Who Is Johnny Depp?

Actor Johnny Depp is a three-time Academy Award nominee known for his starring role as Captain Jack Sparrow in Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, as well as parts in films such as Edward Scissorhands, Sleepy Hollow, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, and Alice in Wonderland. Depp landed his first movie role in the 1984 horror film Nightmare on Elm Street and rose to prominence a few years later when he began playing Tommy Hanson on the TV show 21 Jump Street. One of the most bankable actors in cinema, his once steady career stalled in the late 2010s after ex-wife Amber Heard alleged the actor physically and verbally abused her. Their subsequent defamation trial in 2022 garnered widespread attention.

Quick Facts

FULL NAME: John Christopher Depp IIBORN: June 9, 1963BIRTHPLACE: Owensboro, KentuckySPOUSES: Lori Allison (1983-1985) and Amber Heard (2015-2017)CHILDREN: Lily-Rose Melody Depp and John Christopher Depp IIIASTROLOGICAL SIGN: Gemini

Early Life

Johnny Depp was born John Christopher Depp II, in Owensboro, Kentucky, on June 9, 1963, to parents John and Betty Sue Depp. Depp’s father worked as a civil engineer, and his mother worked as a waiter and homemaker. The youngest of four children, Johnny was withdrawn and a self-admitted oddball.

The family moved frequently to accommodate John’s job, finally landing in Miramar, Florida, when Johnny was 7 years old. They lived in a motel for nearly a year, until John found a job. Johnny hated his new home and, by the age of 12, began smoking, experimenting with drugs, and engaging in self-harm due to the stress of family problems.

In 1978, when Johnny was 15, his parents got divorced. It became Johnny’s job to go to his father’s office and pick up the weekly child-support money. The split caused a rift between Johnny and his father.

At 16, Johnny dropped out of high school and joined a garage band called the Kids. The group became successful enough to open for the Talking Heads and the B-52s, but they barely made ends meet. Johnny lived for months in a friend’s ’67 Chevy Impala.

Becoming an Actor: “Nightmare on Elm Street” and “21 Jump Street”

In 1983, at the age of 20, Depp met and married 25-year-old makeup artist Lori Allison. That same year, the couple moved to Los Angeles with Depp’s band in the hopes of striking it big. Still living on a shoestring budget, Depp and his bandmates supported themselves by selling pens for a telemarketing firm.

A year later, Depp fell into acting when his wife introduced him to her ex-boyfriend, actor Nicolas Cage. Cage saw potential in Depp and introduced the hopeful musician to a Hollywood agent. After several small roles as an extra, Depp landed his first legitimate movie role in the horror film Nightmare on Elm Street (1984).

By 1985, the Kids had broken up—and so had Depp’s marriage. After his split with Allison, Depp struck up a relationship with actor Sherilyn Fenn, whom he met on the set of the short film Dummies (1985). They were briefly engaged but split before marrying. After their break-up, Depp then met and proposed to actor Jennifer Grey; their romance was also short-lived.

Depp started to study acting in earnest, first in classes at the Loft Studio in Los Angeles and then with a private coach. The lessons paid off in 1987 when he replaced actor Jeff Yagher in the role of undercover cop Tommy Hanson in the popular Canadian-filmed television series 21 Jump Street. The role thrust Depp into almost immediate stardom; he became a teen idol overnight, though he resented that label. He told The Telegraph in a 2006 interview he felt the show grew stagnant as it progressed: “It just started to become false. It started to become this action-packed can of soup, you know? You just market it and send it out.” The actor reportedly tried to get fired from the role, even trashing his trailer.

When his contract on Jump Street expired in 1989, Depp leaped at the opportunity to pursue weightier roles. (In the 2012 film adaptation of the TV series, which starred Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill, Depp had an uncredited cameo as Tommy Hanson.)

Mainstream Success: “Cry-Baby” and “Edward Scissorhands”

In 1990, Depp starred in the John Waters ’50s-kitsch musical Cry-Baby, which became a cult hit and succeeded in changing his image. That same year, he received an opportunity to exhibit his versatility as an actor in the titular role of Tim Burton’s fantasy film Edward Scissorhands. The movie not only established Depp as an A-list actor, but it also grossed more than $54 million at the box office. Following the film’s success, Depp carved a niche for himself as a serious, somewhat dark, idiosyncratic performer, consistently selecting roles that surprise critics and audiences alike.

During shooting for Edward Scissorhands, Depp met co-star Winona Ryder, whom he’d been eyeing since a brief meeting at the premiere for her film Great Balls of Fire the previous year. The two began dating on the set and soon became a Hollywood power couple. Five months after their first date, Depp and Ryder became engaged. To solidify their love, Depp even had “Winona Forever” tattooed on his right arm. The couple split, however, in 1993, and Depp had the tattoo changed to “Wino Forever.”

Outside of his personal life, Depp continued to flourish, gaining critical acclaim and increasing popularity for his work. Two of notable roles from this time include the social misanthrope Sam in Benny & Joon (1993), which earned him a Golden Globe nod, and Gilbert in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? (1993), which cast him as a young man dissatisfied with the confines of his small-town life.

Troubled Image and More Successful Movies

In August 1993, Depp and two business partners bought The Viper Club in Los Angeles, which instantly became the hippest spot on the Sunset Strip. Depp began using the club as an opportunity to introduce patrons to music from his newly formed band P, which offered popular shows at the venue. But tragedy hit the club on October 31 of that year, when teen heartthrob and critically acclaimed actor River Phoenix suffered a drug overdose outside the club. Phoenix died later that evening.

Depp also dabbled with drugs and spiraled into a deep depression. Around this time, he started a very public relationship with supermodel Kate Moss. Depp and Moss constantly made headlines for their passionate and unpredictable behavior; in 1994, Depp famously trashed a New York hotel room after one of the couple’s many fights.

Depp’s wild behavior didn’t seem to have an effect on his professional life, as he enjoyed a steady stream of work. In 1994, he reteamed with Burton in the biopic Ed Wood, about the infamous B-movie director. The film won Depp critical acclaim and another Golden Globe nomination. His next major movie was 1997’s Donnie Brasco, which featured Depp as an undercover FBI agent seeking to infiltrate the Bonano crime family.

In 1998, Depp split from longtime girlfriend Moss and took the role of journalist Hunter S. Thompson’s alter ego in Terry Gilliam’s adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. During filming, Depp cultivated a strong friendship with Thompson, which lasted until Thompson’s death in 2005. Depp would later finance the writer’s funeral.

Rounding out the ’90s, Depp teamed up with Burton once again on Sleepy Hollow, starring as the prim and driven Ichabod Crane.

Box-Office Star: “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Alice in Wonderland”

The turn of the millennium marked the start of a prolific—and especially successful—period in Depp’s career. He appeared in the small but popular romantic drama Chocolat in 2000, followed by a big-budget role as real-life cocaine kingpin George Jung in Blow in 2001.

In 2003, Depp earned an Academy Award nomination for his starring role as Captain Jack Sparrow in the family adventure Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. The film was a box-office smash, fueling the creation of the Pirates franchise. The 2006 sequel, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, broke a box-office record in reaching the highest weekend tally ever. The third installment fared well, too: Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End was released on Memorial Day weekend in 2007, bringing in $138.8 million. Two additional installments were released in 2011 and 2017, with Depp once again roving the high seas as Sparrow.

As the Pirates film series took off, Depp continued working across genres. In 2004, he turned in a critically acclaimed performance in Finding Neverland, in which he starred as Peter Pan creator J.M. Barrie. The film earned him more than 10 award nominations, including both Academy and Golden Globe nods.

Next, Depp played fictional candymaker Willy Wonka in the 2005 film Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, an adaptation of the Roald Dahl novel of the same name.

Depp then took on one of theater’s most notorious characters in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007). Directed by Burton and co-starring Helena Bonham Carter, the dark and gory musical tells the tale of a barber who kills his customers before seeing them turned into pies by his downstairs neighbor. Depp netted a Golden Globe Award for his work on the film.

His next box office success was another film adaptation, this time of the Lewis Carroll classic Alice in Wonderland. For the project, Depp again teamed up with Burton to take on the character of the Mad Hatter. The 2010 film, starring Mia Wasikowska as Alice, brought in more than $116 million in its opening weekend.

Hits and Misses at the Box Office

In the Burton comedy Dark Shadows (2012), Depp played Barnabas Collins, a vampire who escapes imprisonment and returns to his family home. There, Collins tries to help his descendants played by Michelle Pfeiffer, Chloë Grace Moretz, and Jonny Lee Miller. Depp was a longtime fan of the film’s source material—the late 1960s gothic soap opera Dark Shadows—and encouraged Burton to bring it to the big screen.

Unfortunately, Depp’s next big-budget endeavor didn’t fare nearly as well as his earlier films. In 2013, the A-list actor teamed up with Pirates producer Jerry Bruckheimer once again in the Disney film The Lone Ranger. The film, which cost more than $215 million to produce, performed poorly at the box office and received lackluster reviews.

Depp then took on the role of notorious crime boss Whitey Bulger in the 2015 biopic Black Mass. In 2016, Depp reprised his role as the Mad Hatter in Burton’s Through The Looking Glass, based on Carroll’s sequel to Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland. The following year, he joined the ensemble cast for an adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express.

In 2018, Depp jumped into another major feature film franchise with the part of evil wizard Gellert Grindelwald in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, after briefly appearing in the first installment Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016).

Relationship with Vanessa Paradis and Kids

While filming the sci-fi drama The Ninth Gate (1999) in France, Johnny met French actor, singer, and model Vanessa Paradis. Paradis became pregnant with the couple’s first child later that year. In May 1999, the couple welcomed daughter Lily-Rose Melody Depp. Depp and Paradis had their second child, son John Christopher “Jack” Depp III, three years later.

Lily-Rose Depp became a model for Chanel at age 15 and, like her father, jumped into acting. She made her first film appearance in the 2014 horror-comedy Tusk, which also featured Johnny, and also had parts in Planetarium (2016), The King (2019), Voyagers (2021), and Crisis (2021). She received a starring role in the HBO series The Idol, debuting in June 2023.

Jack Depp has largely stayed out of the public eye and shares a close bond with sister Lily-Rose. The siblings are bilingual and, according to a 2021 article by Interview, often spoke French in school to share secrets and conversations. His father has noted Jack’s artistic streak, saying Jack can draw very well and started his own band.

In 2012, stories began to circulate that Johnny Depp and Paradis had split up. Depp initially denied these rumors, but his representative confirmed the couple’s break-up that June. Depp and Paradis had been together for nearly 14 years when they split.

Amber Heard Trial and Other Legal Woes

Depp met another future love interest on the set of a film while still publicly involved with Paradis. While filming The Rum Diary (2011), he met co-star Amber Heard. The couple was seen publicly together for the first time in 2012, not long after Depp’s split with Paradis. Depp and Heard got engaged on Christmas Eve in 2013 and tied the knot in February 2015.

Heard filed for divorce in May 2016, and shortly afterward, she also filed a restraining order, alleging that Depp had been verbally and physically abusive. The two reached a settlement that August, and the divorce was finalized in January 2017. However, their legal entanglements were far from over.

After Heard penned an opinion article in December 2018 that described her experiences with domestic violence, Depp filed a $50 million defamation lawsuit against his ex-wife a few months later. Heard subsequently countersued Depp for defamation after one of his lawyers called the allegations a “hoax.”

Their trial began on April 11, 2022, and garnered national attention. During testimony, Heard described instances of alleged abuse by Depp, including a “cavity search” he performed on her while looking for cocaine. Depp claimed Heard instigated arguments and escalated their feuds. He called the most severe accusations “all false.”

On June 1, 2022, a jury ruled in favor of Depp in the defamation lawsuit, requiring Heard to pay $15 million in punitive damages, which a judge capped at $10.35 million based on legal limits. The jury also ruled in favor of Heard’s counterclaim that she was defamed by Depp’s lawyer, requiring Depp to pay $2 million in damages.

Both sides appealed aspects of the jury’s decision and announced in December 2022 they had decided to settle the respective defamation suits for $1 million. Multiple outlets reported in June 2023 that Depp plans to donate the money to five charities.

Depp faced other legal troubles in the late 2010s, too. In October 2017, he filed a $25 million lawsuit against his former business managers, claiming they mismanaged $650 million of his earnings from the previous two decades. The following April, Depp was on the other end of a lawsuit, with two former personal security guards suing him for unpaid wages and their exposure to dangerous work conditions.

In July 2018, it was reported that Depp was being sued for allegedly hitting a location manager on the set of his upcoming film City of Lies, about the murder of rapper Notorious B.I.G. According to the suit, the movie star grew irate when told that production was finished for the day, at which point he twice “forcefully punched” the location manager in the lower left side of his rib cage and unleashed a verbal tirade until being dragged away by his bodyguards. As a result, the movie was pulled from distribution a month before its scheduled September 7 release date. Depp settled the suit in July 2022 before it went to trial.

Acting Slump and Return

Amid his public battle with Heard, Depp’s film roles declined in quantity and notoriety. He was asked to resign from the Fantastic Beasts franchise by Warner Brothers in November 2020, and Mads Mikkelsen was recast as Gellert Grindelwald for the series’ third installment. Depp had only one part each in 2019 and 2020, as well as some voice acting work.

Depp’s first major film role following the defamation trial was as French King Louis XV in Jeanne du Barry. The film premiered at the annual Cannes Film Festival in May 2023, with Depp receiving a warm reception from fans and a standing ovation at the film’s conclusion. Others believed Depp shouldn’t have been invited to the event given Heard’s allegations.

Depp told reporters at the festival that although he desired to continue working in film, he didn’t have “much further need for Hollywood” and admitted to feeling boycotted during his legal saga. He reportedly sought funding for his next project, a biopic of Italian artist Amedeo Modigliani.

Johnny Depp’s Net Worth

As of May 2023, Celebrity Net Worth estimates Depp has a net worth around $150 million. According to film revenue database The Numbers, movies featuring Depp as a leading actor have collectively grossed just shy of $8.3 billion at the domestic and international box offices. Factor in his roles as part of a leading ensemble, and Depp ranks No. 12 among the most bankable actors ever at the worldwide box office.

Bands

In addition to his acting talents, Depp is an amateur musician. He predominantly plays guitar but also sings backup and plays keyboard. As a teenager, Depp was in a garage band called the Kids. In the 1990s, his newly formed band called P often performed at The Viper Club in Los Angeles.

His most recent musical venture—notable for its big-name talent—is the rock band Hollywood Vampires. Depp helped form the band in the early-to-mid 2010s, alongside Joe Perry of Aerosmith, Alice Cooper, and Tommy Henriksen. The group is named after a celebrity drinking club formed by Cooper in the 1970s, which included Ringo Starr and Keith Moon. The group has released two studio albums, including their self-titled 2015 album that featured artists such as Dave Grohl, Paul McCartney, and Joe Walsh.

Quotes

  • I fear [dancing] more than anything in the world. Doing a film when it’s choreographed and you’re a character, it’s alright. But in life, I’d rather swallow a bag of hair.
  • The only creatures that are evolved enough to convey pure love are dogs and infants.
  • Puberty was very vague. I literally locked myself in a room and played guitar.
  • I was so uncomfortable being a product, I swore to myself that I would choose my own path.
  • On playing Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: It’s not like I was ever looking to become franchise boy, I was never looking to become anything like that. I just latched on to a character I loved.
  • At some point, it became more honest for me on set. I understand it—everything is defined… It has become very natural, while the outside world has become unnatural.
  • I think, as an actor, if you get to a place where you’re satisfied, you’re happy with it, then you’re dead—it’s over.
  • I don’t trust anyone who hasn’t been self-destructive in some way… You’ve got to bang yourself around a bit to know yourself.
  • I can’t think of myself in terms of celebrity. It’s just too weird. If the choice is between being constantly gawked at and sitting in a chair in a dark room, I prefer the dark room.
  • When I was 12, I wanted to learn how to play the guitar, and I found a chord book in a shop, and I stuffed it down my trousers. And that’s how I learned to play the guitar.
  • I imagined what George Bush would be like incredibly stoned. And thus was born my version of Willy Wonka.

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Kay Adams