Keeping His Head

updated 12/13/1999 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 12/13/1999 AT 01:00 AM EST

Mornings and Johnny Depp? They go together like grunge and greasy hair. Except Depp was best known for presiding over that other end of the morning, the one where the sky is dark and the diet is beer, not bagels. Lately, though, Vanessa Paradis, the French mother of Depp's new daughter Lily-Rose, "has some kind of hold over Johnny," says her friend and biographer Alain Grasset. "She managed to keep him indoors at night, where previously he might have been out drinking until dawn." Has Mr. Lout suddenly become Matt Lauer? They seem to be keeping the same hours. "In Paris, Johnny wanders out in the morning," says Grasset, "to buy fresh bread."

Johnny, it seems, has gone from Depp-lorable to Depp-endable. Now 36, he can't stop talking about the wonders of fatherhood and his love for Paradis, 26, an actress-singer who has been famous in France since she was 14. It's as if Jim Morrison lived and bought a minivan: Daddy Depp has no time for trashing hotel rooms (as he did in New York City in 1994, earning himself a few hours in a jail cell; all charges were later dropped) or menacing photographers (as he did with a board in London last January; the police arrested him but let him go with a warning).

But the man who once boasted to Rolling Stone that he "did every kind of drug there was by 14" hasn't given up taking his senses for the occasional wild ride. "He changes diapers," says Rick Heinrichs, the production designer of Depp's visually splendid Sleepy Hollow (which will be the highest-grossing film in Depp's offbeat oeuvre). "But he describes it in this most heartfelt way. It was really amazing. It was definitely an evolution for him." Maybe it's harder to act like a kid when you have one: Lily-Rose Melody Depp arrived in Paris on May 27. "I want everything for her," Depp told an October press gathering in New York City. "I want her to have total happiness. I want blue skies for my girl. I want white, puffy clouds." To ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY, he was equally effusive: "I feel like there was a fog in front of my eyes for 36 years. The second she was born, that fog just lifted."

So did the cigarette smoke; Depp talked Paradis into quitting smoking when she was pregnant and agreed to cut way down on his own previous 30-smokes-a-day habit, Grasset says. "When they are in Paris, they eat out in small candlelit restaurants and go home early," he adds. "They also spend a lot of time at her parents' house near Paris. Vanessa speaks perfect English, but her parents don't, so Johnny is making a big effort to learn French."

Lily-Rose will probably pick it up naturally, though. Depp and Paradis share an apartment in Paris (where he and Sean Penn are partners in the hip restaurant Man Ray) and a $2 million property, which is being renovated—behind a large sign warning "chien méchant" (nasty dog)—just 40 minutes from the Riviera's Saint-Tropez. The guy who said, of his paparazzi-menacing to Talk, that "violence, most of the time, is the only thing that works" has decided America is too violent. "You've got cretins going into schools and shooting children," Depp told Premiere, although he still visits Los Angeles, where he owns a house and the famed Viper Room club, where pal River Phoenix died of a drug overdose in 1993. "This country is out of control. It's become dirty. I think it's imploding."

As for Paradis found, his love for her exploded on one enchanted evening. Paradis, the child of Parisians Andre, an interior design consultant, and Corrinne, a homemaker, is known across France for her pop records and sultry Lolita-esque turns onscreen, and for the 1991 Chanel perfume ads in which she was the "bird in a gilded cage." She later dated rocker Lenny Kravitz, who produced one of her albums. In June 1998, Depp saw her with a group of friends at the bar of Paris's Costes Hotel, where he and the crew of the forthcoming Roman (Rosemary's Baby) Polanski thriller The Ninth Gate were having dinner. (Ironically, Paradis had auditioned for the film, but didn't get a part.) Depp had a friend invite her over. "She said she spotted him pretty soon after he noticed her," says Grasset. "They were exchanging secret glances. When he invited her to his table, he made a place for her to sit down and she said she went straight for it." The two talked for hours, then parted for the night with a chaste peck on the cheek.

Paradis became pregnant less than three months later, but although the baby was not planned, "they made long-term plans to stay together," Grasset says. But during her pregnancy, she worried that the papa was a rolling stone who might be gathering Moss—tabloids caught him having dinner with his ex-flame of four years, model Kate Moss, in London, where he was shooting Sleepy Hollow (he shot his upcoming World War II drama The Man Who Cried in Paris). But Moss, who was released from rehab last December, and Depp, who had previously been married (at age 20, to musician Lori Allison) and engaged (to Winona Ryder, Sherilyn Fenn and Jennifer Grey), now seem to be just friends.

Depp—a Kentucky native raised in Florida, who is the youngest of four kids born to civil engineer John Sr. and waitress Betty Sue Palmer (the pair divorced when Johnny was 15)—still has some growing up to do. On the set of Sleepy Hollow, he enjoyed strolling around with a gadget that made it sound as if some severed-head props were stricken with flatulence. "She is the mature one," says Grasset. "He is something of an overgrown child." But Depp was present at the American Hospital in Paris for Paradis's labor and cut the umbilical cord. "You can see he thinks it's the most amazing thing that ever happened to him," says Hollow costar and fellow papa Casper Van Dien. And the man who once derided marriage to Playboy as "making weird public vows that signify ownership" now sees things differently. "I think," he told France's Oh La! about Paradis, "we will probably tie the knot one day. We want to do what is best for our baby girl."

Kyle Smith
Ulrica Wihlborg in Los Angeles, Peter Mikelbank and Ian Sparks in Paris, Liz Corcoran in London and Donna Freydkin in New York City

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