Kill your idols. That's what they say. Never meet your heroes, they'll only disappoint you. All I know is this: Johnny, I have loved you for so long. Decades. But it's like I don't even know who you are anymore.
I'm old enough to remember 21 Jump Street. The first time I saw you, as Detective Tom Hanson, you were wearing glasses, as part of your "undercover" uniform. I thought to myself, That nerd has good cheekbones. But here's the thing: You had It. That thing, that magnetic, elusive charisma. Star quality. Also, when Hoffs gave you a makeover and then you guys went to go play video games and buy records, my heart skipped a beat: You were down with brown? That curly-haired black chick you're hanging out with could be me. Honestly? The fact that we're both Geminis was part of it.
But that was just the beginning. Next, you made an interesting choice for a burgeoning teen posterboy, and took the lead role in the twisted, subversive musical John Waters film Cry-Baby. I was already fully onboard the Waters crazytrain thanks to Hairspray, and your El Vez/James Dean/Marlon Brando/rebel without a clue mashup was swoon-worthy. Campy, deliciously weird, and a hint of what was to come: You were proving that there was something going on under those cheekbones. Not just a pretty face. Not just one of those Hollywood heartthrobs. (I am literally wearing a Cry-Baby T-shirt as I type this, JD.)
Right after that was Edward Scissorhands, in which you absolutely could not rest on that pretty face, since it was obscured and distorted with makeup. That movie broke my heart right open, and my sister and I always say "Hold me"/"I can't" to each other. An ode to misfits, emo before emo existed, Vincent Price meets Celebration, Florida — Scissorhands remains a classic. The film made it clear that not only were you a True Talent, but you were attracted to the odd, the off, the slightly damaged, the possibly broken inside. Yes. Exactly. Me too.
A series of serious projects followed — Benny & Joon, What's Eating Gilbert Grape, Dead Man, Donnie Brasco. I watched everything, Johnny. I even watched Nick of Time. Not everything was great, but you bounced around, kept it interesting. Tried, stretched. Even when the flicks sucked, there seemed to be a deeper creative truth you were digging into, at the heart of the art. Meanwhile, your higher profile in Tinseltown meant your love life was making news. And that's partially what this is about, really. My new-found uncomfortable feelings about you.
See, your love life was kind of a mess, but somehow it just added to the allure. The WINONA FOREVER tattoo that later turned into WINO FOREVER? Genius. Hilarious. So '90s. Even trashing a hotel room with Kate Moss was right on: In tune with the pseudo-wounded-bad-boy-looking-for-love-despite-a-slightly-damaged-heart-pounding-underneath-cheekbones-so-sharp-you-could-slice-a-ham-on-them vibe you embodied. And in 1998, when you started getting serious with Vanessa Paradis, I could accept it. The bird in the gilded Chanel cage, Joe Le Taxi, pouty, waif-like, it seemed right that you would go anti-Hellay, smoke Gitanes together in a ramshackle French château, scarf around your neck, playing guitar, discussing Sartre and writing rambling, lengthy longhand letters to Hunter S. Thompson. Made sense.
As the years went by, after adult fare like The Man Who Cried, Chocolat and Blow — (not to mention Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, starring Benicio Del Toro, also in my Top Ten) — you signed on for the Disney extravaganza based on a ding dang theme park ride, but it was partially for your kids, and that, too made sense. Of course you turned the performance on its head, impersonating a drunk Keith Richards. Unexpected, delightful, perfection. And seriously, everyone loved you. Loved. We tolerated sequels and the weirdness of Willy Wonka because you're Johnny Depp, True Talent, quasi-recluse, not into the Hollywood thing, pushing, stretching, trying. The real deal, not like the other guys.
I don't know what happened on the set of The Rum Diary. I don't want to know. The facts roll out like this: After you shot that movie with Amber Heard, you and Vanessa Paradis split, you made Dark Shadows (shudder) and Lone Ranger (vom) and got engaged to Heard, a woman half your age.
I have defended you, I have made excuses for you, I have done my best to be supportive of you, I have been Ride Or Die for you, but I have to ask: WHAT THE FUCK.
Why would you, the anti-establishment, anti-celebrity celebrity slash wannabe-rebel, be making these choices, the kind of choices that make you seem like every other mediocre-talent middle-aged constant mid-life crisis man in Hollywood? Did you do Lone Ranger for the money? Because you already own your own Caribbean island, my love, you can't possibly need more money. Did you really have to fall for the leggy blonde from the craptastic CW show Hidden Palms? I'm sure she is very nice but it is just so typical. Your effortlessly managed, meticulously curated persona as mysterious eccentric creative hot thoughtful intriguing super cool guy? You're shattering it. Decades-long crushes are being soured, longtime fans are confuzzled, and I don't even know what to say to people anymore. Someone asked me why you were on the Late Show and the Today show showing off the diamond engagement ring you're wearing these days, which you called a "chick ring," and I couldn't form a coherent, acceptable answer. I don't know what you're doing anymore.
I still love you. I'll always love you. You're one of my first loves, and you're still in my Top Ten. You've got four or five films slated to hit theaters this year, including Transcendence, which looks meh, and Into The Woods, which is supposed to be a Christmas hit. That means you'll be doing promotion — interviews, photo shoots, magazine covers — and maybe even talking about your impending nuptials. All year. I love it when you come and make an appearance, mingle with the plebes and the riff-raff, but to be honest, it was even more appealing when you holed up in France, avoiding tabloid drama and paparazzi lenses. It's kind of like in Scissorhands, when Edward's living in a gothic castle on a hill, but Kim knows he's still there — and that he still loves her — because it snows. We've grown up, we've grown old together, and I just want you to keep on being the vaguely aloof rakish rogue slouching to the beat of his own drummer and not doing the kind of shit every other egocentric dudebro star does. I need you to be different, the weirdo, the counter-culture version of a Hollywood star, despite or because of that highly photogenic, beautifully chiseled, enigmatic, sly, Dean/Brando pout. Without you standing up for the offbeat outsiders, as Edward would say, I am not complete. Think about it.