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From Kentucky to Hollywood: Inside Johnny Depp’s difficult childhood and rise to stardom in his own words

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Johnny Depp’s life as an A-list Hollywood actor appeared to be a far comparison from that of the life he grew up witnessing while living with his family as a kid.

As it turns out, despite acting for a living and becoming a main draw at the box office, once the cameras stopped rolling on set, Depp’s own life at home would have all the makings of a true drama, according to his words. 

The former “Pirates of the Caribbean” star testified during a hearing at the Fairfax County Circuit Court in Fairfax, Virginia on Tuesday to the idea that he initially made the decision to sue his ex-wife, Amber Heard, 35, for libel after she made scathing allegations against him that he had been physically abusive toward her during their time together.

“My goal is the truth because it killed me that all these people I had met over the years … that these people would think that I was a fraud,” he said, adding that “Nothing of the kind ever happened.”

WATCH DEPP VS HEARD: JOHNNY DEPP TO CONTINUE TESTIMONY WEDNESDAY

The former “Pirates of the Caribbean” star testified during a hearing at the Fairfax County Circuit Court in Fairfax, Virginia on Tuesday to the idea that he initially made the decision to sue his ex-wife, Amber Heard, 35, for libel after she made scathing allegations against him that he had been physically abusive toward her during their time together.
( JIM WATSON / POOL / AFP)

During his hours-long testimony, Depp, 58, went into great detail about the abuse he said he suffered at the hands of his late mother, Betty Sue Palmer, whom Depp described as “violent” and “cruel” to him and his three siblings.

Childhood life: Depp describes “constant” abuse from his mother

John Christopher Depp II was born in Owensboro, Kentucky to Betty Sue Palmer and John Christopher Depp. He was the youngest of four children. His mom was a waitress and his father was a civil engineer. 

Depp’s family didn’t stay in Kentucky long, however, as they moved to Florida when he was 7.

While on the stand, Depp recalled his life as an adolescent, saying: “There was physical abuse, certainly, which could be in the form of an ashtray being flung at you, you know, it hits you in the head or you get beat with a high-heeled shoe or telephone whatever was handy. So in our house, we were never exposed to any type of safety or security.”

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“The verbal abuse, the psychological abuse, was almost worse than the beatings. The beatings were just physical pain,” the actor added. “The physical pain, you learn to deal with. You learn to accept it. You learn to deal with it.”

“When Betty Sue, my mother, would go off on a tangent toward my father — and of course, in front of the kids, it [didn’t] matter to her — he, amazingly, remained very stoic and never, as she was rationing him with horrible things, he stood there and just looked at her while she delivered the pain, and he swallowed it. He took it,” Depp said of his father, John Depp Sr.

Actor Johnny Depp, mother Betty Sue Wells, father John Depp and girlfriend Vanessa Paradis in 1999. While on the stand, Depp recalled his life as an adolescent.

Actor Johnny Depp, mother Betty Sue Wells, father John Depp and girlfriend Vanessa Paradis in 1999. While on the stand, Depp recalled his life as an adolescent.
(Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)

Depp went on to say that “there was never a moment when my father lost control and attacked my mother or hit my mother or even said a bad thing to my mother.”

“The things that I witnessed … there were a couple of times when it got too far when I could see his eyes welling up as he was staring at her, saying nothing,” said the “Edward Scissorhands” performer. “The most he would do is he would punch a wall. I once saw him punch a wall, and he shattered his hand because it wasn’t drywall, it was proper concrete … but still, never touched her, never argued with her. He remained a gentleman.”

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Continued the actor: “To me, as a five-year-old boy, I kept wondering, why does he take it? How does he take this? And why doesn’t he leave her? But he didn’t,” Depp added. “He was able to maintain his calm, and his composure. He was able to maintain his relationship with his children. 

“He is a good man,” Depp stated of his father.

Johnny Depp testified that he and Vanessa Paradis, right, knew exactly how they would parent their children – the opposite of how Depp said he was treated by his mother, Betty Sue, right.

Johnny Depp testified that he and Vanessa Paradis, right, knew exactly how they would parent their children – the opposite of how Depp said he was treated by his mother, Betty Sue, right.
( Bob Riha Jr/WireImage)

Before long, the “Rum Diary” actor told the court that his father ultimately packed his bags and left, telling Depp he “can’t live it anymore.”

Depp’s parents split in 1978. He was 15.

Despite remembering his father, Depp Sr. as “a kind, quiet and shy man,” Depp said he thought the move on the part of his father was “cowardly” as Depp felt his father was abandoning his family.

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Depp said he later realized his stance was “very wrong” and his father was “not a confrontational person in any way” and made a decision he simply felt was best for him by leaving Depp’s mother.

Eventually, Depp relayed to the court that Palmer slipped into a deep depression and tried to kill herself by ingesting a “multitude of pills.” She survived but was never the same,” he recalled. “She lived on the couch and weighed about 70 pounds.” Palmer died in 2016.

Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis during 76th Annual Academy Awards - Governor's Ball at The Kodak Theater in Hollywood, California.

Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis during 76th Annual Academy Awards – Governor’s Ball at The Kodak Theater in Hollywood, California.
(Donato Sardella/WireImage)

High school dropout to Hollywood star

As for how he ended up a top-billing performer?

In 1979, Depp dropped out of high school and joined a band called, The Kids. As a result, he moved to Los Angeles.

Fast-forward to a 20-year-old Depp who got into showbiz because he was a struggling musician and needed a job to sustain his way of living since he hadn’t yet struck it rich while being an artist.

“I ended up acting by accident,” Depp said. 

Actor Nicolas Cage suggested that Depp reach out to Cage’s agent, Eileen Feldman, who then pushed Depp to read for casting director, Annette Benson, before Depp would audition for director Wes Craven.

Actor Nicolas Cage suggested that Depp reach out to Cage’s agent, Eileen Feldman, who then pushed Depp to read for casting director, Annette Benson, before Depp would audition for director Wes Craven.
(Barry King/WireImage)

It was then that his longtime pal, actor Nicolas Cage, suggested that Depp reach out to Cage’s agent, Eileen Feldman, who then pushed Depp to read for casting director, Annette Benson, before Depp would audition for director Wes Craven.

Depp said he “somehow” landed a part on “Nightmare on Elm Street.”

Lori Anne Depp. She was married to Johnny Depp for two years in the '80s.

Lori Anne Depp. She was married to Johnny Depp for two years in the ’80s.
(Shutterstock )

He went on to earn a leading role on the police undercover series “21 Jump Street” at age 22 before his big break reared its head and Depp was cast as Captain Jack Sparrow in “Pirates of the Caribbean.” 

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During this time, Depp’s first marriage to makeup artist Lori Anne Depp came to an end. The pair, who had tied the knot in a ceremony in Florida, were married from 1983 to 1985.

Depp was cast as Captain Jack Sparrow in "Pirates of the Caribbean." He is pictured here for the premiere of one of the franchise's installments in 2017.

Depp was cast as Captain Jack Sparrow in “Pirates of the Caribbean.” He is pictured here for the premiere of one of the franchise’s installments in 2017.
(Steve Granitz/WireImage)

Following a few more engagements – namely Winona Ryder and Jennifer Grey – and a few failed relationships, Depp would go on to meet Vanessa Paradis, the mother of his two children.

Their relationship lasted 14 years.

Johnny Depp is pictured here. Prior to being an actor, Depp dropped out of high school and joined a band called, The Kids. As a result, he moved to Los Angeles.

Johnny Depp is pictured here. Prior to being an actor, Depp dropped out of high school and joined a band called, The Kids. As a result, he moved to Los Angeles.
(Jim Smeal/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)

Changing for the children

Tuesday marked the first time Depp has been able to speak about his case in full. He further testified to the relationship he had with the mother of his children, Vanessa Paradis, 49, and the manner in which they parented their two children, Lily-Rose, 22, and Jack, 20.

Depp said his parenting style was largely “based on my experiences as a child and what I’d seen and experienced,” and added that he “knew exactly how to raise children” due to the abuse he had experienced in his own childhood.

“When my girl, Vanessa, got pregnant, I knew exactly how to raise children, which was to do the opposite of what they did – of what Betty Sue did,” Depp explained. “Never raise your voice in front of the children – never. Screaming out the word ‘no’ to them, I never wanted to tell my kids, no. I wanted to tell them that … I wanted to show them that there were options. You don’t have to stick the coat hanger in the electrical socket,” he added.

Tuesday marked the first time Depp has been able to speak about his case in full. He further testified to the relationship he had with the mother of his children, Vanessa Paradis, 49, and the manner in which they parented their two children, Lily-Rose, 22, and Jack, 20.

Tuesday marked the first time Depp has been able to speak about his case in full. He further testified to the relationship he had with the mother of his children, Vanessa Paradis, 49, and the manner in which they parented their two children, Lily-Rose, 22, and Jack, 20.
(Mathew Imaging/FilmMagic)

Depp said he took the conversational approach when it came to parenting the two children he shares with Paradis.

“Saying no is an abrupt thing, but to talk to them and say, ‘If you understand the repercussions of something, then you won’t go there. So maybe think about this as opposed to this. Give this some thought, you know, but that could kill you.’ 

Lily-Rose Depp is pictured here. She is the daughter of Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis.

Lily-Rose Depp is pictured here. She is the daughter of Johnny Depp and Vanessa Paradis.
(Emma McIntyre/Getty Images)

“So, I would ease them away from things of that nature with a more of a conversation as opposed to a flat-out, ‘Don’t you ever do that again’ and threats and things of that nature,” Depp explained to the court. “I did not raise my children that way. Nor did Vanessa. And we never raised our voices in front of our children, ever.”

After Paradis and Depp split in 2012, the star started dating Heard. By Christmas Eve 2013, they were engaged, and in 2015, they were saying their “I Dos.”

Depp says he turned from “Cinderella” to “Quasimodo”

During his testimony on Tuesday, the “Pirates of the Caribbean” star said it’s difficult for him to air the intimate details of his life with Heard in public, but that doing so is necessary in order to “clear” his name.

Depp said that following the success of “Pirates,” his life changed much more than he had ever anticipated, and he could no longer do the regular mundane tasks that he was used to doing alone but with his children. Depp also added that along with the fame, also came a larger security presence which completely threw him for a loop.

“At our house in Los Angeles, people would be trying to climb the gates to get in to see Captain Jack Sparrow,” Depp recalled. “You had people try to bust in the gates dressed as Captain Jack Sparrow.”

Depp starred in a total of five “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies and called the beloved character a mix of Keith Richards and Pepe Le Pew.

Attorney Elaine Bredehoft, left, and actress Amber Heard look on during a trial in the Fairfax County Circuit Courthouse in Fairfax, Virginia, on April 19, 2022. After Paradis and Depp split in 2012, the star started dating Heard. By Christmas Eve 2013, they were engaged, and in 2015, they were saying their "I Dos."

Attorney Elaine Bredehoft, left, and actress Amber Heard look on during a trial in the Fairfax County Circuit Courthouse in Fairfax, Virginia, on April 19, 2022. After Paradis and Depp split in 2012, the star started dating Heard. By Christmas Eve 2013, they were engaged, and in 2015, they were saying their “I Dos.”
( JIM WATSON / POOL / AFP)

He also maintained that after Heard made the allegations against him, Depp began feeling like the former belle of the ball-turned-villainous outcast.

“It has been six years of trying times,” he said, his demeanor sober and his hair pulled back in a slick ponytail. “It’s very strange when one day you’re a Cinderella, so to speak, then in zero point six seconds you’re Quasimodo. I didn’t deserve that nor did my children nor did the people who believed in me all these years.” 

“I’m obsessed with the truth so today is the first opportunity I’ve been able to speak about this case in full,” he added.

Depp testified at length about his time with Heard and called her accounts of his drug abuse "grossly embellished" to say the least.

Depp testified at length about his time with Heard and called her accounts of his drug abuse “grossly embellished” to say the least.
( JIM WATSON / POOL / AFP)

Depp talks drug abuse

Depp testified at length about his time with Heard and called her accounts of his drug abuse “grossly embellished” to say the least.

“I’m sorry to say, a lot of it is just plainly false,” he testified, as Heard stared at him. “I think that it was an easy target for her to hit.”

Johnny Depp and Amber Heard in 2015.

Johnny Depp and Amber Heard in 2015.
( Kurt Krieger/Corbis via Getty Images)

Depp also shared his history of drug and alcohol abuse throughout his life, but said he kept it under control.

“It was essentially just self-medication,” he said. “Where you want to escape from is your own brain, your own head.”

He also said that he indeed became addicted to the painkiller Roxicodone after suffering an accident on the set of the fourth installment of “Pirates of the Caribbean.”

“I was bit by the snake and before you know it that monkey is on your back to stay,” he said of his nearly five-year dependence on the painkiller. Depp was adamant that after he detoxed from the drug, he never took it again.

In spite of his own addiction outside of filming, Depp maintained vehemently “there have been no abuse of substances on film sets” or “moments where I would have been considered out of control.”

Depp: My ex-wife Amber was “too good to be true”

However, Depp pressed that his union with Heard wasn’t always bad and while testifying to the court, also pointed to the good times with his ex-wife that he ultimately described as “too good to be true.”

“In the beginning of my relationship with Ms. Heard, there was from what I recall and what I remember, she was too good to be true. She was attentive, she was loving, she was smart, she was kind, she was funny, she was understanding. And we have many things in common. Certain blues music and well, music, literature, things of that nature, so for that year or year and a half, it was amazing,” Depp lamented of the good times.

“There were a couple of things that, I don’t know – stuck in my head that I noticed that I thought might be a little bit of a dilemma at some point,” he continued. “For example, if I worked quite a lot and when I would come home from work, I would come in the house or the hotel, and she would sit me down on the couch and give me a glass of wine and take my boots off, set them to the side and I had never experienced anything like that in my life. I just never thought I was… I just never experienced that before, and it became a regular thing that she did, this kind of routine.”

Depp went on to explain how he began noticing little behavioral patterns after he deviated from the “routine” one evening.

Sean Bett testified Monday afternoon that he had taken photos of Johnny Depp after Amber Heard allegedly assaulted him on more than one occasion, leaving scratches and bruises on his face.

Sean Bett testified Monday afternoon that he had taken photos of Johnny Depp after Amber Heard allegedly assaulted him on more than one occasion, leaving scratches and bruises on his face.

“I remember one night I came home from work and I think she was on the phone or something and busy – she was doing something and so I sat down on the couch and I took my boots off,” recalled the actor. “And suddenly, Ms. Heard approached with this look on her face and she just said, ‘What did you just do? What did you do?’ I said, what do you mean? ‘You took your boots off,’ Depp alleged Heard stating. 

“I said, yes I did. You were busy, you know?” to which Heard allegedly responded, “No, no, no, that’s my job. That’s what I do. You don’t do that. I do that.'”

Depp said he complied before Heard offered, “Let me get you a glass of wine.”

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The actor said he paused for a moment “at the fact that she was visibly shaken or upset that I had broken her rules of routine.”

He pressed that he thought the moment was “strange” and added “Once you notice something like that, then you start to notice other little tidbits and things that come out. And then within a year or year and a half, she had become this – another person, almost.”

Depp is suing Heard, his ex-wife, for libel after she wrote an op-ed piece in The Washington Post in 2018 referring to herself as a public figure representing domestic abuse. Depp was not named in the piece. 

Depp’s testimony is expected to continue on Wednesday.

Fox News’ Rebecca Rosenberg and Mariah Haas contributed to this report

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