In a survey of 3,000 people, the actor Johnny Depp has been voted the epitome of “cool”. Not bad for a former teen star whose first film role ended in his being eaten by a bed.
It is a sobering fact but Johnny Depp is now 41 years old.
That fresh faced youngster, so famously devoured by his mattress in A Nightmare on Elm Street – all of 20 years ago – has matured into a thoughtful actor, capable of performances of real emotional depth and no little charm.
The next Depp film to hit the big screen will be Libertine, the story of the debauched life of the Earl of Rochester, the 17th century poet, rake and sybarite who died of syphilis at the age of 33.
And the life of the film’s star has mirrored that of the noble Earl.
“I think I lived the first 35 years of my life in a fog. I didn’t really know what I wanted or who I was,” he recently told an interviewer.
“I started smoking at 12, lost my virginity at 13 and did every kind of drug there was by 14.”
Born in Owensboro, Kentucky in June 1963, Depp dropped out of school and played guitar in The Kids, a garage band which once opened for Iggy Pop.
An early failed marriage behind him, he was persuaded to try his hand at acting by Nicolas Cage and landed the role in Elm Street at his first audition.
The late 1980s saw Johnny Depp on television in the teen programme 21 Jump Street, but it was his performances in idiosyncratic films like Edward Scissorhands, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? and Donnie Brasco which established him as a major talent.
Off-screen, Depp was famous for his love-life – dating, among others, Juliette Lewis, Kate Moss and Winona Ryder, to whom he was engaged.
Apparently, after the couple split up, Depp had the tattoo on his arm changed from “Winona forever” to “Wino forever”.
He also has an eclectic collection of friends, including Marlon Brando (before his death), Johnny Vegas and Keith Richards, on whose cod-camp manner Depp based his Academy Award-nominated performance as Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean.
He has played guitar on an Oasis album, had a walk-on part on The Fast Show – another passion – and jointly owns Man Ray, a bar just off Paris’ Champs-Elysees, with John Malkovich, Sean Penn and Mick Hucknall.
Unlike many of his contemporaries, who include Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio and Keanu Reeves, Depp has often appeared in less commercial movies, and has exhibited astonishing versatility.
He was spectacular as the drug-addled Raoul Duke in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, endearingly eccentric as Ichabod Crane in Sleepy Hollow and mysterious and tender opposite Juliette Binoche in Chocolat.
Depp’s magic, it seems, lies in his ability to fine-tune his big screen appearances, often weaving intimacy and alienation to produce performances which are both exciting and artistically coherent.
His looks and style have won him fans from both sexes. Women fancy him, men think he’s a good bloke. But his own good looks have not blinded Depp to the march of time.
“Ugliness is better than beauty,” he says. “It lasts longer and in the end, gravity will get us all.”
Today he splits his time between Los Angeles and the south of France where he lives with his wife, the singer Vanessa Paradis, and their two children.
And as for growing old, he says “I’m old-fashioned, so I want to be an old man with a beer belly, on a porch, looking at a lake or something.”