If you weren’t around in the 90s to witness Johnny Depp in his prime, you might struggle to believe me when I say, for most of that decade he was widely considered to be the coolest guy on the face of the earth.
In my opinion, over the past few years, Johnny has quite simply lost his cool.
The man whose artfully disheveled demeanour set the standard for Hollywood heart-throbs, and whose sensitive, oddball characters set teenage hearts aflutter, became a walking cliché aged 50, when he split from his partner of 14 years, Vanessa Paradis, and took up with a willowy blonde, half his age.
Proving the old chestnut “you’re only as young as the woman you’re with”, his co-star from The Rum Diaries, 25-year-old Amber Heard, fit the mould of the mid-life crisis trophy wife perfectly, and through her, Johnny attempted to relive a youth of heavy drinking, and turbulent, all-consuming love.
Amber’s reveal that he sustained the hand injury that kept him from the set of Pirates of the Caribbean 5 for a month last year when he punched a wall, called to mind his infamous hotel-trashing rows with Kate Moss, and Winona Ryder’s remark that Johnny “liked to smash stuff.”
This week, as his latest flop, Alice Through the Looking Glass, underwhelms at the box office, Johnny Depp is touring Europe with his band, the Hollywood Vampires, sporting two red dots on his neck, a cap on his tooth, the spoils of a Claire’s Accessories fire sale, and the vacant expression of someone oblivious to the growing media glare since his wife of 15 months filed for divorce last Monday.
Initially raising eyebrows for what seemed like callous timing (the move came just days after the death of Depp’s mother), Amber Heard’s subsequent allegations of ongoing domestic violence have been shocking. Pr-eempted by a denial from Depp, the accusations have left heads spinning, tongues wagging, and gavels banging as the court of public opinion rushes to judgement.
Depressingly, most of that judgement has been levelled at Heard, whose motives for marrying Depp have always been questioned. As she left an LA court-house last week with a restraining order against a husband she accused of “terrorising” her, her cool demeanour wasn’t quite victim-y enough for those who would seek to have every case of domestic abuse presented in a neatly wrapped narrative where the perpetrator is an established brute and the victim is crushed beyond repair.
Never mind that she broke down when she reached the safety of her car, for some, it’s apparently easier to accept that a woman would smash an iPhone off her own head, than to believe that a man with a history of assault arrests and a famously short fuse would throw it at her in a heated argument.
While Depp’s lawyers claim Heard is “attempting to secure a premature financial resolution by alleging abuse”, with no pre-nup, it seems she will be entitled to half of anything Depp earned during the time they were married.
Estimated to be in the region of $15 million, it amounts to just 3.5% of his $400 million fortune, so with Heard threatening to release further evidence, and claiming it was Depp’s refusal to grant her spousal support that forced her to go public, you have to wonder just how untouchable he thinks he is if he has allowed events to escalate this way.
The answer is: rich, powerful white-man-in-Hollywood untouchable – basically, as untouchable as it’s possible to be.
His initial statement on the matter alluded to “salacious false stories”, dismissing the situation as “the dissolution of this short marriage”. Pointedly curt, it speaks not to someone who is outraged by false allegations against him, but to someone who knows he is insulated from any allegations by his highly paid lawyers, his powerful publicist, and the might of Disney, who are relying on him to take Pirates of the Caribbean 5 over the billion dollar finish line next summer.
In the amoral world of Hollywood there is a long tradition of male stars being allowed to act with impunity while their victims ultimately pay a price with their careers, their reputations, or both.
In that environment, it’s easy to position Heard as a determined gold-digger attempting to cash out, but I see a woman who knew she was putting her career on the line by going up against one of the most powerful men in Hollywood, but was left with no other choice.
“Oh Johnny Depp doesn’t play that Hollywood game,” you might be thinking, but you’d be wrong.
When Johnny and Amber married last February, for many it was the final nail in the coffin for “cool” Johnny Depp.
When it comes to aging, some stars grow old with panache, others fight the aging process every step of the way, and some people simply pretend it isn’t happening. Refusing to acknowledge the passage of time, they are stuck in a quicksand of past glories as they slowly transform into a parody of their youthful selves.
And I feel that’s the space that Johnny Depp has been occupying, his once chiselled cheekbones now bloated and waxy.
Though he still seems to view himself as Hollywood’s edgy outsider, over the last 15 years — fronting a franchise so mainstream it has its own amusement park rides — he has worked his way into the upper echelons of Hollywood’s elite.
His collection of scarves, trinkets and carefully bashed trilbies has grown in tandem with his bank balance, as though feigning the careless abandon of 25-year-old Cool Johnny will stop us from noticing he’s become 52-year-old Establishment Johnny. But he has.
At the beginning of 2012, months before his split from Vanessa was confirmed, there was speculation about the state of their union when Depp was forced to delay production on The Lone Ranger to address some issues in his “personal life”.
Disney indulged him at a cost of $4 million, and when his fractured relationship with Paradis proved irreparable, the studio weren’t about to let the ensuing publicity derail their money making machine.
So backed by the might of Disney, not-so-cool Johnny used his uber-powerful publicist, Robin Baum, and his close friend Jann Wenner (the publisher of celebrity tabloid Us Weekly) to lay the blame for the split firmly at Vanessa’s feet.
Team Depp painted her as an unsupportive, ungrateful, disapproving nag.
No wonder he sought solace in the arms of (as he would later describe Amber) more “free-spirited” women.
Having happily disparaged the mother of his children to protect their bottom line in 2012, is it any wonder that this week the same teams have mobilised behind Depp once more?
Letters of support paint him as “gentle and kind”, as paparazzi snap him fitting an old lady with a hearing aid for charity.
His friends describe Amber as ruthless and manipulative, as TMZ reports the facts of her case while simultaneously casting aspersions on them.
With one mega-budget Disney franchise just released, and another in post-production, the timing of these allegations couldn’t be worse, and this time the stakes are twice as high — higher, if you consider Depp recently topped Forbes magazine’s 2015 list of Hollywood’s most overpaid actors.
Averaging a $1.20 return for every $1 he costs, neither Depp, nor his employers, nor his family, nor his entourage can afford to sit back and watch Heard flaunt her bruises and turn Middle America against him.
Evidently, Johnny Depp needs some kind of help, but Amber Heard needs the public’s support.
So whatever emerges about this deeply sad situation in the coming weeks, remember to stop and ask: who has the most to lose, and what might they be willing to do to make sure they win?