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Further Phoenix
at Rio's Attic:

Hollywood

Joaquin Phoenix, Leaf Phoenix

Oregon

Samantha Mathis

Dogfight

Music Hobby

Stand By Me

A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon

Viper Room

Flea

River Phoenix: A Short Life

Brian J. Robb

Gibby Haynes

Lili Taylor

Johnny Depp

Johnny Depp: A Modern Rebel

Platoon

A Nightmare on Elm Street

21 Jump Street

Winona Ryder

Kate Moss

Lori Ann Allison

Private Resort

Edward Scissorhands

Arizona Dream

What's Eating Gilbert Grape?
Rio's Attic: Celebrating the Life and Times of a Dearly Missed River Phoenix
American EnglishEn Français

Johnny Depp: A Modern Rebel

by Brian J. Robb.
First published in 1996.


ISBN 0-85965-236-X (Paperback, 156 Pages)

In 1996, Scottish author and film journalist, Brian J. Robb turned to another Hollywood actor, Johnny Depp, for the subject of his next biography after the success of his previous work River Phoenix: A Short Life. The two books are both written in very much the same style, with the author quoting numerous statements from his subjects and liberally illustrating both books with a good collection of photographs. Likewise though, both seem a little on the short side and both are in desperate need of an index.

Johnny Depp is one of Hollywood's bad boys. With a seven figure income and a 10,000 letter a month fan following, he still refuses to conform, never living in one place for more than a few weeks, sporting a tattoo on each arm, in and out of a marriage and three engagements by the age of 30. His part Cherokee ancestry has contributed to haunting good looks which have ensured him a devoted following in spite of his unsuitability as a role model.

The author spends little time in either book talking about the childhood experiences of his subjects preferring instead to concentrate on their mainstream careers. We are reminded of Depp's early appearances in movies such as A Nightmare on Elm Street and even Platoon, although most of his work on that movie would be cut from the final release. Disillusioned by this, Depp returned to television for the series 21 Jump Street which would give him his big break.

In the short term, Johnny Depp will continue to be tabloid fodder, despite his voluble hatred of journalists. His liaisons with Winona Ryder and Kate Moss - ten years his junior - make sure of that. His association with tragedies like the death of River Phoenix and with grunge rockers like Flea and Gibby Haynes, as well as his own declared interests in drugs, alcohol and cigarettes have put Depp on the list of stars who might self destruct on their way to the top. The question is whether Depp can escape his own image and his own past, to forge his behind-the-camera future before his substance-fuelled demons can get the better of him.

The author mentions River's name throughout the book and compares and contrasts the lives of both actors on a number of occasions. Back in 1985 though, the two were still worlds apart. A young River was beginning work in Oregon on Stand By Me whilst at the same time a 22-year-old Johnny Depp found his marriage to Lori Ann Allison falling apart and was finalizing his divorce.

Nevertheless, the first indication that the lives of River Phoenix and Johnny Depp would one day converge also appeared around this time when Depp starred in the teen sex comedy Private Resort. Sharing much in common with River's own movie A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon, both films flopped. "It was a stupid movie" said Depp afterwards and River would find himself saying similar things about his own project three years later. Private Resort also features Depp's first nude scene, something that seems to be almost a career necessity these days but nevertheless, something River chose never to do.

After receiving highly acclaimed success in Edward Scissorhands Depp starred alongside River's Dogfight co-star, Lili Taylor, in the 1992 movie Arizona Dream before going on to further success in What's Eating Gilbert Grape?. By now in the biography we are at 1993.


Johnny Depp and Lili Taylor in
Arizona Dream

Of course, it would be on October 31, 1993, that the lives of River Phoenix and Johnny Depp would be forever linked. The author acknowledges this and devotes an entire chapter, "Love, Death & Demons" to the subject of River's death.

It would be some time after the event before Johnny Depp could bring himself to speak openly in any depth about the incident. "The thing is, he came with his guitar to the club. What a beautiful thing that he shows up with his girl on one arm and his guitar on the other. He came to play and he didn't think he was going to die - nobody thinks they're gonna die," Depp recalled. "He wanted to have a good time. It's dangerous. But that's the thing that breaks my heart - first that he died, but also that he showed up with his guitar. That's not an unhappy kid."

Depp found himself on the receiving end of a rough ride from the media, who accused him of contributing to River Phoenix's death by running a club like the Viper Room in the first place and then by allowing back room drug abuse, which - the papers alleged - Depp knew all about. "There was a lot of speculation going on," said Depp. "A lot of people were playing backyard detective and exploiting the situation to get ratings and to sell newspapers and magazines. The tabloids were complete fiction. It's really tragic and sad. How many times did we need to hear that 911 tape? How many times did they have to print that stuff? For how long does Leaf have to live with that rewinding in his head? We've become a society of ambulance chasers."

In what was an unwelcome result of their movie careers, both River and Johnny Depp gained a teen-idol image that they both so desperately wanted to rid themselves of. History now records that only one of them succeeded in destroying that image. The other would ultimately destroy himself in the process.


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