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Nolte: Infamous mug shot wasn't a mug shot

Nick Nolte's infamous 2002 photo.
Nick Nolte's infamous 2002 photo.LA County Sheriff's Dept

It might be the most infamous celebrity mug shot ever. But was it really a mug shot? Nick Nolte says no, the California Highway Patrol says yes.

After the actor was arrested in Los Angeles in 2002 for driving under the influence, perhaps the best (if best means "horrifying") celebrity mug shot of all time was released. It shows Nolte in a loud Hawaiian shirt, looking battered and worn-out, with hair that seems to have gone unwashed since he walked off the set of "North Dallas Forty" in 1979.

But in an article in the January issue of GQ, Nolte claims the much-gasped-at photo wasn't actually his mug shot.

The actor says the photo in question was a Polaroid taken by a young officer at the police station and that he allowed the photo to be taken hoping the cop and his friends could make money by selling it. Seems a generous, if oddly self-punishing, thing for the actor to do. Nolte told GQ that his actual mug shot had never been released.

But after GQ published the article, the California Highway Patrol disputed Nolte's claim. GQ has added a footnote to their online article noting that a CHP spokesman told ABC News that Nolte was wrong. The crazy-haired photo is and always has been his real mug shot, Officier Leland Tang said.

GQ went back to Nolte, but really, is a guy who passed out while driving and veered into the other lane likely to recreate the events of that night with fastidious accuracy? Nolte's spokesperson told the magazine that the actor stands by his version.

It's unclear, at least to us, why Nolte feels he needs to put forth a different version, but he doesn't seem ashamed of the photo. It's used in the opening sequence of, which begins with a black-and-white mug shot of Nolte's 1961 arrest for selling fake draft cards and then melts into the infamous photo.

In the GQ article, Nolte also details the day of his arrest, saying he drank a large amount of cranberry juice spiked with GHB (known as Liquid Ecstasy) and tried to go to an AA meeting, but didn't go in because he was too intoxicated. While driving home, he fell asleep at the wheel and crossed into the oncoming lane, where he was spotted and arrested.

Nolte also told GQ he won't give up GHB but will take it while "medically supervised," and that he thinks it's an "excellent painkiller."

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