When I was a teenager, Johnny Depp was my idol. From offbeat roles in Edward Scissorhands, benny and joon and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape to blockbusters like Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, his on-screen presence was like catnip to me. He picked weird characters, he made films that resonated with my adolescent misfit identity, and he was devastatingly attractive – a winning combination.
I plastered my walls and school planner with pictures of Depp, and spent hours on internet message boards gushing over his acting, his grunge style and hypnotic eyes. I had a life-sized poster of Captain Jack Sparrow in my bedroom. I made sparkly, animated HTML banners featuring his many characters from him.
As Depp’s multi-million dollar defamation lawsuit against his former wife, Amber Heard, continues in Virginia, I’ve found myself thinking back to my fangirl days. The elements that drew me to the actor when I was 13, 14 and 15 now feel tired and degraded, like a yellowed photograph that’s been left in the sun.
His reported excesses – the loss of his $650m fortune, the tens of thousands of dollars a month spent on wine, the private air travel, the 12 storage facilities of Hollywood memorabilia – now smack more of obscene self-indulgence than of being a boundary -pushing, rock ‘n’ roll outsider. His image of him as a free-thinking rebel and non-conformist – choosing quirky independent film roles, refusing to fit the Hollywood mold and getting into confrontations with the police – has, over time, transformed into something that feels much darker and sadder.
As part of the ongoing lawsuit, disturbing text messages from Depp have been displayed. His friend Isaac Baruch, was asked by Heard’s attorney: “Do you recall Mr Depp ever telling you that he hoped that Amber Heard’s rotting corpse is decomposing in the f ***** g trunk of a Honda Civic?” Baruch replied: “Yeah. Well, I say yeah – I’m seeing it here, so obviously, yeah, it was said. It was written”.
Teenage me saw a gentle, misunderstood soul – a tortured artist, someone who wasn’t prepared to be a manufactured teen idol after the success of 21 Jump Streetwhich premiered in 1987.
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Fifteen years on from my Depp fangirl phase and no longer a starry-eyed adolescent, I choose to believe women who report experiences of abuse. In 2020, Depp lost his libel suit in the UK, as the High Court of Justice of England and Wales ruled that the majority of Amber Heard’s allegations had been proven to a civil standard.
It feels like the version of Johnny Depp we knew in the 1990s and early 2000s no longer exists. Maybe my idealized, adolescent view of him as an anti-establishment hero never really did. It’s been a long time since I was hyped about a Johnny Depp film. Even Tim Burton’s trippy 2010 take on alice in wonderland felt like well-trodden territory for the actor, typecasting rather than innovative.
I’m sure I’m not alone in having previously worshiped a now-problematic star – it seems as if all of our idols fall short eventually, although some in more controversial and damaging ways than others.
In Depp, I saw creativity, eccentricity, joyous weirdness – a celebration of being different. Thanks to his performance of him in Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas, I devoured the writing of Hunter S Thompson and discovered the illustrations of Ralph Steadman. After seeing The Libertine, I was inspired to read the 17th century poetry of John Wilmot, the 2nd Earl of Rochester. Johnny Depp seemed to have a certain enchantment to him – both on and offscreen.
Now, that magic feels well and truly gone.