Depp was born in Owensboro, Kentucky, the son of Betty Sue, a waitress, and John Christopher Depp Sr., a city engineer. The family moved frequently during Depp's childhood, and he and his siblings lived in more than twenty different locations, settling in Miramar, Florida, in 1970, when he was 7. In 1978, when Depp was 15, his parents were divorced. He engaged in self-harm as a child, due to the stress of dealing with family problems and his own insecurity. He has seven or eight scars from practicing self-harm. In a 1993 interview, he explained his self-injury by saying, "My body is a journal in a way. It's like what sailors used to do, where every tattoo meant something, a specific time in your life when you make a mark on yourself, whether you do it yourself with a knife or with a professional tattoo artist"
Depp's mother bought her son a guitar when he was twelve, and Depp began playing in various garage bands. His first band was in honor of his girlfriend Meredith. A year after his parents' divorce, Depp dropped out of high school to become a rock musician. As he once explained on Inside the Actors Studio, he attempted to go back to school two weeks later, but the principal told him to follow his dream of being a musician. Depp called the remark "really sweet." He played with The Kids, a band that enjoyed modest local success. The Kids set out together for Los Angeles in pursuit of a record deal, changing their name to "Six Gun Method."
As Depp's marriage caused friction between the band members, the group split before signing a record deal. Depp subsequently collaborated with the band Rock City Angels and co-wrote their song "Mary," which appeared on Rock City Angels' debut for Geffen Records titled Young Man's Blues.
On December 24, 1983, Depp married Lori Anne Allison, a makeup artist and sister of his band's bass player and singer. During Depp's marriage, his wife worked as a makeup artist while he worked a variety of odd jobs, including a telemarketer for ink pens. Later, his wife introduced him to actor Nicolas Cage, who advised Depp to pursue an acting career. In 1985, Depp and Allison divorced.
After his marriage ended, Depp dated and was engaged to Sherilyn Fenn (whom he met on the set of the 1985 short film Dummies). He also dated Winona Ryder, Jennifer Grey, and Kate Moss. Since 1998, Depp has been involved with Vanessa Paradis, a French actress and singer whom he met while filming The Ninth Gate. The couple have two children. Daughter Lily-Rose Melody Depp was born May 27, 1999. In 2007, she recovered from a very serious illness, an E. coli bacteria infection that began to cause her kidneys to shut down and resulted in an extended hospital stay. However, earlier sources reported that she had blood poisoning due to stepping on a rusty tack. Son John "Jack" Christopher Depp III was born April 9, 2002. Although Depp has not remarried since his early divorce, he notes that having children has given him "real foundation, a real strong place to stand in life, in work, in everything. "You can't plan the kind of deep love that results in children. Fatherhood was not a conscious decision. It was part of the wonderful ride I was on. It was destiny; kismet. All the math finally worked." The family divides its time between their home in Meudon, located in Paris suburbs, and their villa in Plan-de-la-Tour, a small town an hour and a half from Saint-Tropez, in the south of France.
Depp has thirteen tattoos, many of them signifying important persons or events in his life. including an American Indian in profile and a ribbon reading "Wino Forever" (originally "Winona Forever", but altered after his breakup with Winona Ryder) on his right bicep, "Lily-Rose" (the name of his first-born child) over his heart, "Betty Sue" (his mother's name) on his left bicep, and a sparrow flying over water with the word "Jack" (his son's name; the sparrow is flying towards him rather than away from him as it is in Pirates of the Caribbean) on his right forearm.
Depp starred in a lead role on the FOX TV television series, 21 Jump Street, which premiered in 1987. Depp accepted this role because he wasn't getting much work in the business and wanted to work with actor Frederic Forrest, who inspired him. Later in the season, Depp's long time friend Sal Jenco joined the cast as a semi-co-star as the janitor named Blowfish. The series' success turned Depp into a popular teen idol during the late 1980s. He found the teen-idol status an irritant, noting that he felt "forced into the role of product and that it was "a very uncomfortable situation and I didn't get a handle on it and it wasn't on my terms at all." Depp promised himself that after his contract on the series expired, he would only appear in films that he felt were right for him.
Johnny Depp's first major role was in the 1984 horror film A Nightmare on Elm Street, playing the heroine's boyfriend and one of Freddy's victims. In 1986, he also appeared in a secondary role as a Vietnamese-speaking private in Oliver Stone's Platoon. Depp has since stated that he felt Platoon was the first 'proper' film in which he appeared. Depp then left his teen idol image in 1990, playing the quirky title role in the Tim Burton film, Edward Scissorhands. The film's success began a long association with Burton, as Depp starred in several of his films, including Ed Wood (1994), Sleepy Hollow (1999), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005), Corpse Bride(2005) and Sweeney Todd (2007). Depp, an avid fan and long-time friend of writer Hunter S. Thompson, played a version of Thompson (named Raoul Duke in 1998's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, based on the writer's pseudobiographical novel of the same name. Depp also accompanied Thompson as his road manager on one of the author's last book tours. In 2006, Depp contributed a personal foreword to Gonzo by Hunter S. Thompson, a posthumous visual biography of the writer's legacy published by ammobooks.com. A close friend of Thompson's, Depp paid for most of Thompson's memorial event, complete with fireworks and the shooting of Thompson's ashes by a cannon, in Aspen, Colorado, where Thompson lived.
Depp's film characters have been described by the press as "iconic loners," and Depp has noted that this period of his career was full of "studio defined failures" and films that were "box office poison," stating that he believes film studios never "understood" the films he appeared in and did not know how to market them properly. Depp has also said that he specifically chose to appear in films that he found personally interesting, rather than those he thought would succeed at the box office.
Depp's status as a major star was solidified with the success of the 2003 Walt Disney Pictures film Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, for which his lead performance as the suave pirate Captain Jack Sparrow was highly praised. The performance was initially received negatively by the studio bosses who saw the film, but the character became popular with the movie-going public; in 2006, Depp's co-star from the sequel to Pirates of the Caribbean, Bill Nighy, described the role as probably being "one of the most popular performances of recent times." According to a survey taken by Fandango, Depp was also considered to be one of the main reasons audiences wanted to see the movie. The film's director, Gore Verbinski, has said that Depp's Jack Sparrow character closely resembles Depp's own personality, although Depp himself said that he modelled the character after Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards. Depp, who has noted that he was "surprised" and "touched" at the positive reception given to the film, was nominated for an Academy Award for the role. In 2004, he was again nominated for a Best Actor Oscar, this time for playing Scottish author J. M. Barrie in the film Finding Neverland. Depp next starred as Willy Wonka in the 2005 film Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which was a major success at the box office.
Depp returned to the character of Jack Sparrow for the sequel Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, which opened on July 7, 2006 and grossed $135.5 million in the first three days of its U.S. release, breaking a box office record in reaching the highest weekend tally ever. The next sequel to Pirates of the Caribbean, At World's End, was released May 24, 2007; Depp has mentioned his attachment to his Captain Jack Sparrow character, specifying that Sparrow is "definitely a big part of me," and expressing his desire to portray the character in further sequels. Depp voiced Sparrow in the video game, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Legend of Jack Sparrow.
Depp and Gore Verbinski are executive producers of the album Rogues Gallery, Pirate Ballads, Sea Songs and Chanteys.
As a child, Depp was obsessed with Dark Shadows. Warner Brothers pitched the idea of making another film to Johnny, and he accepted. In July 2007 a rights deal was closed with the estate of Dan Curtis, the producer/director who created the soap that aired weekdays on ABC, from 1966 to 1971. Depp and Graham King will produce with David Kennedy, who ran Dan Curtis Productions inc. until Curtis died in 2006 of a brain tumor. Infinitum-Nihil's Christi Dembrowski served as the point person on the deal. It was confirmed that he will portray Paul Kemp, the main character in a film version of writer Hunter S. Thompson's book, The Rum Diary. Depp played the title role of Sweeney Todd in Tim Burton's film adaptation of the musical Sweeney Todd, for which he won a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy. Depp's production company has picked up the rights to the story of poisoned former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko.
In May 2006, Autograph Collector Magazine published its list of "10 Best & 10 Worst Hollywood Signers," with Depp topping the list of Best Signers. In December 2007, CNN reported that he topped the list again for a third year in a row.