Column: Johnny Depp and Amber Heard: It’s hard to root for either one

A man in a suit and a woman in a metallic dress arrive at a movie premiere.
Johnny Depp, left, and Amber Heard arrive for the European premiere of their 2011 film, “The Rum Diary,” in London.
(Joel Ryan / Associated Press)

If you want to know what mutually assured destruction looks like, forget about Russia vs. Ukraine for a minute and check out the spectacle of Johnny Depp vs. Amber Heard.

It’s not exactly “War of the Roses” grotesque, but it’s pretty depressing. This is what you get when fame and fortune infantilize two grown people, each of whom needs desperately to have the last word — and to have it in public.

For the record:

10:17 a.m. April 25, 2022

An earlier version said a judge in London’s Royal Courts of Justice determined in 2018 that Johnny Depp had not been libeled. The ruling was made in 2020.

Their tumultuous short-lived marriage has resulted in years of acrimony and courtroom drama spanning two continents. The current chapter of their domestic warfare is taking place in a Fairfax County, Va., courtroom, where Depp’s defamation lawsuit against his ex-wife Heard is unfolding before a jury of seven.


How did they get here?

In May 2016, just after she filed for divorce, Heard accused Depp of throwing a cellphone at her face during a fight. He has denied it and no charges were filed, but she was granted a temporary restraining order after swearing to the court that she feared for her life.

Opinion Columnist

Robin Abcarian

In April 2018, the London-based newspaper the Sun published a story headlined “Gone Potty: How can JK Rowling be ‘genuinely happy’ casting wife-beater Johnny Depp in the new Fantastic Beasts film?”

In November 2020, after a salacious three-week trial in London’s Royal Courts of Justice, a judge determined that Depp had not been libeled and referred to 12 separate incidents that justified the Sun’s headline. Depp’s request for appeal was denied.

A month later, the Washington Post published an opinion essay by Heard, in which she described herself as “a public figure representing domestic abuse” who had “felt the full force of our culture’s wrath for women who speak out.” Though she did not mention Depp by name, it was clear she was referring to him.

He filed a libel lawsuit against her, claiming he’d lost work as a result of the piece, including a starring role in a “Pirates of the Caribbean” sequel for which he claims he would have earned $40 million. “It’s very strange when one day you’re Cinderella so to speak, then 0.6 seconds later, you’re Quasimodo,” he testified Tuesday.

Amber Heard’s lawyer grills Johnny Depp during cross-examination with a slew of embarrassing messages that might undermine parts of Depp’s testimony.

April 21, 2022

Then in 2020, Heard countersued Depp, claiming his former attorney defamed her when he said her abuse allegations were a “sexual violence hoax,” ginned up to attract attention for her movie “Aquaman,” which premiered three days after her essay ran in the Post.


And on it goes.

I daresay this marriage was doomed from the start and not just because of the couple’s 22-year age difference.

One month after tying the knot, according to Depp’s lawsuit against Heard, she threw a vodka bottle at him in Australia. The bottle shattered and the broken glass “severed and shattered” the bones of his right middle finger. Photos introduced as evidence depict a gruesome injury.

Heard, for her part, has accused Depp of many assaults, including a surprise accusation in the latest trial that he sexually assaulted her once while he was black-out drunk.

The exhibits presented on her behalf are also disturbing. A cellphone video she entered into the record depicts an apparently drunken Depp storming into their kitchen, grabbing a bottle of red wine, and slamming and breaking glass cabinet fronts. The video ends when he sees that she is recording him and furiously grabs the phone.

Thursday, he admitted that he had “assaulted a couple of cabinets.”

Depp is known as a prolific imbiber of drugs and alcohol and has testified about how his frequent inebriation enraged his wife.

He also has a long history of temperamental outbursts — in 1989, when he starred in “21 Jump Street,” he pleaded guilty to assaulting a security guard. In 1994, he trashed a $1,200-a-night Manhattan hotel room he shared with then-girlfriend Kate Moss and paid nearly $10,000 for the damage. At the time, he blamed the destruction on an armadillo hiding in the closet.


“I was angry,” he testified in London when asked about his history of eruptions, “but that does not mean I have an anger problem.”

Under cross-examination, Johnny Depp was asked if he was more upset by events in 2016 than by what Amber Heard wrote in allegedly defamatory article.

April 20, 2022

Rhetorical contortions aside, it seems that both Depp and Heard have anger issues rooted in childhood trauma.

Depp testified at length about the childhood abuse he suffered at the hands of his mother, Betty Sue, even flinching on the stand as he described how he’d protect himself when she walked past him at home. He said she might fling an ashtray at his head or hit him with her high heel or a telephone “or whatever’s handy.”

“In our house,” he said, “we were never exposed to any type of safety. Or security. The only thing that one could do, really, was try to stay out of the line of fire.”

The couples’ therapist, Laurel Anderson, testified in a videotaped deposition that Heard’s father beat her as a child and that “it was a point of pride to her if she felt disrespected to initiate a fight.” Also, said Anderson, “she felt she had to hit him back if he hit her and so she always did.”

The therapist described the couple’s dynamic as “mutual abuse.”

How humiliating to have your therapist testify to the world what awful spouses you were.

But this, I suppose, is the result of the misguided righteousness that has blinded Depp and Heard to their own faults.


Perhaps it’s predictable that after all he’s been though, Depp still can’t seem to fathom his own part in the mess.

“No matter the outcome of this trial,” he testified Wednesday, “the second those accusations were made against me, and they metastasized as fodder for the media, I lost … and I’ll carry that for the rest of my life.”