I was Johnny Depp’s biggest fan – not anymore

Amber Heard and Johnny Depp. Case

Harriet WilliamsonThe Independent

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 screen presence was like catnip to me. He cast weird characters, he made movies that resonated with my identity as a misfit teenager, and he was awfully attractive – a winning combination.

I covered my walls and my school planner with photos of Depp, and spent hours on message boards gushing over his acting, grunge style, and hypnotic eyes. I had a life-size poster of Captain Jack Sparrow in my room. I created shiny and animated HTML banners featuring his many characters.

As Depp’s multimillion-dollar libel lawsuit against his ex-wife, Amber Heard, continues in Virginia, I found myself thinking back to my days as a fangirl. The elements that drew me to the actor when I was 13, 14, and 15 now feel tired and degraded, like a yellowed photo left in the sun.

His reported excesses — the loss of his $650 million fortune, the tens of thousands of dollars spent a month on wine, private plane travel, the 12 Hollywood memorabilia storage facilities — now look more like self-indulgence obscene than to be a boundary-pushing, rock ‘n’ roll underdog. His image as a free-thinking, maverick rebel — choosing quirky indie film roles, refusing to fit the Hollywood mold, and clashing with the police — has, over time, morphed into something that seems much darker and sadder.

As part of the ongoing lawsuit, disturbing text messages from Depp have been posted. Heard’s attorney asked his friend Isaac Baruch, “Do you remember Mr. Depp ever telling you that he hoped Amber Heard’s rotting corpse would decompose in the trunk of a Honda Civic? ” Baruch replied, “Yeah. Well, I say yes – I see it here, so obviously, yes, it’s been said. It was written”.

As a teenager, I saw a gentle, misunderstood soul – a tortured artist, someone who wasn’t ready to be a fabricated idol after the success of 21 Jump Street, which premiered in 1987.

Fifteen years into my Depp fangirl phase and no longer a starry-eyed teenager, I choose to believe women who report experiences of abuse. In 2020, Depp lost her libel case in the UK, with the High Court of England and Wales ruling that the majority of Amber Heard’s claims had been proven to a civil standard. Looks 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 had been a long time since I had been enthused by 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 groundbreaking.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s ever worshiped a now problematic star – it seems all of our idols eventually fail, though some are more controversial and damaging than others.

In Depp, I saw creativity, eccentricity, joyous weirdness – a celebration of difference. Thanks to his performance 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, 2nd Earl of Rochester. Johnny Depp seemed to have a certain enchantment for him – both on-screen and off-screen.