Nicolas Cage's Tragic Real-Life Story

"I didn't get into movies to become a meme," Nicolas Cage told The Guardian in 2023. To be known around the internet for a frame of rage or an idiosyncratic line reading in a bad movie wasn't something Cage was initially thrilled to learn. Nor was it something he had any control over. But he's always had some control over his career, and his motivation as an actor. "I got into acting because I was moved by film performance more than any other art form," Cage said, and pursuing that dream has brought him more conventional fame, riches, and accolades.

But as Cage told The Guardian, "Fame is like gambling. When fame turns on you, the effects of loss ... are more profound than the effects of winning." He made the comparison in the context of his private issues becoming public fodder, and such exposure couldn't have made dark episodes in his personal life any easier to deal with. But fame itself has played a role in creating some of his difficulties. Here are some of the private and public tragedies in the life of Nicolas Cage.

His father wasn't supportive and his mother experienced mental illness

Nicolas Cage is a stage name, albeit one only slightly removed from his birth name. Originally Nicolas Coppola, Cage is part of the artistic dynasty of that name. His father August was the dean of the School of Creative Arts at San Francisco State University, and not encouraging of his son's early acting ambitions. Cage told David Sheff for Playboy that when he was late coming home from an audition for a high school play, his father said, "Nicolas, you are never going to be an actor, so don't even bother to try." Cage said it was the one time he stood up to his father, whom he maintained a troubled relationship with into adulthood.

He blamed some of the tension between them on the fact that during an argument with August, his mother, Joy Vogelsang, once said untruly that Cage wasn't August's son. According to People, Vogelsang was a former dancer, so she brought her own artistry to the Coppola clan. But throughout Cage's childhood, she experienced mental illness severe enough to require institutionalization and shock treatment (she was ultimately diagnosed with schizophrenia, according to GQ). Cage described her to Sheff as having "episodes of poetry" where she would speak in beautiful but unsettling terms, and other episodes where she lost memories.

August remained married to Vogelsang for 16 years, but her struggles impacted their union, and they divorced when Cage was 12. For his part, Cage told Sheff that it was difficult to see his mother like that. Nevertheless, he had a "scientific curiosity" about her illness and considered her pivotal to his creative development.

The most valuable comic book in the world was stolen from his home

Nicolas Cage is a big Superman fan. One of the most notorious stories in the modern history of superhero films is how he almost got to play the lead role in "Superman Lives," only to see the project fall apart just before shooting. According to "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker," Warner Bros. had once hoped to release the film on the 60th anniversary of Superman's comic book debut. They missed their window on that, but Cage got to establish a connection of his own to "Action Comics" #1 when he got his hands on a near-pristine copy. He paid $150,000 in 1997 for the comic (per The Hollywood Reporter), which originally sold for 10 cents.

But in 2000, the comic was stolen out of Cage's Los Angeles home, along with a copy of "Detective Comics" #27 (the first appearance of Batman) and "Marvel Mystery" #71. A distraught Cage contacted ComicConnect CEO Stephen Fishler, who wrote on the Collectors Society message board that he tracked down the Marvel book but couldn't find a trace of "Action Comics" or "Detective Comics." Cage's people were inexplicably reluctant to involve the police, further harming the investigation.

For over 10 years, there was no sign of the stolen works, and Cage accepted an insurance payment for "Action Comics." But in April 2011, his "Action Comics" was found in an abandoned storage locker. Cage called the find an act of "divine providence" through a statement, but relief didn't stop him from putting it up for auction that November. It went for over $2 million.

A stalker broke into his home and stripped down

Having fans — overeager fans, at times — comes with the territory of being a famous actor. Many such fans are well-meaning, and many celebrities handle them well. But there are red lines between stars and their admirers, and Nicolas Cage had one fan violate such a line in an unpleasant and potentially dangerous incident in his own home.

It was October 1, 2007, according to the BBC. Cage and his family were at his Newport Beach home. They were sleeping, he recalled while promoting the film "Trespass" years later (per Reuters). When Cage woke up around 2 a.m., he saw a naked man eating a fudgesicle and wearing his leather jacket. The man was Robert Dennis Furo Jr., and his defense attorney would later say that he was under the influence of a combination of prescription drugs when he broke in.

Cage managed to talk Furo out of his house, and when he learned that his intruder experienced mental health issues, he declined to press charges. But Furo was ordered into rehabilitation and subjected to a restraining order. And the incident polluted the house for Cage. After the break-in, he wasn't able to stay in it anymore.

He almost faced financial ruin

Throughout the 2010s, Nicolas Cage's reputation as an actor shifted. According to GQ, he appeared in 46 movies in the 10-year period following his father's death in 2009. Where other A-list actors came to eight movies in a similar stretch of time, Cage featured in up to five a year (per The Independent). And quite a few of those films were not good.

Cage couldn't afford to be choosy. After the 2008 financial crisis, he found himself in hock to the IRS for $14 million. Cage has insisted that his money troubles came down to being overinvested in real estate at the time of the crash — that and terrible financial advice. He sued his business manager in October 2009, accusing him of leading him astray while lining his own pockets (per CNN). The manager, Samuel Levin, responded with a countersuit and accusations that Cage dug himself into his own hole with lavish purchases against advice. Cage, who was also trying to keep his mother from being placed in a mental health institution, rejected the idea and refused to consider bankruptcy.

According to the Evening Standard, he and Levin settled out of court in 2012, and he did eventually settle all his debts. But he admitted to "60 Minutes" that it was a dark time in his life, and one he got through — financially and personally — through work.

He was heartbroken by Lisa Marie Presley's death

Nicolas Cage has been married five times, and his love life has long been fodder for tabloids and gossip columns. Among his most high-profile romances was with Lisa Marie Presley. They met at a party, Cage told Barbara Walters in 2003, and he was immediately "thunderstruck" (via Elvis Australia). Besides finding her funny and charming, he felt that they were compatible, both having come from artistic families with oversized names. But with both of them being intense and stubborn personalities, they became an on-again, off-again couple. Their 2002 marriage lasted only three and a half months, and the divorce was their final break.

"I'm sad about this, but we shouldn't have been married in the first place," Presley said at the time in a statement (per People). Cage didn't initially comment, but he later told Walters that part of him felt the marriage and the divorce were both rushed. He also said that he missed being with Presley every day, but he felt that it was best that they ended up as friends.

Having remained friends, Cage was devastated when he learned of Presley's death in 2023. In a statement (per People), he said that she "had the greatest laugh of anyone I ever met. She lit up every room, and I am heartbroken." He expressed his wish that, in death, Presley would be reunited with her son Benjamin.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.