Actor, director, musician. Born John Christopher Depp, Jr. in Owensboro, Kentucky, on June 9, 1963, to parents John and Betty Sue Depp. Johnny’s father worked as a civil engineer, and his mother came from full-blooded Cherokee stock, and worked as a waitress and homemaker. The youngest of four children, Depp was withdrawn and a self-admitted oddball. “I made odd noises as a child,” he later revealed in an interview. “Just did weird things, like turn off light switches twice. I think my parents thought I had Tourette’s syndrome.”
Johnny and his family moved frequently to accommodate his father’s job, finally landing in Miramar, Florida, when Johnny was seven 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. “Puberty was very vague,” he has said. “I literally locked myself in a room and played guitar.”
In 1978, when Depp was 15, Johnny’s parents divorced. As the youngest of four, 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, Depp dropped out of high school and joined the garage band, The Kids. The group became successful enough to open for the Talking Heads and the B-52s, but they barely made ends meet. Depp lived for months in a friend’s ’67 Chevy Impala.
In 1983, at the age of 20, Johnny met and married 25-year-old makeup artist Lori Allison. That same year, the couple moved to L.A. with Depp’s band in the hopes of striking it big. Still living on a shoestring budget, Depp and his band mates 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 a film 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 met actress Sherilyn Fenn, whom he met on the set of the short film, Dummies (1985). The couple dated, and were briefly engaged, but split shortly after. After their break-up, Depp then met and proposed to actress 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 TV series 21 Jump Street. The role thrust Depp into almost immediate stardom. Johnny Depp became a teen idol overnight; a title that he greatly resented. When his contract on Jump Street expired in 1989, he leapt at the opportunity to pursue weightier roles.
In 1990, Depp 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 title 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 finally met co-star Winona Ryder, whom he’d been eyeing since a brief meeting at the premier for her film Great Ball of Fire (1989). 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 after Ryder’s parents forbade their 17-year-old daughter to marry.