I wrote Anne Heche’s obituary for The Guardian. It went online on Monday, 15 August, and appeared in the paper the next day. I had written it on Thursday the 11th, but the paper held it until she was, finally, declared dead. As usual with these things, some of what I wrote was excised from the published version, and there were other thoughts I left out of what I wrote, either to save space or because they were not essential. When you’re asked for 1,000 words, you try to keep it close. But because some things have came out in that time between writing and publishing that I felt I should have included. You can go to The Guardian online and read the obit here — it will help make sense of what I am about to say.
Heche’s life and career were, as I wrote, intertwined, and some of what I wanted to put into more detail regarded her career. One piece about her described her as “a little too stylish and smart for Hollywood”, to which there is an element of truth, but it’s also flattering. Heche blamed her film career’s stall on Hollywood’s reaction to her relationship with Ellen DeGeneres. I should have noted in my piece that the way that relationship actually became public was when Ellen was Heche’s date to the premiere of Volcano, the disaster epic in which she starred with Tommy Lee Jones. As I say in the piece, her first true starring role was with Harrison Ford in Six Days, Seven Nights, which would be released the next year but had already shot.
It’s true that Hollywood might have recoiled from an “out” lesbian, as opposed to one who had “merely” played one in scorching scene in the straight-to-video Wild Side. There were debates about whether audiences would accept her in straight love scenes with men, and in the producers’ world of casting couches, as we’ve seen from Harvey Weinstein, who knows what roles might have fallen by the wayside. But what we need to consider as well is that what makes a star in Hollywood, is partly acting ability partly the oxymoronic “star quality”. And although it was Heche’s premiere to which DeGeneres accompanied her, in the ensuing publicity tsunami, she became “Ellen’s girl friend” and playing second fiddle to a comedian/TV comedy star was not necessarily a Hollywood definition of star quality. If she were a star she would be the Alpha; Ellen would be her girlfriend.