Johnny Depp turns 60: The many sides of the Hollywood star

Deutsche Welle

Posted at Jun 08 2023 07:37 AM | Updated as of Jun 08 2023 08:00 AM

Actor Johnny Depp, dressed as Captain Jack Sparrow, of PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES took part today in 'Worlds, Galaxies, and Universes: Live Action at The Walt Disney Studios' presentation at Disney's D23 EXPO 2015 in Anaheim, Calif. Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney/AFP
Actor Johnny Depp, dressed as Captain Jack Sparrow, of PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES took part today in "Worlds, Galaxies, and Universes: Live Action at The Walt Disney Studios" presentation at Disney's D23 EXPO 2015 in Anaheim, Calif. Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney/AFP

To describe the life and career of Johnny Depp as "dazzling" would almost be an understatement. The Golden Globe winner has been nominated several times for Oscars and has worked with internationally acclaimed film directors: from John Waters to Tim Burton, from Emir Kusturica to Lasse Halström.

Depp is one of the most well-known actors of his generation and yet, in recent years, he has become increasingly known for his actions away from the big screen — and has been in the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

Where his desire for provocation comes from is unclear. But what is certain is that the rock music fan, born in Kentucky on June 9, 1963, seems to have internalized the role of the eccentric rebel.

Here are five phases of Johnny Depp's career:

Phase 1: Poster boy and teen heartthrob

After small supporting roles in "Nightmare on Elm Street" and "Platoon," it was a TV series on the US channel Fox that truly kick-started Johnny Depp's acting career. In "21 Jump Street," Depp helped propel the series into becoming a huge hit in the US at the end of the 1980s. The previously little-known Depp played the role of an unassimilated undercover policeman and became the teen idol of a generation.

However, Depp did not feel comfortable as a poster boy and, years later, spoke in interviews about having become burned out. Yet he was unable to leave the series because of its enormous success.

Further enhancing his image as the young rebel, Depp appeared in Tom Petty's 1993 hit music video "Into The Great Wide Open" — wearing a leather jacket and riding a motorcycle.

Phase 2: From TV to serious movie actor

In order to avoid another experience like the one he had with "21 Jump Street," Depp began choosing his roles more carefully in the years that followed. He wasn't interested in whether or not a film would be successful or not; he wanted to take on exciting roles and not be typecast.

His calculations panned out, with the 1990s becoming the golden era in Depp's career. "Edward Scissorhands" (1990) marked the beginning of his extremely fruitful and creative collaboration with director Tim Burton, who seemed to create the utterly perfect roles for Depp. "Sleepy Hollow" (1999) and "Sweeney Todd" (2007) were further examples of the congenial collaboration between the two Hollywood eccentrics.

But Depp also proved his versatility in films like Jim Jarmusch's western masterpiece "Dead Man." With plenty of humor and depth, he played the seemingly disoriented William Blake, who finds his destiny as a "killer of white men," led by a no less insane Native American named Nobody.

Depp was then at the height of his creative powers. He had two children with the French actress and singer Vanessa Paradis, bought an entire village near St. Tropez, France in 2001, and the world seemed to be his oyster. Though there were often reports in the tabloids about Depp's drinking problems, fans forgave him for his lapses. Nevertheless, some film critics expressed regret that Depp no longer had much to offer besides eccentricity.

Phase 3: A decade of peaks, but cracks emerged

With "Pirates of the Caribbean" (2003), Depp finally reaped mass success.

After all, his expensive lifestyle with luxury cars, a large yacht, 40 employees, and all the other trimmings, could only be financed courtesy of his roles in multi-million dollar grossing movies.

It's true that the way Depp embodied the figure of the crazy pirate captain Captain Jack Sparrow was both novel and ingenious. But with each sequel, the Captain Jack brand wore increasingly thin and no longer generated the storm of enthusiasm among critical audiences.

Critics also began saying that Depp had lost his bite. However, with his performance as Sweeney Todd in Tim Burton's eponymous film, Depp refuted his critics — winning a Golden Globe award for his performance in 2008.

Phase 4: Mud-slinging in the tabloids

The years 2018 - 2022 marked a low point in Johnny Depp's career. With his ex-wife Amber Heard, he engaged in a mudslinging battle, played out in front of the international press. First in the tabloids, and finally in court. It centered around violence in the marriage, verbal aggression and unsavory details from the life of the couple. Some of the accusations against Depp were quite serious. In the end, he was acquitted on all three counts and the pair agreed to a settlement.

But a great deal of unease remained. Depp lost roles, including Captain Jack and Gellert Grindelwald in the successful "Fantastic Beasts" film series.

During the trial, the insults and verbal-viral abuse against Amber Heard reached a pitiful level. The anti-MeToo faction likewise appeared quite satisfied with Depp's victory in court.

Depp, of all people — who repeatedly portrayed men in touch with their feminine side and in his roles developed enormous appeal and resilience precisely because of their otherness and delicacy — ended up becoming an icon of old-school machismo.

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Phase 5: Old love rock'n'roll

Long before acting, Johnny Depp had a great love that has accompanied him to this day. The boy from Kentucky actually wanted to become a rock star, just like his idol Keith Richards, and his later friend Tom Petty. Together with an all-star band that includes Alice Cooper, Depp now plays with the "Hollywood Vampires," who are currently on tour in Europe.

Time will tell how Johnny Depp's life will evolve, and which phase his career takes on, as he enters his seventh decade.

This article was originally written in German.