Donald Joe Heche Cause of Death: The Tragic Story of Anne Heche’s Father

Donald Joe Heche was the father of American actress and director Anne Heche, who rose to fame in the 1990s with roles in films such as Donnie Brasco, Volcano, and Six Days, Seven Nights. He was also a choir director, a Baptist minister, and a businessman in the gas and oil industry. However, his life was marred by controversy, secrets, and tragedy. He died of AIDS in 1983, at the age of 45, leaving behind a wife and five children. His death also revealed his hidden homosexuality and his history of sexual abuse towards his daughter Anne. This article will explore the life, career, and family of Donald Joe Heche, and how his cause of death impacted his daughter’s personal and professional journey.

Early Life and Career

Donald Joe Heche was born in 1938, in Ohio. His exact date of birth and his parents’ names are not known. He grew up in a Christian household and became involved in music and religion from a young age. He studied at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago and became a choir director and a Baptist minister. He also claimed to be a successful businessman in the gas and oil industry, although some sources suggest that he was involved in fraudulent schemes and scams.

He married Nancy Prickett Heche, an author and an activist, in 1961. They had five children: Susan, Nathan, Abigail, Anne, and Cynthia. The family lived in a modest house in Aurora, Ohio, and appeared to be a happy and devout Christian family. However, behind the scenes, Donald Heche was leading a double life. He was secretly homosexual and had sexual relations with both men and women. He also sexually abused his daughter Anne, from the time she was an infant until she was 12 years old.

Diagnosis and Death

In 1981, Donald Heche was diagnosed with AIDS, a disease that was not well understood or accepted at the time. He kept his diagnosis a secret from his family and continued to live as if nothing was wrong. He also continued to have sexual encounters with strangers, putting them and his wife at risk of infection. He did not seek any medical treatment or counseling for his condition.

He died on March 3, 1983, at a hospital in Cleveland, Ohio. His cause of death was officially listed as pneumonia, a common complication of AIDS. His family was shocked and devastated by his sudden death. They were also unaware of his homosexuality and his sexual abuse of Anne. They only learned about these facts after his death, when they found letters and photos that he had hidden in his closet. His wife Nancy was also tested for HIV and found out that she was positive. She later wrote a memoir titled “The Truth Comes Out”, in which she shared her story of betrayal, grief, and forgiveness.

Impact on Anne Heche

Anne Heche was 13 years old when her father died. She was deeply traumatized by his death and by the revelation of his secrets. She felt angry, confused, and betrayed by her father, who had robbed her of her childhood and her innocence. She also felt guilty, ashamed, and responsible for his death, as she believed that she had contracted AIDS from him and passed it on to him. She developed a dissociative identity disorder, in which she created an alternate personality named Celestia, who claimed to be from another planet and who communicated with God. She also became estranged from her mother, who refused to believe or support her claims of sexual abuse.

Anne Heche decided to pursue a career in acting, as a way of escaping from her painful reality and expressing her emotions. She moved to New York City at the age of 16 and landed her first role in the soap opera Another World, for which she won a Daytime Emmy Award. She then moved to Hollywood and starred in several films and television shows, such as Donnie Brasco, Volcano, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Wag the Dog, and If These Walls Could Talk 2. She also became involved in a high-profile relationship with comedian Ellen DeGeneres, who was one of the first celebrities to come out as gay. The couple was dubbed as “the first gay supercouple” by the media and became advocates for LGBTQ+ rights.

However, Anne Heche’s personal and professional life was not without challenges. She faced backlash and discrimination from the industry and the public for her sexuality and her relationship with DeGeneres. She also struggled with mental health issues, substance abuse, and financial problems. She had a nervous breakdown in 2000, shortly after her split from DeGeneres, and was found wandering in a rural area of California, claiming to be Celestia. She was hospitalized and diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She later wrote a memoir titled “Call Me Crazy”, in which she opened up about her father’s abuse, her mental illness, and her recovery.

Anne Heche continued to work as an actress and a director, appearing in films and shows such as John Q, Birth, Everwood, Men in Trees, The Brave, and Dancing with the Stars. She also had two sons, Homer and Atlas, from her marriages to Coleman Laffoon and James Tupper, respectively. She reconciled with her mother and her siblings, and became an activist for mental health awareness and sexual abuse prevention. She also forgave her father and said that she loved him despite his flaws.


Donald Joe Heche was a complex and controversial figure, who lived a life of lies, secrets, and tragedy. He died of AIDS in 1983, leaving behind a legacy of pain, confusion, and scandal. His cause of death also had a profound impact on his daughter Anne Heche, who suffered from his sexual abuse and his death. She overcame her trauma and became a successful and influential actress and director, who used her voice and her platform to raise awareness and inspire others. Donald Joe Heche’s cause of death was a sad and shocking event, but it also led to a powerful and inspiring story of survival, resilience, and redemption.