John Christopher “Johnny” Depp II (born June 9, 1963) is an American actor, producer, and musician. In interviews in 2002 and 2011, Depp stated that he “guesses” he has Native American ancestry, and that his “great-grandmother was quite a bit of Native American, she grew up Cherokee or maybe Creek Indian.” However, he has cited family stories and Kentucky lore among non-Natives, rather than any evidence, for this belief.
Depp’s claims came under question when Indian Country Today Media Network stated that Depp has never inquired about his heritage nor does the Cherokee Nation recognize him as a member. Depp’s continued claims, despite all evidence indicating he has no Native American ancestry, have led to criticism from the Native community, as well as criticism of his choice to portray a Native American character (Tonto).
Depp was adopted as an honorary son by LaDonna Harris, a member of the Comanche Nation, on May 22, 2012, making him an honorary member of Harris’ family, but not a member of the tribe. Indian Country Today Media Network questioned whether “Tonto’s Giant Nuts” (credited in the 2003 movie Once Upon a Time in Mexico), the name of Johnny Depp’s band, was a wise choice given the actor’s role as Tonto along with his unsubstantiated claims to Native heritage.
Critical response to Depp’s claims from the Native community also included satirical portrayals of Depp by leading Native comedians.
Depp was born in Owensboro, Kentucky, the youngest of four children of Betty Sue Palmer (née Wells), a waitress, and John Christopher Depp, a civil engineer. Depp moved frequently during his childhood. He and his siblings lived in more than 20 different places, eventually settling in Miramar, Florida in 1970. In 1978, when he was 15, Depp’s parents divorced. His mother remarried to Robert Palmer (died 2000), whom Depp has called “an inspiration to me”.
With the gift of a guitar from his mother when he was 12, Depp began playing in various garage bands. A year after his parents’ divorce, Depp dropped out of high school to become a rock musician. He attempted to go back to school two weeks later, but the principal told him to follow his dream of being a musician. 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, but the group split up 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 Geffen Records album, Young Man’s Blues.
On December 20, 1983 Depp married Lori Anne Allison, the sister of his band’s bass player and singer. During their marriage she worked as a makeup artist while he worked a variety of odd jobs, including as a telemarketer selling pens. His wife introduced him to actor Nicolas Cage, who advised Depp to pursue an acting career. Depp and his wife divorced in 1985.
Both Depp and his subsequent fiancée Sherilyn Fenn auditioned for the 1986 film Thrashin’. They were both cast, with Depp being chosen by the film’s director to star as the lead, which would have been Depp’s second major role. Depp was later turned down by the film’s producer, who rejected the director’s decision.
Johnny Depp rose to prominence on the 1980s television series 21 Jump Street, becoming a teen idol.
Since then, Depp has taken on challenging and “larger-than-life” roles, starting with a supporting role in Oliver Stone’s Vietnam War film Platoon in 1986, then playing the title character in the romantic dark fantasy Edward Scissorhands (1990). He later found box office success in the fantasy adventure film Sleepy Hollow (1999), the fantasy swashbuckler film Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) and its sequels, the musical adventure film Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005), the fantasy film Alice in Wonderland (2010) and voicing the title character in the animated action comedy western Rango (2011). He has collaborated on eight films with director and friend Tim Burton.
Johnny Depp is regarded as one of the world’s biggest movie stars. He has gained worldwide critical acclaim for his portrayals of such people as screenwriter-director Ed Wood in Ed Wood, undercover FBI agent Joseph D. Pistone in Donnie Brasco, “gonzo” journalist Hunter S. Thompson in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, cocaine kingpin George Jung in Blow, Peter Pan author J. M. Barrie in Finding Neverland, and the Depression Era outlaw John Dillinger in Michael Mann’s Public Enemies.
Films featuring Depp have grossed over $3.1 billion at the United States box office and over $7.6 billion worldwide. His most commercially successful films are the Pirates of the Caribbean films, which have grossed $3 billion; Alice in Wonderland which grossed $1 billion; Charlie and the Chocolate Factory which grossed $474 million; and The Tourist which grossed $278 million worldwide.
Depp has been nominated for major acting awards, including three nominations for Academy Award for Best Actor. Depp won the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy for Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street and the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role for Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. He has been listed in the 2012 Guinness World Records as the highest paid actor, with earnings of $75 million. Depp was inducted as a Disney Legend in 2015.
While he’s had a legendary career as an actor, there is no evidence to support his claim of Cherokee ancestry. In fact, he apparently took a DNA test at some point. Alas, that and some genealogical research offer zero evidence that he has any Native ancestry. What it does show is English, along with smaller amounts of Irish, Northern Irish (Scots-Irish), Scottish, Welsh, French, Dutch, Belgian (Flemish), German, as well as 3/2048 African.
Both of Johnny’s parents, as well as all of Johnny’s grandparents, great-grandparents, and great-great-grandparents, were born in Kentucky. All of Johnny’s grandparents and great-grandparents are listed as “White” on United States Censuses. No verified Native American ancestry has been produced for Johnny Depp.