Now recognized as one of the highest paid actors in the world, Johnny Depp began his career as a heartthrob on the small screen in television show '21 Jump Street'. He then began his film career in 'Platoon' and the slasher hit 'A Nightmare on Elm Street' before transforming himself into a leading man on the big screen in mega-hits 'Edward Scissorhands', 'Pirates of the Caribbean' and several other movies that are now considered classics. He's garnered Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Awards over his career that spans over thirty years. To date, Depp has been nominated for three Oscars and his films have grossed over $6 billion globally.
The youngest of four children born to waitress Betty Sue Palmer and John Christopher Depp, John Christopher Depp II was born in Owensboro, Kentucky. Primarily of English ancestry, Depp is a descendant of the French settler Pierre Deppe, who moved to America at the turn of the 18th century in Virginia. Depp is also a descendant of African slaves with lineage through Elizabeth Key Grinstead, a biracial woman that sued for her right to freedom from slavery and ultimately won. He is also a distant cousin to the reigning monarch of Britain, Queen Elizabeth II.
As a child living in the south, Depp and his siblings lived in more than 20 different places before ultimately settling down in Miramar, Florida in 1970. With his mother working as a waitress and homemaker and his father as a civil engineer, the family struggled to make ends meet. Self-described as an odd child, the young Johnny was also withdrawn and was always looking to connect with the outside world.
Given a guitar as a present when he was 12 years old, Depp began cultivating his artistic side by playing in various garage bands. After his parents divorced in 1978 at the age of 15, his mother Betty married again to Robert Palmer, the man Depp credits as one of his biggest inspirations.
Subsequently, Depp dropped out of high school at 16 and joined the rock band, The Kids. He contemplated returning to school shortly thereafter but was encouraged by the school principal to follow his dreams as an artist. Ultimately, the group became a local success and then later an even bigger one, opening for The B-52s and The Talking Heads. The band, hoping to capitalize on their growing success, moved to Los Angeles to pursue a record deal, changing their name to Six Gun Method. Before signing a record deal, however, the group disbanded as they struggled to make enough money, forcing Depp to live in a friend’s ’67 Chevy Impala for months. As a young musician, Depp collaborated with the group Rock City Angels, co-writing the song that ended up on the band’s debut album on Geffen Records, ‘Mary’.
At only 20 years of age, Depp met and married the sister of one of his band members, Lori Anne Allison, who worked as a makeup artist in addition to other jobs she juggled. Eventually, her work in the entertainment industry led to meeting actor Nicolas Cage, who suggested that Depp pursue a career in acting. The decision to delve into acting was the impetus to transforming Depp’s life forever.
A year later, and now armed with an agent, Johnny Depp began to take small roles in the movie industry, first appearing as an extra in several films. His first big break came in the horror movie Nightmare on Elm Street, which ended up becoming an international hit and elevating his profile in the business as a teen heartthrob. Around this time, Depp began fully concentrating on acting by studying in Los Angeles at the Loft Studio with a private coach. His diligence paid off and the young actor was soon cast in the series 21 Jump Street, which propelled him immediately into stardom, especially among teenagers and young people. This instant celebrity turned the actor into a household overnight and in 1989, when his contract with the show was up, Depp left in pursuit of roles that would challenge him more as a thespian.
Depp began the 90s starring in Cry-Baby, with cult director John Waters directing him in the kitschy musical set in the 50s. The movie proved that the actor was capable of playing against type and led to casting directors seeing him as a versatile performer. Depp proved his chops later that year with the release of the film Edward Scissorhands, directed by the innovative Tim Burton. The film became a box office smash and made the young star an A-lister overnight. The movie also received critical acclaim and established the actor as a performer capable of taking on virtually any role.
Seeking to capitalize on this success, Johnny Depp continued juggling roles that veered in all directions, playing a social misanthrope in Benny & Joon, which earned him a Golden Globe nomination, starring alongside Leonardo DiCaprio in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, collaborating again with Burton on the biopic Ed Wood, Don Juan DeMarco, FBI drama Donnie Brasco, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and Sleepy Hollow to close out the 90s.
By the turn of the century, Johnny Depp was firmly established as a leading man and top box office draw and the new millennium only cemented that status with more huge roles that elevated his status worldwide. Remaining true to his mantra of juggling both small and large scale roles, Depp starred in the independent film Chocolat, moved on to big budget drama Blow, in 2001, and indie director Robert Rodriguez’s movie Once Upon a Time in Mexico in 2002.
It was in 2004, however, that Johnny Depp reached the peak of his stardom when he starred in Pirates of the Carribean. The swashbuckling action adventure became a global hit, raking in nearly a billion dollars and kicking off a still thriving franchise. For the first film, Depp was honored with an Academy Award nomination. During this time, he also formed his own production company to find projects to star in or produce. Depp also starred in the film Finding Neverland, which featured Depp in character writer J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan. The film was nominated for over 10 awards, including nods from the Oscars and Golden Globes.
In 2006, Depp returned with the second installment of the Disney pirate action adventure, Pirates of the Carribean: Dead Man’s Chest, which shattered box office records for its debut, then moved on to another Tim Burton collaboration in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, which featured Helena Bonham Carter. In 2010, he collaborated yet again with Burton in Alice in Wonderland, which also became a global phenomenon. Musically, Depp returned as one member of the supergroup band Hollywood Vampires featuring Alice Cooper and Joe Perry, releasing an album and performing a series of club dates worldwide. Another venture included vineyards and restaurants in France. Other more recent films include the hits Dark Shadows, also directed by Tim Burton, Black Mass, and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
Johnny Depp came into prominence as a teen heartthrob and has been considered a sex symbol since the beginning of his career. The success of the television show 21 Jump Street caught the actor off guard initially and he railed against it in lieu of work he considered more challenging. As one of the young bad boys of the big screen during the late 80s and 90s, Depp was notorious for avoiding the press while also taunting them, which only increased his status as a man of mystery and one of Hollywood’s sexiest men. He became known for trashing hotels and dabbling in a bonafide sex, drugs, and rock & roll lifestyle. In 1989, Depp was arrested for assaulting a security guard in Vancouver after a wild party ended up with the police on the scene.
Depp’s close friend and fellow actor River Phoenix died at a club he co-owned, The Viper Club, in 1993, which became tabloid fodder and resulted in increased media scrutiny. In 1994, he was arrested in New York City, again for causing considerable damage to a hotel room at The Mark Hotel.
After bursting on to the scene, Depp was linked with several sirens in the entertainment industry, including actresses Jennifer Grey, Sherilyn Fenn, Winona Ryder, Holly Robinson Peete, Traci Lords, Juiliette Lewis, Ellen Barkin, and supermodels Tatjana Patitz, Kate Moss, and Naomi Campbell.
Most recently, his divorce from actress Amber Heard, after only a year and a half of marriage, included reports of domestic abuse and a settlement that ended up with Depp paying out millions of dollars that has damaged his reputation globally. Recently, he has been named one of the most overpaid actors in the world, a title that he is currently trying to overturn with upcoming films.
At 20 years of age, Depp married makeup artist Lori Anne Allison in 1983. They subsequently divorced after less than two years of marriage in 1985. In between dating many women in the entertainment and fashion industries, Depp was linked off and on romantically with actress and frequent co-star Winona Ryder. Although they were engaged and were considered one of Hollywood’s hottest couples, Ryder called off the wedding in the early 90s. After the breakup, Depp entered into a relationship with British supermodel Kate Moss, which lasted until 1998. The next year, Depp met the French actress, model, and singer Vanessa Paradis. After a whirlwind romance, the two announced the upcoming birth of their first child, Lily-Rose Melody Depp, who was born in May 1999. Their second child, son Jack John Christopher Depp III, was born in 2002.
In 2012, and after 14 years together, the media began reporting that Paradis and Depp had split up, which was confirmed by the couple’s spokesperson in June of that year. The actor was soon linked to one of his co-stars, actress Amber Heard, who he met while filming the movie The Rum Diary. The couple became engaged on Christmas Eve in 2013 and married in February of 2015. Less than two years later, Heard filed for divorce under a myriad of accusations that were widely reported in the press.
- Johnny Depp: The Unauthorised Biography by Danny White
- Johnny Depp: The Illustrated Biography by Nick Johnstone
- The Secret World of Johnny Depp: The Intimate Biography of Hollywood’s Best Loved Rebel by Nigel Goodall
Written by: Triston Brewer