With Nightmare on Elm Street, Johnny Depp landed his first legitimate film role (1984). He began seriously studying acting, and his efforts paid off in 1987 when he won a role on the TV sitcom 21 Jump Street. He has since gained notoriety for his willingness to play darker parts in films such as Edward Scissorhands (1990), Sleepy Hollow (1999), and Alice in Wonderland (2010), as well as his prominent roles in the big-budget Pirates of the Caribbean flicks.
Johnny Depp II was born on June 9, 1963, in Owensboro, Kentucky, to parents John and Betty Sue Depp. Depp’s father was a civil engineer, while his mother was a waitress and housewife. Depp, the youngest of four children, was withdrawn and an outcast.
Depp and his family traveled frequently due to his father’s business, eventually settling in Miramar, Florida, when Depp was seven years old. For nearly a year, the family stayed in a motel until his father got work. Depp despised his new surroundings and, by the age of 12, had begun smoking, experimenting with drugs, and engaged in self-harm as a result of the stress of family troubles.
Depp’s parents split when he was 15 years old, in 1978. As the youngest of four children, it became Depp’s responsibility to go to his father’s office and collect the weekly child-support payment. The divorce produced a schism between Depp and his father.
Depp dropped out of high school at the age of 16 and joined the Kids, a garage band. The band became popular enough to open for the Talking Heads and the B-52s, but they struggled to make ends meet. Depp spent months living in a friend’s 1967 Chevrolet Impala.
Introduction to Acting and ’21 Jump Street’
Depp met and married Lori Allison, a 25-year-old makeup artist, in 1983 when he was 20 years old. The following year, the pair relocated to Los Angeles with Depp’s band in the hopes of making it big. Being on a tight budget, Depp and his bandmates supplemented their income by selling pens for a telemarketing service.
Depp got into acting a year later after his wife introduced him to her ex-boyfriend, actor Nicolas Cage. Cage saw Depp’s talent and recommended him to a Hollywood agent. After numerous minor performances as an extra, Depp scored his first major film role in Nightmare on Elm Street (1984).
By 1985, the Kids had disbanded, as had Depp’s marriage. Following his divorce from Allison, Depp began dating actress Sherilyn Fenn, whom he met on the filming of the short film Dummies (1985). They were engaged for a short time before splitting up. Following their breakup, Depp met and proposed to actress Jennifer Grey; their romance was equally brief.
Depp began really studying acting, first in sessions at the Loft Studio in Los Angeles and subsequently with a private instructor. The teachings paid off when he took over the part of undercover cop Tommy Hanson in the popular Canadian-filmed television series 21 Jump Street in 1987, replacing actor Jeff Yagher. The performance catapulted Depp to near-instant celebrity; he became a teen idol overnight, though he despised the moniker. As his contract on Jump Street expired in 1989, he jumped at the chance to pursue more serious parts.
Mainstream Success: ‘Cry-Baby’ and ‘Edward Scissorhands’
Depp starred in John Waters’ 1950s-kitsch musical Cry-Baby (1990), which became a cult smash and helped him change his image. That same year, he was cast in the title character of Tim Burton’s fantasy picture, Edward Scissorhands, where he demonstrated his flexibility as an actor. The movie not only established Depp as an A-list performer, but it also grossed more over $54 million at the box office. Following the success of the film, Depp established himself as a serious, sometimes gloomy, distinctive performer, frequently choosing roles that startle both reviewers and audiences.
Depp met co-star Winona Ryder during the filming of Edward Scissorhands, whom he’d been watching since a brief meeting at the premiere of her picture Great Balls of Fire (1989). The two met on the set and quickly became a Hollywood power couple. Depp and Ryder got engaged five months after their first date. Depp even had “Winona Forever” tattooed on his right arm to symbolize their love. However, the pair divorced in 1993 after Ryder’s parents banned their daughter from marrying.
Outside of his personal life, Depp thrived, receiving critical acclaim and growing recognition for his work. Among his most memorable parts were his portrayal of the social misanthrope Sam in Benny & Joon (1993), for which he received a Golden Globe nomination, and Gilbert in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? (1993), in which he played a young man disillusioned with the limits of his small-town life.
Troubled Image and Relationship
In August 1993, he and two business partners purchased The Viper Club in Los Angeles, which quickly became the coolest hangout on the Sunset Strip. Depp began utilizing the club to promote guests to songs from his newly formed band P, which performed frequently at the establishment. On October 31, that same year, adolescent idol and highly renowned actor River Phoenix died of a heroin overdose outside the club. Phoenix passed away later that evening.
Depp also experimented with narcotics and fell into a profound despair. During this period, he began a highly publicized romance with supermodel Kate Moss. Depp and Moss were famed for their passionate and unpredictable conduct; during one of the couple’s frequent disputes, Depp notoriously wrecked a New York hotel room in 1994.
Depp’s wild conduct did not appear to affect his work life. He reteamed with Burton in the biopic Ed Wood, on the famed B-movie filmmaker, in 1994. Depp received critical accolades for the film, as well as another Golden Globe nomination. Other significant late-’90s films include Don Juan DeMarco (1995), in which Depp plays a guy who believes he is the renowned fictitious Don Juan, and Donnie Brasco (1997), in which Depp played an undercover FBI agent attempting to infiltrate the Bonano crime family.
Depp divorced long-term partner Moss in 1998 to play journalist Hunter S. Thompson’s alter ego in Terry Gilliam’s adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Depp formed a great bond with Thompson during filming, which lasted until Thompson’s death in 2005. Depp would eventually pay for the author’s funeral.
Box Office Star: ‘Pirates,’ ‘Sweeney Todd’ and ‘Alice’
In 1999, Depp tried his hand at sci-fi horror with The Astronaut’s Wife, his next cinematic project. The next year, he collaborated with Burton once more on Sleepy Hollow, playing a prim, driven Ichabod Crane. The next year, he played in the modest but popular romance movie Chocolat, followed by a big-budget appearance as real-life cocaine lord George Jung in 2001’s Blow. Depp then participated in 2001’s terror film From Hell and 2002’s Once Upon a Time in Mexico, both directed by Robert Rodriguez.
Depp received an Academy Award nomination in 2004 for his performance as Captain Jack Sparrow in the family film Pirates of the Caribbean. The film was a box office success, spawning the Pirates franchise. Depp also delivered in a critically acclaimed performance as Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie in Finding Neverland at the conclusion of that year. He received over ten award nominations for the picture, including Academy and Golden Globe awards.
In 2006, Depp reprised his role as Captain Jack Sparrow in the sequel Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, which set a box office record by grossing the most money in a single weekend. The third installment went well, too: Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007) was released on Memorial Day weekend, taking in $138.8 million.
Depp then portrayed one of theater’s most infamous characters in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, which was released in 2007. The dark and brutal musical, directed by Burton and co-starring Helena Bonham Carter, depicts the story of a barber who kills his customers before seeing them made into pies by his downstairs neighbor. Depp garnered a Golden Globe Award for his role on the picture.
Two Depp films, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus and Public Enemies, were released in 2009 to mixed reviews. With the 2010 film adaption of Lewis Carroll’s classic Alice in Wonderland, he returned to box office glory. Depp collaborated once more with Burton on the production, this time as the Mad Hatter. The picture, starring Mia Wasikowska as Alice, grossed almost $116 million in its first weekend.
In 2011, Depp returned to the high seas as Jack Sparrow in another edition of the Pirates of the Caribbean film series. The same year, he returned to indie film with The Rum Diary, based on Thompson’s book.
Hits and Misses: ‘Dark Shadows,’ ‘The Lone Ranger’ and ‘Fantastic Beasts’
Depp starred as Barnabas Collins, a vampire who escapes jail and returns to his family’s house in the Tim Burton comedy Dark Shadows (2012). Collins attempts to assist his descendants, who are played by Michelle Pfeiffer, Chlo Grace Moretz, and Jonny Lee Miller. Depp has long been a fan of the film’s original material, the late 1960s gothic soap opera Dark Shadows, and encouraged buddy Burton to make it a feature film.
Regrettably, Depp’s next big-budget project did not do quite as well as his previous efforts. In 2013, the A-list actor collaborated once more with Pirates producer Jerry Bruckheimer on the Disney picture The Lone Ranger. The film, which cost more than $215 million to make, bombed at the box office and earned mixed reviews.
Depp then played renowned crime boss Whitey Bulger in the 2015 film Black Mass. Depp reprised his performance as the Mad Hatter in Burton’s 2016 adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s sequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Through The Looking Glass. The following year, he reprised his role as Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales and joined the ensemble cast of Murder on the Orient Express.
Depp joined another major feature film franchise in 2018 when he played the evil wizard Gellert Grindelwald in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.
Personal Life and Legal Matters
Johnny met French actress, singer, and model Vanessa Paradis while filming the sci-fi drama The Ninth Gate (1999) in France. During that year, Paradis fell pregnant with the couple’s first child. The couple welcomed their daughter Lily-Rose Melody Depp in May 1999. Three years later, Depp and Paradis welcomed their second child, son Jack John Christopher Depp III.
In 2012, reports surfaced that Depp and Paradis had split up. Depp originally rejected the claims, but his spokesman confirmed the couple’s split in June. Depp’s representative told Entertainment Tonight that the couple “have peacefully separated” and urged that people “respect their privacy” and “the privacy of their children.” Depp and Paradis had been dating for nearly 14 years until they split up.
While still publicly linked with Paradis, Depp met another prospective love interest on the set of a film. He met co-star Amber Heard while filming The Rum Diary. The couple was first spotted publicly together in 2012, not long after Depp’s divorce from Paradis. The couple proposed on Christmas Eve in 2013 and married in February 2015.
Heard filed for divorce in May 2016, and shortly after, she applied for a restraining order, citing verbal and physical abuse by Depp. That August, the couple struck an agreement, and the divorce was finalized in January 2017. Nevertheless, after Heard wrote an op-ed on her experiences with domestic violence in December 2018, Depp filed a $50 million defamation lawsuit against his ex-wife a few months later.
Depp launched a $25 million lawsuit against his former business managers in October 2017, claiming they squandered $650 million of his revenues over the previous two decades. Depp was on the receiving end of a lawsuit the following April, with two former personal security guards suing him for unpaid salaries and exposure to hazardous work conditions.
It was reported in July 2018 that Depp was being sued for reportedly assaulting a site manager on the set of his upcoming film City of Lies, which is based on the murder of rapper Notorious B.I.G. According to the suit, when told that production was ended for the day, the actor became enraged and twice “forcefully hit” the location manager in the bottom left side of his rib cage before being hauled away by his security. As a result, a month before its scheduled September 7 release date, the film was pulled from distribution.
Depp responded, claiming that he was acting in self-defense in response to Brooks’ “unlawful and improper actions,” which had caused him to “fear for his safety.”
On June 1, 2022, a jury decided in Depp’s favor in the defamation lawsuit, ordering Heard to pay $15 million in punitive damages, with a $10.35 million maximum. The jury also found in favor of Heard’s counterclaim that Depp’s lawyer defamed her, ordering Depp to pay $2 million in damages.