Johnny Depp: Actor’s childhood, parents and early life

Johnny Depp has spent most of his life in the public eye.

The actor first rose to fame with 21 Jump Street in 1987, before moving on to a successful Hollywood career in films such as Pirates of the Caribbean, Donnie Brasco and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

In recent years, however Depp has been embroiled in controversy, and is currently fighting a court battle with ex-wife Amber Heard over his accusations that she defamed him.

In the course of the trial, Depp has spoken about his childhood, and his turbulent relationship with his parents.

Depp was born in Owensburg, Kentucky, on June 9, 1963, the youngest of four children. His parents were Betty Sue Wells, a waitress, and John Christopher Depp, a civil engineer.

Throughout his early life, the Depp family moved around frequently, with the actor later telling Oprah Winfrey that he had moved house “maybe 40 times” before he reached the age of 15.

“My mom liked to move a lot,” he said. “One time we moved from one house to the house next door.”

When Depp was around the age of seven, the family moved to South Florida.

Betty Sue Palmer and Johnny Depp on the Oscars red carpet in 2004

(Getty Images)

Depp has described the lifestyle as “kind of normal” for him and his siblings, adding: “we didn’t know anything else.”

In 1997, I recalled to Hello! magazine that when he was 12, his parents were “always fighting”, and he “had hardly any contact with the outside world”.

“As soon as I got my guitar, I locked myself in my room every day after school and did nothing but play until I fell asleep,” he said.

In 1978, when Depp was 15, his parents divorced. Betty Sue remarried a man named Robert Palmer, whom Depp would later describe to USAToday as a “really cool guy” who “spent about half his life in prison.”

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Depp left for California in 1983 to pursue a music career, eventually turning to acting on the advice of a young Nicolas Cage.

During the ongoing legal battle with Amber Heard, Depp has spoken out about his childhood, alleging that he and his siblings suffered abuse at the hands of his mother.

“[Depp’s mother] had the ability to be as cruel as anyone can be,” he said, noting that this also affected his siblings and father. “She was quite violent and she was quite cruel.”

Depp testifying during his defamation trial on 19 April 2022

(POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Describing his mother’s violence, Depp said “an ashtray” could be “flung at you”, and claimed that she would hit her children in the head and that sometimes use a “high heeled shoe or a telephone or whatever was handy”.

The actor claimed that the family had been shell-shocked and that his siblings would instinctively shield themselves when their mother walked past because they “didn’t know what was going to happen”.

He described his father, meanwhile, as “kind”, “shy” and “stoic”. It was also alleged in the court testimony that Depp’s father used to beat him with a belt at his mother’s behavior.

After Depp’s father left the family, his mother then fell into a “deep, dark depression”, per Depp’s statement, with the actor claiming that she survived a suicide attempt while he was in his adolescence.

Betty Sue Palmer died in 2016 following a protracted illness.

Follow live updates from the trial here.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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