It’s not a good thing, to put it mildly, when a Hollywood star’s popularity with his fanbase is directly compared to the unthinking, “No, it’s good when he treats people like shit” devotion that supporters typically manifest for Donald Trump. And yet that’s exactly how the waning—but still fervent, among a smaller subset of fans—devotion to Johnny Depp appears to be manifesting, according to a Hollywood Reporter cover story released this week, tracking Depp’s shockingly swift descent from highly lucrative oddball leading man into “radioactive” industry pariah.
The story is filled with lurid-but-familiar details about Depp’s alleged excesses—his endless feuds; the time he reportedly took eight ecstasy pills while filming a Pirates Of The Caribbean movie and ended the day by severing the tip of his own finger; the allegations of abusive behavior against ex-wife Amber Heard. But even more than that, “The Implosion” makes it clear how much of this damage has been self-inflected, as Depp has sued—sometimes successfully, but sometimes not, as in a recent U.K. case that determined that The Sun tabloid had not defamed him by dubbing him a “wife beater”—so many of the people in his orbit, lawsuits that have inevitably dragged even more varied and gross aspects of the man’s life out into the light.
Take the text messages, for instance, in which Depp can be seen describing Heard as pretty much every awful thing under the sun, often to the likes of folks like Paul Bettany, who we can only assume is thrilled that his attempts to deflect Depp’s rage at his ex-wife are now being aired in public. (Depp, reportedly, after Bettany tried to turn the actor’s calls for “burning” Heard into a witch trial joke: “Let’s drown her before we burn her!!! I will fuck her burnt corpse afterwards to make sure she’s dead.”)
And, again: Most of these are court cases that Depp has launched himself, against former managers, lawyers, and others. (His $50 million defamation suit against Heard is set to go to trial in early 2021.) All of these cases have involved revelations about Depp’s personal life as part of the discovery process, including many references to many kinds of drugs, i.e., the sort of thing that makes Disney stop calling to get Jack Sparrow back on the pirate ship. (To say nothing of Warner Bros. and its Fantastic Beasts franchise—which is still paying Depp a reported $16 million for its third installment, thanks to a pay-or-play agreement the studio signed with him before booting him from the movie.) The THR piece lays much of this vengeful energy at the feet of Depp’s new lawyer, Adam Waldman, who entered the actor’s orbit right around the time his public collapse began circa 2016. It’s notable that, after Heard filed for a restraining order against her ex-husband shortly after the abuse allegations came out, pretty much every lawsuit he’s been involved in has seen the actor as the plaintiff—or as the defendant in a counter-suit for a trial he originally provoked. (One exception: The crew member on 2018's aborted Tupac mystery movie City Of Lies, who said Depp punched him twice on the movie’s set.)
There’s an old adage that, when someone tells you who they really are, you should listen. Johnny Depp has apparently taken that adage to the level of performance art—and straight into as many of the nation’s court rooms as he can apparently reach.