The 53-year-old Nance, who secured his place in cult film--and beautician--history as the frighteningly coiffed title character in Lynch's Eraserhead, was found by a friend in his home in South Pasadena, California, Monday afternoon.
Police are investigating the case as a homicide because on the previous day Nance had been punched in the face during an altercation with two men outside a doughnut shop, Los Angeles Sheriff Deputy Gabe Ramirez said. One suspect hit Nance with his fist, Ramirez said, and detectives noted blunt-force trauma to the actor's head.
Police have ruled out death by natural causes, but the actual cause of death has not yet been determined by the coroner's office. No suspects have been named and no arrests have been made.
Born in Texas in 1943, Nance--who was billed as John then Jack--was a stage actor before hooking up with Lynch for a student film. That film eventually became 1978's Eraserhead and Nance's performance as the hapless Henry Spencer so impressed the director that he cast Nance in all his subsequent movies except Elephant Man.
Nance was also a regular on Lynch's Twin Peaks as the fish loving Pete Martell. His other credits include Dennis Hopper's Colors and The Hot Spot, as well as Barfly, Johnny Dangerously, The Blob and Ghoulies.
Nance cultivated a reputation for being as bizarre as the characters he played. "I've known Jack for 25 years," Lynch told the Hollywood Reporter. "Every one of us is unique and individual, but I've never met anyone as individual as Jack. He was one of a kind...He told the best stories I've ever hear, and he had a great, dry and absurd wit. He didn't care about money and he loved acting."
Carmella Gallien, a friend and one of many agents hired and fired by Nance, told the Hollywood Reporter that Nance once got so angry at a TV show, he pulled out a gun and blasted his set.
Five years ago, Nance's wife, Kelly Jean Van Dyke-Nance--the daughter of Coach's Jerry Van Dyke--hanged herself in their home.