Last updated on May 24, 2022
Johnny Depp is one of the most versatile actors in Hollywood, known for his portrayal of eccentric characters. He has famously played Willy Wonka in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Captain Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, among other famous works.
Johnny Depp is of primarily English descent, with some French, German, Irish, and West African ancestry. His surname comes from a French Huguenot immigrant, Pierre Dieppe, who settled in Virginia around 1700.
He is also descended from colonial freedom fighter Elizabeth Key Grinstead (1630–1665), daughter of English planter and member of the Virginia House of Burgesses Thomas Key and a slave woman.
Johnny said in an interview that he believes he might also have some Native American ancestry. “My great-grandmother was quite a bit of Native American. She grew up Cherokee or maybe Creek Indian.”
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 waitress and homemaker. The youngest of four children, Depp was withdrawn and a self-admitted oddball.
Johnny and his family moved frequently to accommodate his father’s job, finally landing in Miramar, Florida, when he was 7 years old. The family lived in a motel for nearly a year, until his father found a job. Depp 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. At the same time, his mother gave him a guitar and he began playing in various bands.
In 1978, when Johnny was 15, his parents got divorced. As the youngest of four, it became Depp‘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. In the following year, he dropped out of Miramar High School at 16 to become a rock musician. He attempted to go back to school two weeks later, but the principal told him to follow his dream of being a musician.
Johnny then started to play in 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.
In December 1983, at the age of 20, Johnny married makeup artist Lori Anne Allison, the sister of his band’s bassist and singer. The couple moved to Los Angeles with the band in pursuit of a record deal, changing its name to Six Gun Method. In addition, Depp worked a variety of odd jobs, such as in telemarketing.
Early Acting Career
In 1984, Johnny 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. Johnny had been interested in acting since reading a biography of James Dean and watching Rebel Without a Cause.
After several small roles as an extra, Depp got an audition with Wes Craven for A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984). Johnny, who had no acting experience, said he “ended up acting by accident”.
After several small roles as an extra, Depp landed his first legitimate movie role in the horror film Nightmare on Elm Street (1984).
The Kids split up before signing a record deal in 1984, and Depp began collaborating with the band Rock City Angels. He co-wrote their song Mary, which appeared on their debut Geffen Records album Young Man’s Blues. Johnny and Allison divorced in 1985.
After his divorce, Depp struck up a relationship with actress Sherilyn Fenn, whom he met on the set of the short film Dummies (1985). They were briefly engaged, but split shortly after. After their break-up, Johnny then met and proposed to actress Jennifer Grey, but their romance was also short-lived.
Johnny 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. When his contract on Jump Street expired in 1989, he leapt at the opportunity to pursue weightier roles.
In 1990, Johnny starred in the John Waters ’50s-kitsch musical Cry-Baby (1990), 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.
It was during shooting for Edward Scissorhands that 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 (1989). The two began dating on the set and soon became a Hollywood power couple. Five months after their first date, Johnny and Winona became engaged. To solidify their love, Depp even had “Winona Forever” tattooed on his right arm. The couple split, however, in 1993.
Outside of his personal life, Johnny Depp continued to flourish, gaining critical acclaim and increasing popularity for his work. Several of his most notable roles included his role as 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.
In August 1993, Johnny 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 same year, when teen heartthrob and critically acclaimed actor River Phoenix suffered a drug overdose outside the club and died later that evening.
“I closed the club for a few nights,” Johnny said later. “To get out of the way so River’s fans could bring messages, bring flowers. And I got angry. I made a statement to the press: ‘F— you. I will not be disrespectful to River’s memory. I will not participate in your circus.'”
In 1994 Johnny started a relationship with English model Kate Moss and re-teamed with Tim Burton in the biopic Ed Wood, about the infamous B-movie director. The film won Depp critical acclaim and another Golden Globe nomination. Other notable films in the late ’90s include Don Juan DeMarco (1995), in which Depp plays a character who believes he is the famous fictional Don Juan, and Donnie Brasco (1997), which featured Depp as an undercover FBI agent seeking to infiltrate the Bonano crime family.
In 1998, Johnny split from long-time girlfriend Kate 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. Johnny would later finance the writer’s funeral.
Box Office Star
While filming The Ninth Gate in France in 1998, Johnny met French actress and singer Vanessa Paradis. They started a long-term relationship and had two children; Lily-Rose Melody Depp, born 1999, and John “Jack” Christopher Depp III, born 2002.
Johnny stated that having children has given him a “real foundation, a real strong place to stand in life, in work, in everything… You cannot plan the kind of deep love that results in children. Fatherhood was not a conscious decision. It was part of the wonderful ride I was on. It was destiny. All the math finally worked”.
For Johnny‘s next film project, he tried his hand at sci-fi horror with The Astronaut’s Wife in 1999. The same year, he teamed up with Burton once again on Sleepy Hollow, starring as a prim, driven Ichabod Crane. He appeared the following year in the small but popular romantic drama Chocolat, followed by a big-budget role as real-life cocaine kingpin George Jung in Blow in 2001. Depp then appeared in the terror drama From Hell in 2001 and Robert Rodriguez’s Once Upon a Time in Mexico in 2002.
In 2004, Johnny earned an Academy Award nomination for his starring role as Captain Jack Sparrow in the family adventure Pirates of the Caribbean. The film was a box office smash, fueling the creation of the Pirates franchise. At the end of that year, Depp also 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.
In 2006, Depp returned as Captain Jack Sparrow for the sequel Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, which 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 (2007) was released on Memorial Day weekend, bringing in $138.8 million.
Depp then took on one of theater’s most notorious characters in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, also in 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.
In 2009, two of Depp films — The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus and Public Enemies — premiered with mixed results. He returned to box office success with the 2010 film adaptation 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 film, starring Mia Wasikowska as Alice, brought in more than $116 million in its opening weekend.
Once again roving on the high seas, Johnny reprised his role of Captain Jack Sparrow in another installment in the Pirates series, On Stranger Tides, in 2011. He returned to independent film that same year with The Rum Diary, based on the book by Hunter S. Thompson.
Hits and Misses
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 friend Burton to bring it to the big screen.
In 2012, it was announced that Johnny and Vanessa had split after 14 years together. The couple “have amicably separated,” his publicist said in a released statement. “Please respect their privacy and, more importantly, the privacy of their children.” Following the end of his relationship with Paradis, Depp began dating actress Amber Heard, with whom he had co-starred in The Rum Diary (2011).
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 worked on the hilarious comedy-thriller Mortdecai and took on the role of notorious crime boss Whitey Bulger in the 2015 biopic Black Mass. Critics from The Hollywood Reporter and Variety called Black Mass one of Depp’s best performances to date, and the role earned Depp his third nomination for the Best Actor SAG award. That same year he married Amber Heard in a civil ceremony.
In 2016, he reprised his role as the Mad Hatter in Through The Looking Glass, Burton’s latest take on Carroll’s sequel to Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland. In the meantime, Heard filed for divorce and obtained a temporary restraining order against Depp, alleging in her court declaration that he had been abusive throughout their relationship, usually while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Johnny Depp denied these claims and alleged that she was “attempting to secure a premature financial resolution”. Depp paid Heard a settlement of US$7 million, which she pledged to donate to the ACLU and the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA). However, during the Depp v Heard trial in 2022, Amber admitted that she did not donate the money, despite claiming for years that she did.
In 2017, Johnny returned as Captain Jack Sparrow for Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales and joined the ensemble cast for an adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express.
In 2018, Depp voiced the title character Sherlock Gnomes in the animated movie Gnomeo & Juliet: Sherlock Gnomes. It was a commercial success, despite the critic’s reviews. Depp then starred in two independent films, both produced by him and his company, Infinitum Nihil. The first was City of Lies and second was the comedy-drama Richard Says Goodbye, in which Depp played a professor with terminal cancer. He also reprised his role as Grindelwald in Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, amidst controversial reactions from part of the public due to Amber Heard’s accusations.
Johnny also experienced other career setbacks around this time, as Disney confirmed that they would not be casting him in new Pirates installments. His next films were the independent dramas Waiting for the Barbarians (2019), based on a novel by J.M. Coetzee, and Minamata (2020), in which he portrayed photographer W. Eugene Smith and which premiered at the 2020 Berlin International Film Festival. Later, the director of Minamata, accused MGM of trying to bury the film due to Depp‘s involvement, with Depp claiming he is being boycotted by the Hollywood industry and calling his changed reputation an “absurdity of media mathematics”. Warner Bros. also asked Johnny Depp to resign from his role as Grindelwald in the Fantastic Beasts franchise.
In 2018, Depp brought a libel lawsuit in the UK against News Group Newspapers (NGN), publishers of The Sun, which had called him a “wife beater” in an April 2018 article. The case had a highly publicized trial in July 2020, with both Depp and Heard testifying for several days. Despite the evidence brought in court, the UK’s High Court of Justice ruled against Depp, and he lost the case.
In addition, Depp also sued Heard for defamation in Virginia in early 2019 over an op-ed she wrote about abusive relationships, which had been published by The Washington Post in December 2018. Depp said that he had been the one who was abused by Heard, that her allegations constituted a hoax against him, and that as a consequence, Disney had declined to cast him in future projects. The trial in Depp v Heard started in Fairfax County, Virginia, on April 11, 2022.
Johnny Depp has recently received multiple honorary awards at numerous European film festivals, including at the Camerimage Festival in Poland, the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in the Czech Republic, and the San Sebastián International Film Festival in Spain, where Depp was awarded the Donostia Award. While some criticized the awards, the organizers of the ceremonies released statements defending their decision to award Depp, with the San Sebastian Film Festival stating that “he has not been charged by any authority in any jurisdiction, nor convicted of any form of violence against women”.
In February 2022, he received the Serbian Gold Medal of Merit from President Aleksandar Vučić for “outstanding merits in public and cultural activities, especially in the field of film art and the promotion of the Republic of Serbia in the world”. Minamata and animated series Puffins were shot in the country.
In May 2022, Johnny stated that since Hollywood has boycotted him, he chose to make a big screen return overseas as King Louis XV, a.k.a. Louis the Beloved. The French-language movie directed by French actor-director Maïwenn, titled Jeanne Du Barry will mark Depp’s first feature since 2020’s Minamata. Film shooting will take place primarily at the Versailles Palace and is set to begin in the summer of 2022.Sources: Biography.com, Wikipedia, People, Thethings.com