My advice to you now is to simply go to this link and read the entire Rolling Stone profile of Johnny Depp, then come back for some discussion in the comments. Of course, you’re all fabulous and busy people who don’t necessarily have time to dedicate to this piece, which is understandable. Or maybe the wine-swilling hat man of despair just isn’t who you want to focus on this fine Thursday afternoon. But believe me, this profile is a TRIP!
Written by Stephen Rodrick and titled ‘The Trouble With Johnny Depp’, the piece digs into the former golden boy’s slow descent into debt, vintage wine, self-parody and being an abusive shitty husband. From PARAGRAPH ONE, this thing hits the ground running.
“Johnny Depp isn’t here yet. Still, his presence is all around the 10,500-square-foot rented mansion at 16 Bishopswood Road in London’s Highgate neighborhood.
He is here in the busy hands of Russell, his personal chef working up the Peking duck. He is here in the stogie-size joint left by the sink in the guest bathroom. He is here in the never-ending reservoir of wine that is poured into goblets. And he is here in a half-done painting upstairs that features a burning black house, a child Johnny and an angry woman who resembles his mother, Betty Sue.
And then he is actually here. He is in the living room, crooning his entrance: “Oh, my darling, oh, my darling, my darling Clementine. You are lost and gone forever, my darling Clementine.”“
Buckle up, kids, because it only gets more embarrassing from here.
While with his lawyer, Depp is described in gloriously unflattering terms:
“Depp is dressed like a Forties gangster, jet-black hair slicked back, pinstripes, suspenders and spats. His face is puffy, but Depp still possesses the fixating brown eyes that have toggled between dreamy and menacing during his 35-year career. Now, Depp’s studious leer is reminiscent of late-era Marlon Brando. This isn’t a coincidence, since Depp has long built his life by imitating his legends - buying an island like Brando, becoming an expert on quaaludes like Hunter S. Thompson.
“Hey, I’m Johnny. Good to meet you.”
He reaches out a right hand whose fingers recently had their tats changed from “slim” - a reference to his ex-wife Amber Heard - to “scum.”“
Depp’s finances have been the subject of many articles over the past couple of years, another similarity he shares with his idol, Brando. For someone who was estimated to have made abour $650m on his films, Depp is now broke and suing his management for negligence and fraud. His former business managers are countersuing, claiming he frittered away his cash all by himself.
What is most striking about the piece is how unsentimental it is for the most part, but also how obviously pathetic Depp seems. Stephen Rodrick pulls no punches here. Depp is portrayed as someone who would usually be considered worthy of pity, but who squandered all that goodwill a long time ago.
“During my London visit, Depp is alternately hilarious, sly and incoherent. The days begin after dark and run until first light. There is a scared, hunted look about him. Despite grand talks about hitting the town, we never leave the house. As Depp’s mind leads us down various rabbit holes, I often think of a line that he recited as the Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland: “Have I gone mad?”
Depp seems oblivious to any personal complicity in his current predicament. [Lawyer] Waldman seems to have convinced Depp that they are freedom fighters taking on the Hollywood machine rather than scavengers squabbling over the scraps of a fortune squandered.”
Big name friends are called upon to big up Depp’s image, like Penelope Cruz, but even her charming little story still includes an anecdote about Depp trying to pull out one of his own teeth while having dinner with her and Stella McCartney. While Cruz praises his portrayal and dedication to the character of Jack Sparrow, Rodrick draws a more unflattering comparison from another Depp film:
“Maybe being a permanent Peter Pan is the key to Depp’s onscreen charm. But time has passed. Boyish insouciance has slowly morphed into an aging man-child, still charismatic but only in glimpses. If his current life isn’t a perfect copy of Elvis Presley’s last days, it is a decent facsimile.”
Depp’s past is dug into, although anyone familiar with him will already be aware of stories of his mother, Betty Sue, and his Kentucky childhood. Tragedy is around every corner - his friendship with Tom Petty is discussed, as is the now infamous Viper Room death of River Phoenix, his idolatry of Hunter S. Thompson - but it’s not contextualized as justification for Depp’s bullshit. That’s crucial because such narratives are beloved of the softball celebrity profile. Not that Rodrick is softballing anyone here. He’s going for the jugular. Take this moment:
“He moves to the couches in the living room and flips on the television. Depp has an affinity bordering on obsession with the bons vivants who had their late prime in the 1970s, whether it is Marlon Brando, Hunter S. Thompson or Don Rickles. “Rickles was the bravest comedian ever,” says Depp. “He’d say anything.” As proof, he finds a video of Rickles on a Dean Martin celebrity roast, turning to boxer Sugar Ray Robinson: “I want to thank Sugar Ray Robinson, who said to Rocky Graziano, ‘Hey, baby, you’re hurting me.’ Sugar Ray is a great champion. Sugar, we would ask you to talk, but you know the blacks, your lips lock.”
“Jesus,” says Waldman.
Depp insists it’s ballsy, not offensive. I mumble, “I don’t know about that.” Depp isn’t paying attention. He considers himself a funny man and tells me how in one of the early Pirates of the Caribbean movies Sparrow washes ashore and mumbles an incoherent curse.
“I say ‘Dirty Sanchez,’ ” says Depp, using slang for an obscene sex act. “Before the DVD, they dropped it out.””
Depp doesn’t come out of that moment looking like anything other than an out-of-touch jerk. This isn’t pushed as daring or edgy or interesting: It’s just sad.
Of course, Weinstein comes up:
“He flips through the news and comes across a report on Harvey Weinstein. He shakes his head and calls him an asshole for burying his film Dead Man because director Jim Jarmusch refused to give up his contractually mandated final cut. “He was a bully,” says Depp. “Have you seen his wife? It’s not a wide range. It’s not like he went, ‘I must go to the Poconos to find some hairy-backed bitch.’ ”
Depp pauses, ruminating on whether he is being unkind. He mentions that once he tagged along as Weinstein was picking up his kid from school and that he could tell Weinstein really loved her. “The image that took my breath away was Harvey Weinstein, a goliath Shrek thing, bending down to put on his daughter’s raincoat.”“
Rodrick spends the night at Depp’s house, and wouldn’t your first thought also be that something awful was going to happen:
Jet-lagged, I tell Depp I need to get some sleep. He looks disappointed but leads me down a dark corridor that twists and turns. In my sleep-deprived haze, I think I might be about to be “disappeared.” Then, a door opens and a giant man wearing a surgical mask appears. I shout in fear.
“What the fuck?”
“That’s just one of my security guys. He’s got the flu. He’ll make sure you get out safely,” he says and gives me a half-hug.
“We’ll talk injustice tomorrow.”
Depp’s lawyer is discussed extensively. He was the one who approached Rolling Stone about doing an interview to counteract what he saw as anti-Depp bias at the Hollywood Reporter, where the meat of the lawsuit coverage was coming from. Adam Waldman may also be pro-Putin:
“I started looking into the case … the first hit was a Business Insider story that read “Here Are the American Executives Who Are Working on Behalf of Putin.” Waldman was the first on the list, which detailed his service for Oleg Deripaska, an aluminum magnate and Russian oligarch with strong ties to the Russian president.
According to Business Insider, Waldman has been paid more than $2.3 million for his work on behalf of Deripaska. Meanwhile, Deripaska became a bit player in the Russian-collusion scandal when it was reported by The Washington Post that then-Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort offered to give Deripaska private briefings on the campaign shortly before the GOP convention. Waldman had his own cameo in the Putin-Trump meshugas. In February, none other than Trump would accuse him in a typically factually distorted tweet - without naming him - of trying to broker a meeting between Trump-dossier writer Christopher Steele and Democratic Sen. Mark Warner.”
Depp’s spending habits are listed - the artwork, the guitars, a couch from Keeping Up with the Kardashians he bought his daughter, the cannon he fired Hunter S. Thompson’s ashes from - but the one bit Depp takes umbrage with is the mocking of a sound engineer to feed him lines through an earpiece. Brando style, baby!
“I’ve got bagpipes, a baby crying and bombs going off,” says Depp. “It creates a truth. Some of my biggest heroes were in silent film,” Depp tells me, lighting another cigarette. “It had to be behind the eyes. And my feeling is, that if there’s no truth behind the eyes, doesn’t matter what the fucking words are.”
Yeah, bullshit, Depp.
There are a few things Depp insists TMG got wrong - for example, the $30,000 a month the Mandels claimed he spent on wine.
“It’s insulting to say that I spent $30,000 on wine,” says Depp. “Because it was far more.”
Depp says they got the Hunter S. Thompson cannon story wrong too. “By the way, it was not $3 million to shoot Hunter into the fucking sky,” says Depp. “It was $5 million.”
Depp is in his 50s now. This attempt at swagger is just depressing. Usually, this is the kind of stuff you’d think Rolling Stone would be all over: The rock & roll life to the max, no apologies and no holds barred. But it’s 2018 now, and Rolling Stone has evolved. Its coverage is different, the people it covers has varied far beyond the world of rock. Besides, even the actual Rolling Stones themselves don’t do this shit anymore. Depp comes across as stuck on his own planet, drunk and alone except for the one yes man who thinks it can all be solved with a few good words.
Rodrick also has no time for Depp’s affinities for Brando and Thompson. While discussing Thompson and his shared drug trips with Depp, this is said:
“Depp laments the passing of quaaludes from the drug scene. He reminisces about the bootleg ‘ludes he used to take.
“They’re made with just a little bit of arsenic, or strychnine,” says Depp. He stands up and a grin spreads across his face. “So the high was far more immediate.” Once, Depp asked a Florida bouncer to punch him while on ‘ludes just for kicks. “You either wanted to smile and just be happy with your pals, or fuck, or fight,” he says.
Depp is evangelical in the uses of narcotics and thinks they could have expedited the capture of Osama bin Laden.
“You get a bunch of fucking planes, big fucking planes that spray shit, and you drop LSD 25,” he says. “You saturate the fucking place. Every single thing will walk out of their cave smiling, happy.”
With the deaths of Brando and Thompson, Depp lost the two people who could understand his fantasyland existence.”
Quaaludes were what Bill Cosby used to drug and rape women. Hugh Hefner called them ‘thigh openers’.
Thompson was someone who made drugs seem glamorous and inextricably tied to his talents. He was talented because of the drugs, so the lore goes. It’s obviously not true. Plenty of writers have been addicts but their skills weren’t contingent on them being drunk or high. There’s no allure to drugs that isn’t immediately refuted by reality. Addiction is brutal. You’d think the guy who owned the club River Phoenix died in would know that.
Depp tries to walk this fine line between inebriated wisdom and childlike obliviousness to the real world. He’ll wax lyrical about drugs and dirty jokes and how to solve world problems but when asked about his financial situations, he pleads innocent because that wasn’t his job. The Peter Pan complex doesn’t get any weaker just because the wine is free flowing. His financial problems of the past decade are discussed in great detail, including all the warnings Depp received from the managers he’s now suing. Rodrick is not shy in showing Depp to be a man utterly allergic to responsibility:
“It wasn’t out of the ordinary for Depp to send an apologetic text or e-mail a few hours after an outburst. Depp vacillated about Hameau, and the property was briefly listed for $13 million and then jumped to $27 million, a sign that Depp was in no hurry to unload it. He broke promises to make the house available for potential buyers. Around the same time, he bought $108,000 in suits while on a trip to Singapore, according to communication from someone who was there.”
Amber Heard is mentioned, of course. Rolling Stone also draws attention to J.K. Rowling’s now infamous statement in support of Depp and his involvement with the Fantastic Beasts series. Both have signed NDAs so there’s no much either can say on the record. He tries to spin the incident into one of tragic self-discovery. He becomes a writer, of course, with a typewriter and morning vodka intake. Then he tries to convince Rodrick that he really didn’t know what was going on with his finances, claiming he just blindly signed whatever was put in front of him. At one point, he even claims his signature may have been faked, possibly by his sister. Here is Rodrick’s summary of that:
“After my London visit, I obtain access to some of Depp’s loan agreements, including one for more than $10 million. The terms and amount of the loan were right there on the summary page he signed. Depp would have had to sign with his eyes closed to miss them.”
If Depp’s lawyer intended this piece to be a fawning celebration of a once mighty idol, then he sorely misjudged both the writer and Rolling Stone. This is a profile of a sad, desperate man who yearns for the good old days, “bankrupt, isolated and one more mistake away from being blackballed from his industry.” This will only add to his PR nightmares and rightly so. Even if he possessed a modicum of his old charm, he never could have charmed his way out of this. The piece is riveting, but it’s also exhausting and depressing. It’s the kind of celeb profile we don’t see a lot of these days: Brutally honest but not in the way the focus or their team would ever want it to be.
I can think of no better way to end the story than with Rodrick’s own words:
“Thanks for coming,” says Depp. “This could be your Pulitzer.”
For the next 15 minutes, Depp tries to figure out how to open the gates to his mansion fortress. He clicks buttons and pushes the fence, but nothing budges. He is a lost boy who won’t find his way home before dark. I finally tell him I can shimmy over the fence. I clamber over and jump down. Through the bars we say good night.
(Header photograph courtesy of Dave J. Hogan at Getty Images)