When People magazine announced, at the end of 2009, that Johnny Depp had once again been voted "Sexiest Man Alive" by its readers, the female population of the Western world responded with a resounding "like, DOH!" As any hot-blooded woman can attest, we hardly need yet another ‘sexiest man’ poll to tell us what we already know – Johnny Depp is, without doubt, one of the most gorgeous men on the planet.
This is the second time the delectable Mr. Depp has won this dubious “honour” (the first time was in 2003). In doing the double, he has joined an elite and exclusive group – Brad Pitt and George Clooney are the only other modern-day deities who have previously trodden this hallowed path. This achievement is no mean feat, considering the fickle, frivolous world of celebrity hero-worshipping. It is interesting to note that it is the old masters who are coming out on top, fending off young, upstart pretenders to the throne like Robert Pattison and Jake Gyllenhaal.
However, one thing that marks Depp apart from clean-living hunks like Clooney and Pitt is his notoriously hard-living, hard-partying, hell-raising ways. He has openly admitted to a lifelong love of liquor (after breaking up with his fiancée Winona Ryder in 1993, he had a tattoo changed from “Winona Forever” to “Wino Forever”). During the mid to late nineties, a number of incidents cemented Depp’s bad boy image, including his arrest in New York after allegedly trashing a hotel room during an argument with his then-girlfriend Kate Moss. Another, more tragic, event was to have a long-lasting effect on the young actor – the death of his friend River Phoenix. Johnny was present at a jamming session at his night club The Viper Room the night River Phoenix fatally overdosed from a mixture of heroine and cocaine. (He was onstage playing with Michael “Flea” Balzary, bassist for the Red Hot Chili Peppers - another infamous hell-raiser - unaware that River was dying on the pavement outside his club). Although there was no evidence that Johnny was indulging in drugs himself, he became the victim of guilt-by-association in the press.
While fatherhood has somewhat dampened his appetite for the self-destructive, Depp still appears hell-bent on pursuing a lifestyle which would wreak havoc with the looks of the more genetically-challenged among us. Indeed, we only need to consider Johnny’s friends (people like Keith Richards and Shane MacGowan of The Pogues) to see how a similar lifestyle has been to the detriment of their looks. (Although, lets be honest, in MacGowan’s case, maybe the lack of teeth has more to do with his present unattractiveness than the years of alcoholism!)
It is obvious that Depp places no value on his astonishing good looks. While it is not beyond the realm of possibility to imagine other Hollywood leading men obsessing about grey hairs and wrinkles, and going to bed with a de-toxifying face mask, Johnny goes out of his way to disassociate himself from the pretty-boy image. In fact, considering the off-beat characters he chooses to play (a transvestite in Ed Wood, the wacky Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland, a disturbing Willy Wonka, an artificial man-freak in Edward Scissorhands, a demon barber in Sweeney Todd), it would appear that a pre-requisite for his acceptance of any film role would be the opportunity to ugly-up his impossibly handsome face.
During a recent (and rare) interview on the Jonathan Ross show, Depp appeared oddly ill-at-ease in his own skin, hiding behind his lank, greasy hair. The dirty, tatty clothes he was wearing, including his beloved fifteen-year-old boots, gave him an appearance more like a homeless bum than a Hollywood leading man. And don’t even start me on his filthy fingernails and ugly tattoos! And yet, despite all this, or maybe because of it, he seemed more attractive than ever! Regardless of the off-the-wall character roles, and the seeming desire to drink his way to ugliness, Johnny Depp never seems to age. If anything, his good looks seem to have improved over the years. Nothing diminishes the appeal of the man!
While pondering the genetic paradox that is Mr. Johnny Depp, The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde is brought to mind. In the novel, an incredibly handsome young man (Gray) is having his portrait painted when he suddenly becomes aware of his own mortality. He is distraught at the prospect of his good looks fading, and so makes a pact with the devil – Dorian sells his soul in exchange for the preservation of his beauty. His wish is granted and Dorian never ages a day. Despite a gradual descent into hedonism and debauchery, the effects of his lifestyle never show on his face. Even though Dorian’s outwardly appearance remains unaltered, his portrait is constantly changing, becoming ever more uglier and disfigured. The picture is reflecting how Dorian’s self-gratifying and increasingly evil ways are affecting his soul. The novel climaxes with Dorian, in a blind rage, plunging a knife (which he has just used to murder his best friend) into the painting. With the portrait destroyed, Dorian ages very quickly and dies. When his body is discovered, he is so disfigured and withered, he is unrecognizable. It is only through the rings on his fingers that he can be identified. In the end, even Dorian Gray could not escape the ravages of time.
So, Johnny Depp, what is your secret? Is it simply great genes? Have you discovered the elixir of life, the fountain of youth? Or could there be a portrait of you, hidden far away from prying eyes, which is slowly becoming uglier and more disfigured, while the devil waits patiently for your soul? Do tell ...