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Johnny Depp, An American Icon

Updated on June 4, 2010

Nigel Goodall says, in his 2004 biography of Johnny Depp, titled, "What's Eating Johnny Depp":

Back then, of course, if you threw a rock in Hollywood, the odds were reasonably high you would have hit some pretty boy haunted by his teen idol status and moaning about getting his due respect as a serious actor. Precisely the kind of teen pin-up star Johnny Depp used to be. In the years that have passed since the 21 Jump Street star fronted every teen magazine at every check-out counter, Johnny has made a concerted effort to leave his teen idol status behind and to attain artistic credibility in its stead. And in doing so, he has created a body of work that stands proud in its integrity.

I couldn't agree more.

John Christopher Depp II was born on June 9, 1963, in Owensboro, Kentucky.

He was the son of Betty Sue and John Depp, and stepbrother to three of Betty Sue's children from a previous marriage: Debbie, Christi, and Dan (DP).

John Senior and Betty Sue were typical American parents. John Sr. worked as a public servant, a city engineer. Betty Sue worked as a waitress in a local coffee house. Johnny also had a full-blood Cherokee grandfather who died when Johnny was seven years old, that was a big influence on his life.

Johnny had this to say of his mother, Betty Sue:

"She cursed like a sailor, played cards, and smoked cigarettes...sometimes she'd come home with $30.00 in tips after a ten-hour shift..."

When Johnny was seven years old, he and his family moved to Florida, the town of Miramar, where his father found employment as the Director of Public works. Johnny's family moved around a lot, after they moved to Florida. He later attributed this continual relocation to his mother having "ants in her pants". They'd move to a different house in the same town, and Johnny remembers always being the new kid on the block.

It all got worse when his parents divorced, when he was 15 years old. Johnny became a surly and disinterested student. He also started doing a lot of drugs. Johnny says:

"In my high school, there were different classes of people: the jocks, the smart kids, and the rednecks...then there were the burnouts. None of the girls wanted to hang out with me. I was just, you know, a kind of weedhead. A weird kid."

Johnny dropped out of school, spent a year in his room practicing the guitar, and then joined a band. His mother bought him his first guitar, an electric guitar, for $25.00. She let him do his thing, and didn't bother him that much about school. Betty Sue was just as strongly unconventional as her son, in many ways.

He hooked up with a band called Flame, and though he was still legally a minor, he began earning $25.00 a night playing gigs in Florida nightclubs. Shortly after changing the band name to "The Kids", the band toured as the opening band for rock star Iggy Pop.

Flushed with success, the band moved to Los Angeles, hoping for a recording contract and the big time. It was a rough go--they were competing with literally hundreds of bands in L.A., for club gigs, never mind a recording contract. At one point, they were reduced to telemarketing, so they wouldn't starve.

During that same period (1981 to 1984), Johnny met and briefly married make-up artist Lori Allison, who introduced Johnny to Nicholas Cage.

That meeting resulted in Johnny's feature film debut in the role of a youth who gets eaten by a bed in the cult hit, Wes Craven's "Nightmare on Elm Street".

And it was the beginning of a remarkable television and film career.

Johnny's next role in the teen-age sex romp titled "Private Resort" made his Nightmare role looked sophisticated by comparison. Johnny decided at that point to focus on acting for his career, so he improved his skills by enrolling in the Loft Studio for some much-needed drama coaching.

It worked: Oliver Stone cast him in a small role in the award-winning epic, "Platoon".

Johnny's agent persuaded him to take on the television part of Detective Tommy Hanson in 21 Jump Street. Johnny was very reluctant to take on this part, because he wanted to concentrate on films, not television. But he had hit a dead spot in his acting career, and needed the work. He signed a seven-year contract, thinking, while shooting the pilot for the series, that the premise of the show (young-looking police detectives go undercover in high school) wouldn't work that well and the show would get cancelled after one season, or maybe less.

Well, Johnny was such eye candy that the show rocketed to the number-one spot. It "put the lights on at Fox", turning the Fox studio from a low-budget studio to a major player in the big leagues of network television.

And it turn Johnny into a pin-up teen idol movie star.

Johnny fought hard to change this image. Part of it is, simply, his looks. He looks so young in his pictures. He didn't seem to age. He has a classic face with terrific cheekbones, and his lithe and active body doesn't seem to get any older as time goes by.

Part of it is the "rebel" in him. Teenagers and younger people most closely relate to this movie star, because he dresses down, in jeans and shirts and casual clothes, and because he has tattoos, and because he remains outside the box, reluctant to go for the standard action-hero films, and instead finds roles of the misfit, the outcast, the one who doesn't fit in.

Johnny says:

"Most of the films I've been involved with have been outside the Hollywood structure. I haven't done many with lots of action and explosions and people in jeopardy. Usually I just make films that I think are right for me and that I hope the audience will find interesting."

Oddly enough, this is what endeared us to him. This is what made him a record-breaking box office film star and put him in the stratosphere of highly successful actors.

We all loved him in "Edward Scissorhands". We all loved him in "What's Eating Gilbet Grape". And we most especially loved him in that swashbuckling role of Captain Jack.

Johnny said:

"I've never liked being in the public eye. It makes me feel very uncomfortable. That's why I love spending time in Paris so much. I can do what I want without being scrutinised, judged or stalked. I'm not really interested in glitz. I prefer to live a life filled as much as possible with unusual experiences."

He got his wish. He has been on location all over the world. He has shot scenes involving being dragged behind run-away horses; he has fled a flash-flood; he has seen thunder and rain. He has gone through the desert. He has met thousands of people in his work and travels; some of them people in the "industry"; fellow actors and writers and directors and artists and musicians. He has been graceful, open and kind to millions of fans.

And in doing so, he has given us the following films, which are only a part of his impressive filmography:

  • Cry Baby (1990, a John Waters film)
  • Edward Scissorhands (1990, a Tim Burton film)
  • Benny and Joon (1993, directed by Jeremiah Checkik)
  • What's Eating Gilbert Grape? (1993, a Lasse Hallstrom film)
  • Don Juan DeMarco (1994, directed by Jeremy Leven)
  • Donnie Brasco (1996, directed by Mike Newell)
  • The Ninth Gate (1999, directed by Roman Polanski)
  • Sleepy Hollow (1999, a Tim Burton film)
  • Chocolat (2000, a Lasse Hallstrom film)
  • Blow (2000, directed by Ted Demme)
  • From Hell (2001, directed by The Hughes Brothers)
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003, directed by Gore Verbinski)
  • Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003, directed by Robert Rodriguez)
  • Neverland (2004, directed by Marc Foster)
  • Secret Window (2004, directed by David Koepp, screenplay by Stephen King)
  • The Libertine (2004, directed by Laurence Dunmore)
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005, directed by Tim Burton)
  • The Corpse Bride (2005, a Tim Burton film)
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest (2006, directed by Gore Verbinski)
  • Sweeny Todd (2007, directed by Tim Burton)
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2007, directed by Gore Verbinski)
  • Public Enemies (2009)

Johnny's work matured, as his personal situation changed and his life matured. He has formed an ongoing (since 1998) , stable relationship with his life partner, Vanessa Paradise, and has two children: a son, John Christopher Depp III and daughter, Lily Rose. His many, highly publicized relationships with different famous beauties has become a thing of the past. He still stands out from the rest of the crowd, and doesn't bend to the conventions. He had lived in Paris for many years before relocating to Los Angeles once again, and though that could have hurt his career, he didn't care. He bought an island in the Caribbean, after filming the "Pirates" movies, and enjoys that retreat, quietly, with his family and friends.

He exhibtis such versitility in his various movie roles. His roles include: a human created from parts, an illiterate gypsy, a Victorian-era police detective, a disturbed writer, a rare-book reseller and hard-hearted business man, an undercover cop infiltrating the Mafia, a cross-dressing movie director, a pirate, the Earl of Rochester, and Ichabod Crane.

And he's convincing, he makes it real, in all these varied roles. He's a gifted actor who brings to every role that necessary force of conviction; he inhabits his parts.

Johnny has given us a remarkable body of work. His body of work, though exhibiting such variety, does seem to have a recurring theme. His characters are mostly out-of-the-common people. Johnny says:

"I'm not sure I'm capable of leaving behind a personal message, but if I did, I hope it would be that it's okay to be different from the crowd. In fact, it's really good to be different from the crowd, and that we should really question ourselves before we pass judgement on someone who is different from us."


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    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thank you, Springboard. I appreciate the comment, and the moral support!

    • Springboard profile image


      8 years ago from Wisconsin

      I've always been a fan of Depp. He can do characters like nobody I've seen in quite a while. Benny and Joon is a favorite of mine, and so is the recent Public Enemies. Great actor, great stuff. I'll have to pass this one on to my wife—when I met her she had a poster of Captain Jack on her wall, so she's a fan as well. :)

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Upstate New York

      Hah! Thanks, yellowstar!

    • yellowstar2000 profile image

      Candice Collins 

      8 years ago from WestCoast Florida

      love this hub! and who doesn't love Johnny...

      thanks for making my day!

      he's truly an icon in my book...

      now, if he were only twins!!!!


    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Upstate New York

      Hi Mega!!!!! So great to wsee you here!!!!

      Once I start writing the story again, you'll find out why it's getting tough!

      Yeah, I do love Johnny Depp, one of my very favoirte actors.

    • mega1 profile image


      8 years ago

      You really got the facts and wrote a great hub - you must be as in love with the guy as I am - and some great pics I hadn't seen before - so I bookmarked this for tomorrow when it is raining and I have run out of energy again. I love it - now I am going to start reading the story of your life! I saw where you are having a hard time continuing it so I want to know why! you are a terrific writer!

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Upstate New York

      You're welcome--just a few of my fav pics. Glad you liked it, Seasoning, and thanks for visiting.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      was hoping there would be lots of pictures, nice nice and nice again, wow,

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Upstate New York

      Thank you!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Awesome hub on a terrific actor. You did a stupendous job here.

    • KCC Big Country profile image


      9 years ago from Central Texas

      What a great hub! I have never been really attracted to Johnny...but it was nice to learn a bit more about him. I think he's a great actor.

    • advisor4qb profile image


      9 years ago from On New Footing

      I was a big fan of him on 21 Jump Street. I was a teenager back then (well, ALMOST). Man, I was SO in love with that guy!

    • nicomp profile image

      nicomp really 

      9 years ago from Ohio, USA

      Didn't he move to Europe after dissing the United States?

    • SweetiePie profile image


      9 years ago from Southern California, USA

      Actually I am thirty-one, but I think I never watching it ;).

    • Paradise7 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Upstate New York

      Veronica, I 100% agree with you and am glad you liked this hub. It'd really take a book to do this guy justice, so I just hit a few high spots. Thanks for the comment.

      Sweetie Pie, you're probably too young for Jump Street!!! Thanks for the comment.

    • SweetiePie profile image


      9 years ago from Southern California, USA

      I had no clue what 21 Jump Street was until I read this. I like Johnny Depp in some things, although he is not my favorite actor.

    • Veronica Allen profile image

      Veronica Allen 

      9 years ago from Georgia

      Great, Great Hub! I've always liked the fact that Johnny Depp kind of did his own thing, and never fed into the materalistic and glitzy world of Hollywood. He's the type of actor you can really respect and it's great that he's found a happy meduim in a world that's so conducive to setting you up, only to pull you back down. Never has he fed into the "hype", but has managed to remain true to himself, all the while continuing to do what he loves and please millions of fans at the same time.


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