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The untold truth of Johnny Depp

Over the course of a career that's spanned more than 30 years, Johnny Depp has played more than a few strange characters — partly because of his ongoing collaboration with notably weird director Tim Burton, which has seen him embody everyone from Willy Wonka to Sweeney Todd, and partly because he's always marched to the beat of a different drummer (or maybe it's an instrument we've never even heard of). 

Though he's had a tortured relationship with fame, he's a master of his craft — and an extremely interesting guy to boot. We've heard no shortage of larger-than-life stories about Depp over the years, but they don't tell the whole story. Even after spending all these years in the limelight, there's still plenty that's been left out of the headlines — as he proved once again in 2018, when a shocking photo circulated seeming to show him in disturbingly poor health. We delved into that story — and so much more — to bring you the untold truth of Johnny Depp.

He has an interesting relationship with alcohol

He's a drinker, but not an alcoholic; he admits to self-medicating with alcohol, but he doesn't feel a compulsion to drink. He's been drinking buddies with Marlon Brando, Hunter S. Thompson and more. When he sat for a Rolling Stone article in 2013, Depp said he'd been sober for a year and a half, and although he had the stamina to keep up with his harder-partying friends, ultimately, "you wouldn't treat your car like that."

A Boston Globe article from 2008 quotes Depp as saying that he "poisoned himself" with alcohol because the fame he experienced was too hard to handle. Ex-wife Amber Heard, along with accusing Depp of abuse, also alleged that he was an "alcoholic and drug addict," and reportedly filming of the last Pirates installment was delayed at times because of drama with Heard and drinking. Here's hoping the worst of those days are behind him.

He's had some financial woes

With $50 to $60 million worth of property and a career that's earned approximately $650 million, it's surprising to hear that Depp has dealt with money problems. A recent article tells the story from his business manager's perspective, outlining a 2012 discussion in which two advisers had to make Depp understand that his income was supporting the outflow of his discretionary spending (art, jewelry, wine, property) and the $3.6 million per year he paid his personal staff, among other expenses. Depp finally agreed to sell his yacht, but in 2017, he fired both of his advisors. 

A Wall Street Journal article from around the same time tells the story from Depp's perspective. "Why didn't they drop me as a client if I was so out of control?" he retorted, alleging that his former managers caused him to rack up more than $40 million in debt and dispose of valuable assets, and that they talked him into high-interest loans that they didn't make the payments on. The argument prompted lawsuits on both sides.

He's passionate about free expression in the arts

In 2016, Depp joined other artists in the "Imprisoned for Art" campaign organized by the Voice Project, an advocacy group that raises awareness about imprisoned artists. Peter Gabriel, Nadya Tolokonnikova (of Pussy Riot) and Tom Morello (formerly of Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave) were some of the other activists that joined Depp in portraying artists that have been imprisoned unfairly, each appearing in mug shots signifying a real person. Depp portrayed Oleg Sentsov, a Ukrainian filmmaker serving a 20-year sentence in Russia.

The Voice Project states that Sentsov was imprisoned and possibly tortured for protesting Russia's 2014 takeover of Crimea. Sentsov is from Simferopol, the largest city in Crimea, and the Ukrainian ambassador to the UK tweeted the image of Depp's fake mugshot with the hashtag #FreeSentsov. Sentsov is serving his sentence in east Siberia, where it's likely that he's not receiving any messages—a troubling state of affairs that only underscores the importance of the Project.

He's not a fan of the Trump administration

Depp isn't a fan of President Trump, and wasn't even before he was nominated for office. In fact, he donned a wig and a face full of prosthetics to portray him in the Funny or Die movie The Art of the Deal (based on the Trump book of the same name). According to an interview with Ellen DeGeneres, the filmmakers simply asked Depp to play Trump and he said yes, filming his scenes in four days. The premise is that the movie was made in the '80s, but was locked in a vault for years. 

But portraying Trump wasn't the end of Depp's criticism. At a talk at ASU called "Finding Creativity in the Madness," in between Depp's insights into the creative process for the Origins Project dialogue led by astrophysicist Lawrence Krauss, he said Trump was a "brat" and a bully. He did an impression for the students—one he indicated he was willing to repeat when he offered to take over Trump impersonation duties for Alec Baldwin on Saturday Night Live.

He has a soft spot for kids

In an emotional interview on The Graham Norton Show, Norton asked Depp what it was like to bring the gift of Jack Sparrow to children, since it's well-known that Depp visits children's hospitals and schools as his popular Pirates of the Caribbean character. Depp revealed his personal struggles with his own daughter's illness, telling Norton he was the one who really got a gift from those visits—that to be able to "bring a smile or a giggle was everything."

Depp's visit (along with costar Stephen Graham) to the Lady Cliento Children's Hospital in Brisbane, Australia in July 2015 lasted three hours. He visited the Greenwich School in London after nine-year-old Beatrice sent a letter requesting piracy lessons. It would appear that Depp feels a strong affinity for his Captain Jack persona—and has an enormous soft spot for his young fans.

The last thing he wants to be is himself

Jezebel opined, after posting an interview from The Today Show with Depp and Black Mass costar Joel Edgerton, that Depp didn't even know his own accent anymore. Depp has always been a little quirky when speaking at interviews. He does tend to go a bit British, then Bostonian, or Mad Hatterish, or whatever. But considering that in that same interview, he actually said "the last thing I want to look like is me," there might be more than dialect confusion at play.

In the ASU Origins Project discussion, Depp talked about a conversation he once had with his mentor, Marlon Brando. When Depp told Brando he was doing two or three films per year, Brando told him that was too many, arguing that "we only have so many faces in our pocket." Although he insisted he felt like he still had no shortage of "faces" left, Depp said he became an actor by mistake, and he still wasn't sure whether it was the right decision.

He got his start because of Nic Cage...or did he?

The Biography network claims Depp's first wife, makeup artist Lori Allison, introduced Depp to her ex-boyfriend, an actor named Nicolas Cage. Cage saw something in Depp, and opened some crucial early career doors for him. Depp has told the story differently, recalling someone telling him, "'Why don't you go meet an agent. My agent is with Nic Cage' … she sent me on an audition for something and I got it."

Another interview from 1988 finds Depp recalling that "a friend" introduced him to Cage, who thought Depp should give acting a try. A photo from 1988, published by GQ, shows that the two definitely knew each other at the time—and reinforces the story about Depp's wife being responsible for the introduction.

He was instrumental in bringing Gilbert Grape to theaters

What's Eating Gilbert Grape?, the 1993 flick that launched young Leonardo DiCaprio's career and paired Depp with Juliette Lewis onscreen, became a cult classic—but it might not have been filmed if not for Depp's girlfriend at the time, Winona Ryder. She read Peter Hedges' novel of the same name, and got Depp to read it too. He felt it was a modern day Catcher in the Rye and identified strongly with Gilbert, a young man trapped in a small town and saddled with family responsibilities.

Depp told music video and My Life as a Dog director Lasse Hallström about the book, and the two agreed to work on the film before there was even a script in place. Hallström enlisted author Hedges to work on the script, and the rest was history.

He's in an all star band

Depp didn't move to California in 1983 because he wanted to break into acting—he was in a band, the Kids, who were pretty successful in Miramar, FL, where Depp moved and grew up after being born in Owensboro, KY. Depp actually dropped out of high school because of the band, and after they split up, he turned to acting, but he never forgot his love for music; he was in a glam band called Rock City Angels before he landed his breakthrough role on 21 Jump Street

Depp later started the band P with Butthole Surfers frontman Gibby Haynes. Although they broke up fairly quickly, he remained musically active; most recently, he's been in a band called the Hollywood Vampires alongside Alice Cooper, Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry, and Guns N' Roses vets Duff McKagan and Matt Sorum. The members say they've all had brushes with death, and Depp in particular seems to feel lucky to be part of the collaboration. A self-titled album was released in 2015. 

His vision isn't great

Nobody's perfect. As Depp told Rolling Stone, he's battled vision problems throughout his life. "Ev­erything is just very, very blurry," he explained. "I've never had proper vision." Essentially blind in his left eye and near and/or farsighted in his right, he's only able to see "a few inches away from his face."

Unsurprisingly, Depp admits that he can't see 3D movies. He says he "has a weird eye"; neurologist Margaret Livingston suspects Depp might have stereoblindness—a condition that messes with your eye alignment.

He's a real winer

Depp's financial problems got even weirder. In January 2017, Depp filed suit against The Management Group (and some of people who work there) for mismanagement and allegedly defrauding him while handling his accounting, business, and legal affairs from 1999 to 2016. Among Depp's charges: TMG siphoned $28 million and they didn't pay his taxes on time.

Rather than directly contest the $25 million Depp sought in damages, TMG filed a countersuit which suggested he did a pretty good job of mishandling his money all by himself. That suit alleges the actor failed to repay a $5 million loan from the agency, and spent over $2 million a month on his "ultra-extravagant lifestyle." TMG claims to have advised Depp to reduce his expenses, listed in great detail in the countersuit. Among Depp's expenditures: $30,000 a month to buy rare wines and have them shipped to him from around the world.

He made a very important zombie movie

Johnny Depp doesn't only appear in massive Hollywood blockbuster franchises. He's an actor who's passionate about his craft, and to that end, he'll take on independent film projects that he finds intriguing. In 2016, he acted in The Black Ghiandola, a micro-budgeted movie that filmed in just five days — and probably the most star-studded short film about zombies ever made.

It came together thanks to the Make a Film Foundation, a charity founded in 2007 that helps filmmaking dreams come true for kids and teens with serious or life-threatening medical problems. The Black Ghiandola was written by 16-year-old Anthony Conti, stricken with stage IV adrenal cortical cancer. Conti also starred as a young man, who, in the wake of a zombie apocalypse, risks everything to save the life of his only companion. Among Conti's co-stars: Penelope Ann Miller, Laura Dern, Richard Chamberlain, Chad Coleman…and Johnny Depp.

Disney almost made him walk the plank

Depp hit the A-list for good in the early 2000s thanks to his work as Captain Jack Sparrow in Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean franchise. And yet before the release of the first film in the series, 2003's The Curse of the Black Pearl, some Disney executives weren't so sure they had the right man for the part.

At the 2015 A.F.I. Fest (via Vanity Fair), Depp revealed that the choices he made with the character during the filming of Black Pearl so enraged and confused Disney chairman and CEO Michael Eisner that Depp thinks he almost got fired. Eisner was particularly worried that Depp was playing Captain Jack as "drunk" or "gay." 

"And so I fully expected to be fired," Depp recalled. "I got a call from the upper echelon at Disney who were courageous enough to ask me, 'What the f*** are you doing?'" Depp assuaged their fears, although he also heard that there was talk of subtitling his scenes because he was so difficult to understand.

He got lost in the Dark Universe

As if toplining one kind-of-spooky film juggernaut in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise wasn't enough, Depp was also all set to be a major player in one of those interconnected, multi-movie "universes" that have been all the rage in Hollywood since Iron Man launched the Marvel Cinematic Universe in 2008. 

Universal had huge plans with its "Dark Universe," which was supposed to revive its old monster movie characters from the 1930s and '40s. The production house planned multiple films focused on Dracula, Frankenstein's monster, the Mummy, and the Invisible Man. Depp, a man often photographed while draped in scarves, was a natural to play the heavily bandaged Invisible Man.

But it was all not meant to be. Dark Universe entry The Mummy — starring Tom Cruise — made just over $80 million at the North American box office, not exactly setting the world on fire. Universal tabled its Dark Universe plans…including that Invisible Man movie starring Johnny Depp.

He almost set off a doggone international incident

In 2015, Depp and his then-wife Amber Heard traveled to Australia via private jet. The couple brought along their two Yorkshire terriers, Pistol and Boo. But upon arrival, the couple failed to properly declare the dogs with customs officials.

Australian Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce gave Depp and Heard 72 hours to get their dogs out of the country…or else. "Mr. Depp needs to take his dogs back to California," said Joyce, "or we're going to have to euthanize them." Depp and Heard made haste back to California; he wasn't charged, but Heard was released on a one-month "good behavior" bond. Heard ultimately pleaded guilty to knowingly producing a false or misleading document (for failing to declare the dogs), and two charges of illegal importation of dogs were dismissed. 

Shortly thereafter, Depp and Heard issued a video apology in which Depp noted that Australians are "warm and direct. When you disrespect Australian law, they will tell you firmly."

Is Johnny Depp…okay?

Johnny Depp appeared in two major films in 2017 — Murder on the Orient Express and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales — and lined up a few more for 2018, including the second Fantastic Beasts entry. Depp looked mostly like his perpetually youthful self in those films, which was why fans were shocked when an odd picture of of the actor circulated around the internet in spring 2018. 

The Instagram fan site "johnny_the_depp" presented an image of Depp posing with a fan in Russia, looking ghostly pale and skeletally thin. On that Instagram post, fans wondered why Depp was "looking so skinny," while others blamed everything from drug addiction to preparing for a movie role. As it happens, it's probably for a film — Depp is set to star in a dramedy called Richard Says Goodbye as a professor dying of a terminal illness.

He's back on track with his career

Depp's faced a messy divorce, money problems, and lawsuits, but he's been back at work and working hard. He returned for the fifth installment in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, Dead Men Tell No Tales, in 2017, and lined up a string of projects that included The Libertine and Murder on the Orient Express. The latter is the latest retelling of Agatha Christie's classic whodunit, and starred Depp along an all-star cast that included Dame Judi Dench and Sir Kenneth Branagh. Looking ahead, Depp's docket includes the crime drama City of Lies as well as the Harry Potter spinoff sequel Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. There's still a lot to come from this complicated, talented actor and musician. We can't wait to see which face he tries on next.