The movie audience respects talent but revels in charisma, and is always ready to elevate a star who is as much as character off the screen as on it. Ever since he came to the attention of the American public in the 1960s, Jack Nicholson has been the whole package. But who among us really knows the man who smiles that wicked grin from behind the darkest of shades? His generation's Mr. Hollywood, a fixture next to the Los Angeles Lakers bench, is in fact a native New Yorker: the son of a showgirl, born in the city in 1937 and raised largely by his grandmother so that Jack's mom could continue her career as a hoofer. Starting out, he appeared in B-movies directed by Roger Corman, then burst through in the counter-culture classic Easy Rider. Immediately, his abilities were recognized in dramas, comedies, anything — and the awards and nominations began to pile up (he's been nominated for a dozen Academy Awards and has won three). Meantime, his rascal's persona and happily loose social life provided another kind of delicious entertainment; he has, down the decades, spent as much of his career in front of still cameras (often LIFE's) as he has on the set. If you want to know Jack, and enjoy his colorful life in all its ever-blazing glory, this latest, lavishly illustrated edition in LIFE's new Icons series is the book for you. LIFE Icons celebrates the larger-than-life figures among us, and none is larger than Jack Nicholson.