an Irish mob boss in The Departed (2006) and many, many other roles. (He even played a werewolf, but let’s not dwell on that.)  These are just my favorite Nicholson movies. And there are so many iconic scenes and lines attributed to Nicholson. Important to us, Nicholson was a lover of the leaf, an avid cigar smoker since about 1991, though he started early in life.

His First Cigars

Nicholson, born John Joseph Nicholson in 1937, began smoking cigars young, in New Jersey. He doesn’t remember the very first cigar he ever smoked.

“The first cigars I remember, however, were all smoked by Shorty’s father—Big Al—and all those other people playing pinochle with him back in Jersey,” Nicholson told Cigar Aficionado. “Shorty was my brother-in-law, married to my sister Lorraine. He and his card-playing cronies used to use ivory cigar holders. They smoked either Muriels or White Owls, I don’t remember which. Maybe both.”

But what cigars does Jack Nicholson smoke?

Jack Nicholson’s Favorite Cigars

Nicholson upgraded his cigar smoking and favored the non-Cuban Romeo y Julieta, Cohiba Robusto, and Montecristo. He has dubbed the Macanudo a “smokable” cigar.

“I’m not really a connoisseur,” he said. “I just know I love Montecristos, Cohibas and Romeo y Julietas.”

In 1973, Nicholson played the role of a petty officer in the movie The Last Detail. The film was shot in Canada.

 “I wanted the petty officer character I played to be a cigar smoker,” he said. “So, I smoked cigars while we were filming the picture—real Cuban cigars, which, of course, are the best. The only cigar, in fact. I could get them in Canada where we shot the picture.”

Nicholson credited regularly smoking cigars on the golf course with helping him to quit cigarette smoking.

“I’m so nervous when I play that I found I was smoking a half a pack of cigarettes during a round,” he said in 1995. “So, in order to cut down, I got in the habit of lighting a cigar around the fifth hole and smoking nothing but cigars for the rest of the round. That succeeded in calming me. And I’m now down to a 12 handicap.” 

My Kingdom for a Good Match

Nicholson has worked with many great and many famous film directors. He counted Chinatown director Roman Polanski, who still faces rape charges in the United States, among them. Polanski, Nicholson explained, taught patience when lighting a cigar. With a match.

“With all this cigar culture stuff,” Nicholson said while trying, with difficulty, to light a large Montecristo. The match went out. “When are they going to make a decent match in

 America again? You can’t light a cigar with one match anymore.”

Nicholson lit another match and ran the flame around the edge of the tip of the cigar.

“It’s the proper way to light a cigar. Roman showed me that—Roman Polanski. He told me that to get the best flavor you have to run the flame all around the cigar tip, like you see me doing. Then when the cigar tip is on fire, you first blow the smoke out. Then you draw on it the regular way.”

Nicholson used four matches to get the cigar going.

Courtside Puffing

Nicholson has been a longtime fan of the Los Angeles Lakers. When he used to go to home games at the old Forum, he could smoke.

“I remember when I used to sit right on the basketball arena floor and light up, not too long ago,” he said. “Then they moved us smokers out into the hall. Then you couldn’t smoke in the entire building. But I get around it. I sneak into the men’s room at halftime, like when I was in high school, and take my drags there.”


In 2010, reports circulated that Nicholson, who received 12 Oscar nominations and won three, had retired from acting. The actor never made any formal announcement, but the word was that he had begun suffering memory loss and was turning down scripts as a result. In 2013, Nicholson appeared at the Oscars ceremony to co-present with Michelle Obama the award for best picture. Nicholson’s last role – or most recent one – was in a movie called How Do You Know (2010).

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