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Music Hobby

My Own Private Idaho

Viper Room

Tim Burton


Tom Cruise

Johnny Depp

Keanu Reeves: An Illustrated Story

David Bassom

Johnny Depp: An Illustrated Story

A Nightmare on Elm Street

21 Jump Street

Winona Ryder

Edward Scissorhands

The Kids

Tom Hanks

Robert Downey Jr.

Ed Wood

Scott Carrier
Rio's Attic: Celebrating the Life and Times of a Dearly Missed River Phoenix
American EnglishEn Français

Johnny Depp - An Illustrated Story

by David Bassom.
First published in 1996.

ISBN 0-600-59091-7 (Paperback, 80 Pages)

Written by the same author, this book expectedly shares a number of similarities with another title in the series, Keanu Reeves - An Illustrated Story, not all of them good. Sure, there's a great collection of photos to be found, but it quickly becomes apparent that actual research for the book has not been undertaken to any great extent. In fact, both books seem somewhat rushed and both contain several typographical errors.

Although not to the same extent as River, Johnny Depp also spent his childhood on the move, relocating countless times, following his parent's divorce. As a young child he developed a keen interest in music and the guitar and, also like River, his musical skills are self-taught.

By 1974, he was apparently known as a drug user, vandal and thief by his peers and was suspended from school for flashing his buttocks at one of his teachers. The following year, Depp began his life-long love affair with rock 'n' roll. When his cousins' gospel group visited his home, the young delinquent played an electric guitar for the first time and became "obsessed" with the instrument, until his mother bought him a guitar for $25. He then spent a year learning how to play.

Depp moved to Hollywood with his band, the Kids, in 1983. Gigs were few and far between though and the band found themselves relying on their day jobs for financial support. Depp found regular employment as a biro pen telesalesman - a position he later described as "horrible."

Looking back on his decision to leave school, Depp admitted that it was a mistake. "High School's a breeze," he stated. "I mean, yeah, you've got pressures and you've got the tough guy picking on you and you've got the girl you love and she doesn't look at you. But compared to life, it's a real breeze man."

Whilst it was in the movie A Nightmare on Elm Street that Depp first appeared, it would instead be on television where the actor would find fame and fortune. In fact, the run-away success of 21 Jump Street would influence him for the rest of his life. Despite earning $45,000 an episode, Depp was locked into a contract that he could not get out of. He constantly questioned the show's moral outlook and strongly objected to the way the studio executives watered-down the storylines so as not to offend the advertisers. Thus began Depp's desire only to appear in quirky, offbeat projects and ignore the generic, money-making hits.

Whilst River was in Portland, preparing for My Own Private Idaho, Johnny Depp would be found at the opposite end of the country in Florida talking part in Edward Scissorhands. The role had initially been offered to Tom Cruise but when he insisted on the film be given an upbeat, happy ending director, Tim Burton, refused to compromise and offered the role to both Tom Hanks and Robert Downey Jr. before awarding the role to Depp.

"The costume Johnny had to wear was really frustrating because he couldn't do anything all day once he got it on," explained Ryder. "He couldn't scratch himself and he couldn't touch anything. He was going nuts."

Furthermore, the compulsive coffee-drinker understandably dreaded the prospect of going to the bathroom whilst wearing his Scissorhands. "I learnt to ignore my bladder," he later quipped.

The book attempts, in its own way, to find further humor when Depp was required to appear in a number of scenes in the bio-pic Ed Wood dressed in women's clothes. It is in that particular movie though, that the book has to address rather more serious matters.

For Depp, however, the making of Ed Wood was marred by personal tragedy. Less than three weeks before the completion of principal photography, River Phoenix died of "acute multiple drugs intoxication" (to quote Los Angeles county coroner Scott Carrier) on 31 October, in the Viper Room, the "cool underground nightclub" on Sunset Strip co-owned by Johnny Depp. Depp was completely outraged by the way reporters transformed Phoenix's tragic death in to a media event.

"They were really disrespectful to him and to his memory, to his family, to his friends, to his fans," said Depp. "The press was trying to tarnish his memory in the minds of all those who loved him, when it boils down to a very sweet guy who made a very big mistake, a fatal mistake we're all capable of. I was really pissed off."

Depp closed down the Viper Room for two weeks in order to allow Phoenix's fans to pay tribute to their idol and wait for the media attention to die down.

The book features a standard publicity still of River, and below it, a single photo of the entrance to the Viper Room.

The pavement there is covered with flowers.

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