John Christopher Depp II (born June 9, 1963) is an American actor, producer, and musician. He is the recipient of various accolades, including a Golden Globe Award and a Screen Actors Guild Award, in addition to nominations for three Academy Awards and two British Academy Film Awards.
Depp made his debut in the horror film A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), before rising to prominence as a teen idol on the television series 21 Jump Street (1987–1990). In the 1990s, Depp acted mostly in independent films, often playing eccentric characters. These included What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993), Benny and Joon (1993), Dead Man (1995), Donnie Brasco (1997) and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998). Depp also began collaborating with director Tim Burton, starring in Edward Scissorhands (1990), Ed Wood (1994) and Sleepy Hollow (1999).
In the 2000s, Depp became one of the most commercially successful film stars by playing Jack Sparrow in the swashbuckler film series Pirates of the Caribbean (2003–present). He received critical praise for Finding Neverland (2004), and continued his commercially successful collaboration with Tim Burton with the films Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005), Corpse Bride (2005), Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007), and Alice in Wonderland (2010). In 2012, Depp was one of the world’s biggest film stars, and was listed by the Guinness World Records as the world’s highest-paid actor, with earnings of US$75 million. During the 2010s, Depp began producing films through his company, Infinitum Nihil, and formed the rock supergroup Hollywood Vampires with Alice Cooper and Joe Perry.
Early life and ancestry
John Christopher Depp II was born on June 9, 1963, in Owensboro, Kentucky, the youngest of four children of waitress Betty Sue Palmer (née Wells) and civil engineer John Christopher Depp. Depp’s family moved frequently during his childhood, eventually settling in Miramar, Florida in 1970. His parents divorced in 1978 when he was 15, and his mother later married Robert Palmer, whom Depp has called “an inspiration”.
Depp was gifted a guitar by his mother when he was 12 years old, and began playing in various bands. He dropped out of Miramar High School aged 16 in 1979 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. In 1980, Depp began playing guitar in a band called The Kids. After modest local success in Florida, the band moved to Los Angeles in pursuit of a record deal, changing their name to Six Gun Method. In addition to the band, Depp worked a variety of odd jobs, such as in telemarketing. In December 1983, Depp married make-up artist Lori Anne Allison, the sister of his band’s bassist and singer. The Kids split up before signing a record deal in 1984, and Depp subsequently 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. Depp and Allison divorced in 1985.
Depp is primarily of English descent, with some French, German, Irish and 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 an English planter and his African slave. In interviews in 2002 and 2011, Depp claimed to have Native American ancestry, stating, “I guess I have some Native American somewhere down the line. My great-grandmother was quite a bit of Native American, she grew up Cherokee or maybe Creek Indian. Makes sense in terms of coming from Kentucky, which is rife with Cherokee and Creek Indian.” Depp’s claims came under scrutiny when Indian Country Today stated that Depp had never inquired about his heritage nor was he recognized as a member of the Cherokee Nation. This led to criticism from the Native American community, as Depp has no documented Native ancestry, and Native community leaders refer to him as “a non-Indian”. Depp’s choice to portray Tonto, a Native American character, in The Lone Ranger was criticized, along with his choice to name his rock band “Tonto’s Giant Nuts”. During the promotion for The Lone Ranger, Depp was adopted as an honorary son by LaDonna Harris, a member of the Comanche Nation, making him an honorary member of her family but not a member of any tribe. Critical response to his claims from the Native community increased after this, including satirical portrayals of Depp by Native comedians. An ad featuring Depp and Native American imagery, by Dior for the fragrance “Sauvage”, was pulled in 2019 after being accused of cultural appropriation and racism.
1984–1989: Early roles and 21 Jump Street
In the early 1980s, Depp’s then-wife Lori Ann Allison introduced him to actor Nicolas Cage, who advised him to pursue an acting career. Depp has also credited James Dean as the catalyst that made him want to become an actor. Depp’s first film role was in the horror film A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), in which he played the boyfriend of the main character and one of Freddy Krueger’s victims. After a starring role in the comedy Private Resort (1985), Depp was cast in the lead role of the skating drama Thrashin’ (1986) by the film’s director, but the decision was later overridden by its producer. Instead, Depp appeared in a minor supporting role as a Vietnamese-speaking private in Oliver Stone’s Vietnam War drama Platoon (1986). Depp became a teen idol during the late 1980s, when he starred as an undercover police officer in a high school operation in the Fox television series 21 Jump Street, which premiered in 1987. He accepted this role to work with actor Frederic Forrest, who inspired him. Despite his success, Depp felt that the series “forced [him] into the role of product”.
1990–2002: Independent films and first collaborations with Tim Burton
Disillusioned by his experiences as a teen idol in 21 Jump Street, Depp began choosing roles which he found more interesting, rather than those he thought would succeed at the box office. His first film release in 1990 was John Waters’ Cry-Baby, a musical comedy set in the 1950s. Although it was not a box office success upon its initial release, over the years it has gained cult classic status. Also in 1990, Depp played the title character in Tim Burton’s romantic fantasy film Edward Scissorhands opposite Dianne Wiest and Winona Ryder. The film was a commercial and critical success with a domestic gross of $53 million. In preparation for the role, Depp watched many Charlie Chaplin films to study the idea of creating sympathy without dialogue. Peter Travers of Rolling Stone praised Depp’s performance stating that he “artfully expresses the fierce longing in gentle Edward; it’s a terrific performance”, while Rita Kempley of The Washington Post stated that he “brings the eloquence of the silent era to this part of few words, saying it all through bright black eyes and the tremulous care with which he holds his horror-movie hands. Depp earned his first Golden Globe nomination for the film.
Depp had no film releases in the following two years, with the exception of a brief cameo in Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991), the sixth installment in the A Nightmare of Elm Street franchise. He appeared in three films in 1993. In the romantic comedy Benny and Joon, he played an eccentric and illiterate silent film fan who befriends a mentally ill woman and her brother; it became a sleeper hit. Janet Maslin of The New York Times wrote that Depp “may look nothing like Buster Keaton, but there are times when he genuinely seems to become the Great Stone Face, bringing Keaton’s mannerisms sweetly and magically to life”. Depp received a second Golden Globe nomination for the performance. His second film of the year was Lasse Hallström’s What’s Eating Gilbert Grape (1993), a drama about a dysfunctional family in which he starred alongside Leonardo DiCaprio and Juliette Lewis. It did not perform well commercially, but received positive notices from the critics. Although most of the reviews focused on DiCaprio, who was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance, Todd McCarthy of Variety wrote that “Depp manages to command center screen with a greatly affable, appealing characterization”. Depp’s final 1993 release was Emir Kusturica’s surrealist comedy-drama Arizona Dream, which opened to positive reviews, and won the Silver Bear at Berlin Film Festival.
In 1994, Depp reunited with director Tim Burton, playing the title role in Ed Wood, a biographical film about one of history’s most inept film directors. Depp later stated that he was at the time depressed about films and filmmaking, but that “within 10 minutes of hearing about the project, I was committed.” He found that the role gave him a “chance to stretch out and have some fun” and that working with Martin Landau, who played Bela Lugosi, “rejuvenated my love for acting”. Although it did not earn back its production costs, Ed Wood received a positive reception from the critics, with Janet Maslin of The New York Times writing that Depp had “proved himself as an established, certified great actor” and “captured all the can-do optimism that kept Ed Wood going, thanks to an extremely funny ability to look at the silver lining of any cloud.” Depp was nominated for a third time for a Best Musical or Comedy Actor Golden Globe for his performance.
The following year, Depp starred in three films. He played opposite Marlon Brando in the box-office hit Don Juan DeMarco, as a man who believes he is Don Juan, the world’s greatest lover. He then starred in Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man, a Western shot entirely in black-and-white; it was not a commercial success and had mixed critical reviews. Depp’s final film of the year was in the financial and critical failure Nick of Time, a thriller in which he played an accountant who is told to kill a politician to save his kidnapped daughter.
In 1997, Depp starred alongside Al Pacino in the crime drama Donnie Brasco, directed by Mike Newell. He portrayed Joseph D. Pistone, an undercover FBI Agent who assumes the name ‘Donnie Brasco’ in order to infiltrate the mafia in New York City. To prepare for the role, Depp spent time with the real-life Joe Pistone, on whose memoirs the film was based. Donnie Brasco was a commercial and critical success, and is considered to contain one of Depp’s finest performances. In 1997, Depp also debuted as a director and screenwriter with The Brave. He starred in it as a poor Native American man who accepts a proposal from a wealthy man, played by Marlon Brando, to appear in a snuff film in exchange for money for his family. It premiered at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival for generally negative reviews. Variety dismissed the film as “a turgid and unbelievable neo-western”, and Time Out stated that there’s nothing inherently wrong with the film but that “besides the implausibilities, the direction has two fatal flaws: it’s both tediously slow and hugely narcissistic as the camera focuses repeatedly on Depp’s bandana’d head and rippling torso.” Due to the negative reviews, Depp decided not to release The Brave formally in the United States, neither in theaters nor on home media.
Depp was a fan and friend of writer Hunter S. Thompson, and played his alter ego Raoul Duke in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998), Terry Gilliam’s film adaptation of Thompson’s pseudobiographical novel of the same name.[a] It was a box office failure, and polarized critics. Later that year, Depp made a brief cameo in Mika Kaurismäki’s L.A. Without a Map (1998).
Depp appeared in three films in 1999. The first was the sci-fi thriller The Astronaut’s Wife, co-starring Charlize Theron, which was not a commercial or critical success. The second, Roman Polanski’s The Ninth Gate, which starred Depp as a seller of old books who becomes entangled in a mystery, was moderately more successful with audiences but received mixed reviews. Depp’s third film of 1999 was Tim Burton’s adaptation of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, where Depp played Ichabod Crane opposite Christina Ricci and Christopher Walken. For his performance, Depp took inspiration from Angela Lansbury, Roddy McDowall and Basil Rathbone, stating that he “always thought of Ichabod as a very delicate, fragile person who was maybe a little too in touch with his feminine side, like a frightened little girl.” Sleepy Hollow was a commercial and critical success.
Depp’s first film release of the new millennium was British-French drama The Man Who Cried (2000), directed by Sally Potter and starring him as a Roma horseman opposite Christina Ricci, Cate Blanchett and John Turturro. It was not a critical success. Depp also had a supporting role in Julian Schnabel’s critically acclaimed Before Night Falls (2000). Depp’s final film for the year was Lasse Hallström’s critically and commercially successful Chocolat (2000), in which he played a Roma man and the love interest of the main character, Juliette Binoche. Depp’s next roles were both based on historical persons. In Blow (2001), he starred as cocaine smuggler George Jung, who was part of the Medellín Cartel in the 1980s. The film underperformed in the box office and received mixed reviews. In the comic book adaptation From Hell (2001), Depp portrayed inspector Frederick Abberline, who investigated the Jack the Ripper murders in the 1880s London. The film was not liked by the critics but was a moderate commercial success.
2003–2011: Pirates of the Caribbean, commercial and critical success
In 2003, Depp starred in the Walt Disney Pictures adventure film Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, which was a major box office success. He earned widespread acclaim for his comic performance as pirate Captain Jack Sparrow, and received Academy Award, Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations and won a Screen Actor’s Guild Award for Best Actor as well as an MTV Movie Award. Depp has said that Sparrow is “definitely a big part of me”, and that he modeled the character after The Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards and cartoon skunk Pepé Le Pew. Studio executives had at first been ambivalent about Depp’s portrayal, but the character became popular with audiences. In his other film release in 2003, Robert Rodriguez’ action film Once Upon a Time in Mexico, Depp played a corrupt CIA agent. A moderate box-office success, it received average to good reviews, with Depp’s performance in particular receiving praise.
Depp next starred as an author with writer’s block in the thriller Secret Window (2004), based on a short story by Stephen King. It was a moderate commercial success but received mixed reviews. Released around the same time, the British-Australian independent film The Libertine (2004) saw Depp portray the seventeenth-century poet and rake, the Earl of Rochester. It had only limited release, and received mainly negative reviews. Depp’s third film of 2004, Finding Neverland, was more positively received by the critics, and earned him his second Academy Award nomination as well as Golden Globe, BAFTA, and SAG nominations for his performance as Scottish author J. M. Barrie. Depp also made a brief cameo appearance in the French film Happily Ever After (2004).
Depp continued his box-office success with a starring role as Willy Wonka in Tim Burton’s adaptation of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005). It also had a positive critical reception, with Depp being nominated again for the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Comedy or Musical. Chocolate Factory was followed by another Burton project, stop-motion animation Corpse Bride (2005), in which Depp voiced the main character, Victor Van Dort. Depp reprised the role of Jack Sparrow in the Pirates sequels Dead Man’s Chest (2006) and At World’s End (2007), both of which were major box office successes. He also voiced the character in the video game Pirates of the Caribbean: The Legend of Jack Sparrow. According to a survey taken by Fandango, Depp in the role of Jack Sparrow was the main reason for many cinema-goers to see a Pirates film.
In 2007, Depp collaborated with Burton for their sixth film together, this time playing murderous barber Sweeney Todd in the musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007). Depp cited Peter Lorre’s performance in Mad Love (1935), in which Lorre played a “creepy but sympathetic” surgeon, as his main influence for the role. Sweeney Todd was the first film in which Depp had been required to sing. Instead of hiring a qualified vocal coach, he prepared for the role by recording demos with his old bandmate Bruce Witkin. The film was a commercial and critical success. Entertainment Weekly’s Chris Nashawaty stated that “Depp’s soaring voice makes you wonder what other tricks he’s been hiding… Watching Depp’s barber wield his razors… it’s hard not to be reminded of Edward Scissorhands frantically shaping hedges into animal topiaries 18 years ago… and all of the twisted beauty we would’ve missed out on had [Burton and Depp] never met.” Depp won the Golden Globe for Best Musical or Comedy Actor for the role, and was nominated for the third time for an Academy Award.
In 2009, Depp portrayed real-life gangster John Dillinger in Michael Mann’s 1930s crime film Public Enemies. It was commercially successful and gained moderately positive reviews. Roger Ebert stated in his review that “This Johnny Depp performance is something else. For once an actor playing a gangster does not seem to base his performance on movies he has seen. He starts cold. He plays Dillinger as a fact.” Depp’s second film of 2009, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, reunited him with director Terry Gilliam. Depp, Jude Law, and Colin Farrell each played the character initially portrayed by their friend Heath Ledger, who had died before the film was completed. All three actors gave their salaries to Ledger’s daughter, Matilda.
Depp began the 2010s with another collaboration with Tim Burton, Alice in Wonderland (2010), in which he played the Mad Hatter opposite Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway and Alan Rickman. Despite mixed reviews, it earned US$1.025 billion in the box office, thus becoming the second-highest-grossing film of 2010 and one of the highest-grossing films of all time. Depp’s second film release of 2010 was the romantic thriller The Tourist, in which he starred opposite Angelina Jolie. It was commercially successful, although panned by critics. Regardless, he received Best Actor in a Musical or Comedy Golden Globe nominations for both films.
Depp’s first 2011 film release was the animation Rango, in which he voiced the title character, a lizard. It was a major critical and commercial success. His second film of the year, the fourth installment in the Pirates series, On Stranger Tides, was again a box office hit, becoming the third-highest-grossing film of 2011. Later in 2011, Depp released the first two projects co-produced by his company, Infinitum Nihil. The first was a film adaptation of the novel The Rum Diary by Hunter S. Thompson and starred Depp. It failed to bring back its production costs and received mixed reviews. The company’s second undertaking, Martin Scorsese’s Hugo (2011), garnered major critical acclaim and several awards nominations, but similarly did not perform well in the box office. In 2011, Depp also made a brief cameo in the Adam Sandler film Jack and Jill.
2012–present: Career setbacks
In 2012, Depp was one of the world’s biggest film stars, and was listed by the Guinness World Records as the world’s highest-paid actor, with earnings of US$75 million.
In 2012, Depp and his 21 Jump Street co-stars Peter DeLuise and Holly Robinson reprised their roles in cameo appearances in the series’ feature film adaptation. Depp also starred in his eighth film with Tim Burton, Dark Shadows (2012), alongside Helena Bonham Carter, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Eva Green. The film was based on a 1960s Gothic television soap opera of the same name, which had been one of his favorites as a child. Depp also co-produced the film. The film’s poor reception in the United States brought Depp’s star appeal into question.
Depp’s next starring role, as Tonto in The Lone Ranger (2013), was also not well received by the public or the critics. His casting as a Native American brought accusations of whitewashing, and the film was a box office bomb that caused Walt Disney Studios to take a US$190 million loss. Also in 2013, Depp made a brief cameo in the independent film Lucky Them. His next starring role as an AI-studying scientist in the sci-fi thriller Transcendence (2014) was yet another commercial failure, with mainly negative reviews. His other roles in 2014 were a minor supporting part as The Wolf in the musical adaptation Into the Woods, and a more substantial appearance as eccentric French-Canadian ex-detective in Kevin Smith’s horror comedy Tusk, in which he was credited by the character’s name, Guy LaPointe.
In 2015, Depp released his fifth co-production for Infinitum Nihil, comedy-thriller Mortdecai, in which he starred opposite Gwyneth Paltrow. It was a critical and commercial failure and earned the main stars Golden Raspberry nominations. Depp’s second film released in 2015, Black Mass, in which he played Boston crime boss Whitey Bulger, was better received. Critics from The Hollywood Reporter and Variety called it one of his best performances to date, and the role earned Depp his third nomination for the Best Actor SAG award. However, the film failed to bring back its production costs. Depp also made a cameo appearance in the critically panned London Fields, starring his then-wife Amber Heard, which was to be released in 2015, but its general release was delayed by litigation until 2018. In addition to his work in films in 2015, French luxury fashion house Dior signed Depp as the face of their men’s fragrance, Sauvage, and he was inducted as a Disney Legend.
The first film featuring Depp to be released in 2016 was Kevin Smith’s critically panned horror-comedy Yoga Hosers, in which Depp and his daughter, Lily-Rose Depp, reprised their roles from Tusk. Next, Depp appeared as businessman and presidential candidate Donald Trump in a Funny or Die satire film entitled Donald Trump’s The Art of the Deal: The Movie, released during the run-up to the US presidential election. He earned praise for the role, with a headline from The A.V. Club declaring, “Who knew Donald Trump was the comeback role Johnny Depp needed?” It was also announced that Depp had been cast in a new franchise role as Dr. Jack Griffin/The Invisible Man in Universal Studios’ planned shared film universe entitled the Dark Universe, a rebooted version of their classic Universal Monsters franchise. Depp reprised the role of the Mad Hatter in Tim Burton’s Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016), the sequel to Alice in Wonderland. In contrast to the first film’s success, the sequel lost Disney approximately US$70 million. It also gained Depp two Golden Raspberry nominations. Depp had also been secretly cast to play dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald in a cameo appearance in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016), the first installment of the Fantastic Beasts franchise. His name was not mentioned in the promotional materials and his cameo was only revealed at the end of the film.
In 2017, Depp appeared alongside other actors and filmmakers in The Black Ghiandola, a short film made by a terminally ill teenager through the non-profit Make a Film Foundation. He also reprised his role as Captain Jack Sparrow in the fifth installment of the Pirates series, Dead Men Tell No Tales (2017). In the US, it was less popular with audiences than the previous installments, and Depp was nominated for two Golden Raspberry Awards for worst actor and for worst screen combo with “his worn-out drunk routine”. However, the film had a good box office return internationally, especially in China, Japan and Russia. Depp’s last film release in 2017 was the Agatha Christie adaptation Murder on the Orient Express, in which he was part of an ensemble cast led by director-star Kenneth Branagh.
In 2018, Depp voiced the title character Sherlock Gnomes in the animated movie Gnomeo & Juliet: Sherlock Gnomes. Although moderately commercially successful, it was critically panned and earned Depp two Golden Raspberry nominations, one for his acting and another for his “fast-fading film career”. Depp then starred in two independent films, both produced by him and his company, Infinitum Nihil. The first was City of Lies, in which he starred as Russell Poole, an LAPD detective who attempts to solve the murders of rappers Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. It was originally set for release in September 2015, but was pulled from the release schedule after a crew member sued Depp for assault. The second film was the comedy-drama Richard Says Goodbye, in which Depp played a professor with terminal cancer. It premiered at the Zurich Film Festival in October 2018. Depp’s last film release of 2018 was Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, the sequel to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, in which he reprised his role as Grindelwald. Depp’s casting received criticism from fans of the series due to the domestic violence allegations against him. Depp also experienced other career setbacks around this time, as Disney confirmed that they would not be casting him in new Pirates installments and he was reported to no longer be attached to Universal’s Dark Universe franchise. His only film release in 2019 was Waiting for the Barbarians, based on a novel by J.M. Coetzee.
Depp portrayed photographer W. Eugene Smith in the independent film drama Minamata, which premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival in early 2020. Depp was set to return as Grindelwald in the untitled third Fantastic Beasts film, but stepped down after a request by Warner Bros. in November 2020, following his loss in a UK libel case that found allegations of domestic violence committed by him to be “substantially true”. He was replaced by Mads Mikkelsen. Multiple news publications subsequently wrote that Depp’s career was in crisis, with The Hollywood Reporter calling him “persona non-grata” in the film industry.
In late November 2020, Depp received an award for his career at the Polish Camerimage film festival. Both Minamata and City of Lies were released in early 2021. By March 2021, an online petition to bring Depp back to the Pirates franchise, begun four months earlier, had reached its goal of 500,000 signatures.
In August 2021, Depp said that he was being boycotted by the Hollywood industry and called his fall from Hollywood as an “absurdity of media mathematics.”
In 2004, Depp founded film production company Infinitum Nihil to develop projects where he will serve as actor or producer. He serves as its CEO, while his sister, Christi Dembrowski, serves as president. The company’s first two film releases were The Rum Diary (2011) and Hugo (2011).
Depp co-owned the nightclub The Viper Room in Los Angeles in 1993–2003, and the restaurant-bar Man Ray in Paris. Depp and Douglas Brinkley edited folk singer Woody Guthrie’s novel House of Earth, which was published in 2013.
Prior to his acting career, Depp was a guitarist, and has later featured on songs by Oasis, Shane MacGowan, Iggy Pop, Vanessa Paradis, Aerosmith, Marilyn Manson, and The New Basement Tapes, among others. He also performed with Manson at the Revolver Golden Gods Awards in 2012. Depp played guitar on the soundtrack of his films Chocolat and Once Upon a Time in Mexico, and has appeared in music videos for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, The Lemonheads, Avril Lavigne and Paul McCartney. In the 1990s, he was also a member of P, a musical group featuring Butthole Surfers singer Gibby Haynes, Red Hot Chili Peppers bassist Flea and Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones.
In 2015, Depp formed the supergroup Hollywood Vampires with Alice Cooper and Joe Perry; the band also includes Bruce Witkin, his friend from his 1980s band, The Kids. Hollywood Vampires released their self-titled debut studio album in September 2015. It featured eleven classic rock covers, as well as three original songs (all co-written by Depp). The band made their live debut at The Roxy in Los Angeles in September 2015, and has since done two world tours in 2016 and 2018. Their second studio album, Rise, was released in June 2019 and consists mostly of original material, including songs written by Depp. The album also features a cover version of David Bowie’s “Heroes”, sung by Depp. In 2020, Depp released a cover of John Lennon’s “Isolation” with guitarist Jeff Beck, and stated that they would be releasing more music together in the future.
Reception and public image
In the 1990s, Depp was seen as a new type of male film star that rejected the norms of that role. After becoming a teen idol in 21 Jump Street, he publicly protested against the image, and with his subsequent film and PR choices began to cultivate a new public persona. According to journalist Hadley Freeman:
“Along with Phoenix and Keanu Reeves, he was part of a holy trinity of grunge heart-throbs. They were the opposite of the Beverly Hills 90210 boys, or Brad Pitt and DiCaprio, because they seemed embarrassed by their looks, even resentful of them. …This uninterest in their own prettiness made them seem edgy, even while their prettiness softened that edge. They signified not just a different kind of celebrity, but a different kind of masculinity: desirable but gentle, manly but girlish. Depp in particular was the cool pinup it was safe to like, and the safe pinup it was cool to like. We fans understood that there was more to Depp, Phoenix and Reeves than handsomeness. They were artistic—they had bands!—and they thought really big thoughts, which they would ramble on about confusingly in interviews. If we dated them, we understood that our role would be to understand their souls.”
Similarly, film scholar Anna Everett has described Depp’s 1990s films and public persona as “anti-macho” and “gender-bending”, going against the conventions of a Hollywood leading man. After 21 Jump Street, Depp chose to work in independent films, often taking on quirky roles that sometimes even completely obscured his looks, such as Edward Scissorhands. Critics often described Depp’s characters as “iconic loners” or “gentle outsiders”. According to Depp, his agent, Tracey Jacobs of the United Talent Agency (UTA), had to take “a lot of heat over the years” for his role choices; Depp characterized higher-ups at the UTA as thinking, “Jesus Christ! When does he do a movie where he kisses the girl? When does he get to pull a gun out and shoot somebody? When does he get to be a [fucking] man for a change? When is he ﬁnally going to do a blockbuster?” Depp also cultivated the image of a bad boy. According to Everett, his “rule-breaking” roles matched with the “much publicized rebelliousness, unconventionality, and volatility ascribed to Depp’s own personal life throughout the decade. From reports of his repeated confrontations with the police, trashing of a hotel room, chain smoking, drinking, and drug use, to his multiple engagements to such glamorous women as supermodel Kate Moss and Hollywood starlet Winona Ryder and others, we clearly see a perfect fit between his non-conformist star image and his repertoire of outsider characters.”
After a decade of appearing mainly in independent films with varying commercial success, Depp became one of the biggest box office draws in the 2000s with his role as Captain Jack Sparrow in Walt Disney Studios’ Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. The five films in the series have earned US$4.5 billion as of 2021. In addition to the Pirates franchise, Depp also made further four films with Tim Burton that were major successes, with one, Alice in Wonderland (2010), becoming the biggest commercial hit of Depp’s career and one of the highest-grossing films in history (as of 2021).
According to film scholar Murray Pomerance, Depp’s collaboration with Disney “can be seen to purport and herald a new era for Johnny Depp, one in which he is, ﬁnally, as though long-promised and long-expected, the proud proprietor of a much-accepted career; not only a star but a middle-class hero”. In 2003, the same year as the first film in the Pirates series was released, Depp was named “World’s Sexiest Man” by People; he would receive the title again in 2009. During the decade and into the 2010s, Depp was one of the biggest and most popular film stars in the world and was named by public vote as “Favorite Male Movie Star” at the People’s Choice Awards every year for 2005 through 2012. In 2012, Depp became the most highly paid actor in the American film industry, earning at best $75 million per film, and as of 2020, is the tenth highest-grossing actor worldwide, with his films having grossed over US$3.7 billion at the United States box office and over US$10 billion worldwide. Although a mainstream favorite with the audiences, critics’ views on Depp changed in the 2000s, becoming more negative as he was seen to conform more to the Hollywood ideal. Regardless, Depp continued to eschew more traditional leading-man roles until towards the end of the 2000s, when he starred as John Dillinger in Public Enemies (2009).
In the 2010s, Depp’s films have been less successful, with many big-budget studio films such as Dark Shadows (2012), The Lone Ranger (2013), and Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016) underperforming at the box office and gaining Depp nominations for Golden Raspberry Awards. Depp also received much negative publicity due to allegations of domestic violence, substance abuse, and poor on-set behavior as well as the loss of his US$650 million fortune. Disney, with whom Depp collaborated extensively in 2003–2017, has ended their association with him, and after losing a highly publicized libel trial against the publishers of The Sun, Depp was asked to resign from Warner Bros.’ Fantastic Beasts franchise. Subsequently, many publications wrote that Depp would most likely struggle to find further work in major studio productions.
Depp and makeup artist Lori Anne Allison were married from 1983 until 1985. In the late 1980s, he was engaged to actresses Jennifer Grey and Sherilyn Fenn before proposing in 1990 to his Edward Scissorhands co-star Winona Ryder, for whom he tattooed “WINONA FOREVER” on his right arm. In 1994–1997, he was in a relationship with English model Kate Moss. Following his breakup from Moss, Depp began a relationship with French actress and singer Vanessa Paradis, whom he met while filming The Ninth Gate in France in 1998. They have two children, daughter Lily-Rose Melody Depp (born 1999) and son John Christopher “Jack” Depp III (born 2002). Depp 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.” Depp and Paradis announced that they had separated in June 2012.
Following the end of his relationship with Vanessa Paradis, Depp began dating actress Amber Heard, with whom he had co-starred in The Rum Diary (2011). They were married in a civil ceremony in February 2015. Heard filed for divorce in May 2016 and obtained a temporary restraining order against Depp, alleging in her court declaration that he had been verbally and physically abusive throughout their relationship, usually while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Depp denied this and alleged that she was “attempting to secure a premature financial resolution”. A settlement was reached in August 2016, and the divorce was finalized in January 2017. Heard dismissed the restraining order, and they issued a joint statement saying that their “relationship was intensely passionate and at times volatile, but always bound by love. Neither party has made false accusations for financial gain. There was never any intent of physical or emotional harm.” Depp paid Heard a settlement of US$7 million, which she pledged to donate to the ACLU and the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. In August 2021, a US judge ruled that the ACLU must disclose documents to determine if Heard donated the $7 million to the charity, after Depp’s lawyer claimed her donation promise was a lie.
In June 2018, Depp brought a libel lawsuit in the UK against News Group Newspapers (NGN), the company publishing 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. In November 2020, the High Court of Justice ruled that 12 of the 14 incidents of violence claimed by Heard were ”substantially true”. The court rejected Depp’s claim of a hoax and accepted that the allegations Heard had made against Depp “have had a negative effect on her career as an actor and activist”. Following the verdict, Depp resigned from the role of Gellert Grindelwald in the Fantastic Beasts franchise, after being asked to do so by its production company, Warner Bros. Depp’s appeal to overturn the verdict was rejected by the Court of Appeal in March 2021.
In early 2019, Depp sued Heard for defamation over an op-ed she wrote about her experiences of leaving an abusive relationship, which was published by the Washington Post in December 2018. Depp alleged that Heard had been the abuser and that her allegations constituted a hoax against him. Heard denied Depp’s claims. The case is scheduled to go to trial in Fairfax County, Virginia in April 2022.
In August 2020, Heard countersued Depp, alleging that he had coordinated “a harassment campaign via Twitter and [by] orchestrating online petitions in an effort to get her fired from Aquaman and L’Oreal”.
On August 17, 2021, a judge in the U.S. state of Virginia allowed Depp to file a libel case against Heard in light of the prior legal proceedings in the United Kingdom, citing “key differences” between the two cases in the two different countries.
Alcohol and drug use
Depp has struggled with alcoholism and addiction for much of his life. He has stated that he began using drugs by taking his mother’s “nerve pills” at the age of 11, was smoking at age 12 and by the age of 14 had used “every kind of drugs there were”. In a 1997 interview, Depp acknowledged past abuse of alcohol during the filming of What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? (1993). In a 2008 interview, Depp stated that he had “poisoned” himself with alcohol “for years”. In 2013, Depp declared that he had stopped drinking alcohol, adding that he “pretty much got everything [he] could get out of it”; Depp also said, “I investigated wine and spirits thoroughly, and they certainly investigated me as well, and we found out that we got along beautifully, but maybe too well.” Regarding his breakup with longtime partner Vanessa Paradis, Depp said that he “definitely wasn’t going to rely on the drink to ease things or cushion the blow or cushion the situation…[because] that could have been fatal.”
According to his ex-wife Amber Heard, Depp “plunged into the depths of paranoia and violence after bingeing on drugs and alcohol” during their relationship in 2013–2016. In a 2018 Rolling Stone profile of Depp, reporter Stephen Rodrick wrote that he had used hashish in his presence and described him as “alternately hilarious, sly and incoherent”; Depp also said that the allegation made by his former business managers that he had spent US$30,000 per month on wine was “insulting” because he had spent “far more” than that amount. During his 2020 libel trial, Depp admitted to having been addicted to Roxicodone and alcohol as well as used other substances such as MDMA and cocaine during his relationship with Heard.
Depp was arrested in Vancouver in 1989 for assaulting a security guard after the police were called to end a loud party at his hotel room. He was also arrested in New York City in 1994 after causing significant damage to his room at The Mark Hotel, where he was staying with Kate Moss, his then-girlfriend. The charges were dropped against him after he agreed to pay US$9,767 in damages. Depp was arrested again in 1999 for brawling with paparazzi outside a restaurant while dining in London with Paradis.
In 2012, disabled UC Irvine medical professor Robin Eckert sued Depp and three security firms, claiming to have been attacked by his bodyguards at a concert in Los Angeles in 2011. During the incident, she was allegedly hand-cuffed and dragged 40 feet across the floor, resulting in injuries including a dislocated elbow. She argued in court that, as the security guards’ direct manager, Depp failed to intervene, even though he did not actively take part in the battery. Before the case went to trial, Depp settled with Eckert for an undisclosed sum, according to TMZ.
In April 2015, Depp’s then-wife Amber Heard breached Australia’s biosecurity laws when she failed to declare her and Depp’s two dogs to the customs when they flew into Queensland, where he was working on a film. Heard pleaded guilty to falsifying quarantine documents, stating that she had made a mistake due to sleep deprivation. She was placed on a $1,000 one-month good behavior bond for producing a false document; Heard and Depp also released a video in which they apologized for their behavior and urged people to adhere to the biosecurity laws. The Guardian called the case the “highest profile criminal quarantine case” in Australian history.
In March 2016, Depp cut ties with his management company, The Management Group (TMG), and sued them in January 2017 for allegedly improperly managing his money and leaving him over $40 million in debt. TMG stated that Depp was responsible for his own fiscal mismanagement and countersued him for unpaid fees. In a related suit, Depp also sued his lawyers, Bloom Hergott, in January 2017. Both lawsuits were settled, the former in 2018 and the latter in 2019.
In 2018, two of Depp’s former bodyguards sued him for unpaid fees and unsafe working conditions. The suit was settled in 2019. Also in 2018, Depp was sued for allegedly hitting and verbally insulting a crew member while under the influence of alcohol on the set of City of Lies.
Political and religious views
Depp stated to the German magazine Stern in 2003 that “America is dumb, is something like a dumb puppy that has big teeth—that can bite and hurt you, aggressive.” Although he later asserted that the magazine misquoted him and his words were taken out of context, Stern stood by its story, as did CNN in its coverage of the interview. CNN added his remark that he would like his children “to see America as a toy, a broken toy. Investigate it a little, check it out, get this feeling and then get out.” Depp has also disagreed with subsequent media reports that perceived him as a “European wannabe”, saying that he liked the anonymity and simplicity of living in France while in a relationship with Paradis. Depp became a U.S. resident again in 2011, because France wanted him to become a permanent resident, which he said would require him to pay income tax in both countries.
In November 2016, Depp joined the campaign Imprisoned for Art to call for the release of Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, who was being held in custody in Russia.
At the Glastonbury Festival 2017, Depp publicly asked: “When was the last time an actor assassinated a President? I want to clarify: I’m not an actor. I lie for a living. However, it’s been a while and maybe it’s time.” He added, “I’m not insinuating anything”. The comment seemed to refer to John Wilkes Booth, the actor who assassinated Abraham Lincoln. Shawn Holtzclaw of the Secret Service told CNN that they were “aware” of Depp’s comment, but said: “For security reasons, we cannot discuss specifically nor in general terms the means and methods of how we perform our protective responsibilities”. The next day, Depp apologized for making these remarks, saying: “It did not come out as intended, and I intended no malice. I was only trying to amuse, not to harm anyone.”
Filmography and accolades
by Shane MacGowan & The Popes
|“That Woman’s Got Me Drinking”|
|Guitar, bass, & background vocals|
|1997||Be Here Now
“Fade Away (Warchild Version)” (B-side)
by Iggy Pop
|“Hollywood Affair” (B-side)|
by Vanessa Paradis
|“St. Germain” —writing credit,
“Bliss” —writing credit,
“They’re Red Hot”,
|2003||Once Upon a Time in Mexico||“Sands’ Theme” —composer/producer|
|2007||Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street||Various|
by Glenn Tilbrook & The Fluffers
|“Too Close to the Sun”|
|2010||“I Put a Spell on You” (single)
by Shane MacGowan & Friends
|2011||The Rum Diary—Soundtrack
|“Kemp in the Village” —producer/composer/guitar
“Mermaid Song” —piano
|From Gainsbourg to Lulu
by Lulu Gainsbourg
|“Ballade de Melody Nelson” —guitars, bass, drums, & duet with Vanessa Paradis|
|The Pleasures of Self Destruction
|“The Jesus Stag Night Club”|
|2012||Aerosmith: Music from Another Dimension!
by Marilyn Manson
|“You’re So Vain”|
by Jup & Rob Jackson
|West of Memphis: Voices of Justice—Soundtrack
|“Little Lion Man”
“Damien Echols Death Row Letter Year 16”
|2013||Son of Rogues Gallery: Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs & Chanteys
|“The Mermaid” by Patti Smith —guitar|
|The Manhattan Blues Project
by Steve Hunter
|“The Brooklyn Shuffle”|
by Vanessa Paradis
|The Lone Ranger: Wanted (Music Inspired by the Film)
|“Poor Paddy on the Railway” —guitar
“Sweet Betsy from Pike” —arrangement
|2014||Lost on the River: The New Basement Tapes
by The New Basement Tapes
|Into the Woods—Motion Picture Soundtrack||“Hello, Little Girl”|
by Hollywood Vampires
|Guitar, backing vocals, keyboard & sound design|
|Afraid of Ghosts
by Butch Walker