Depp's family settles in Miramar, Fla., when Depp is 7, living in a hotel until his father finds work. Prone to self-inflicted knife wounds – his arms still bear the visible scars – Depp starts smoking at 12, loses his virginity at 13, starts doing drugs at 14 and eventually drops out of high school at 16 to join the garage band, The Kids.
Months after moving to L.A. with his bandmates, Depp, 20, marries makeup artist Lori Allison, 25, in Miami. The relationship lasts two years and leads to one important connection. Through her friend Nicolas Cage, Depp is introduced to the agent who lands him his first film role, as a teen swallowed by his bed in 1984's Nightmare on Elm Street.
Depp gets his first taste of Oscar-quality work with a small role as a Vietnamese-speaking GI in Oliver Stone's Platoon. The film will receive eight Oscar nominations the following year, taking home statues for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Sound and Best Film Editing.
With the successful premiere of high school cop drama 21 Jump Street, one of the first shows on the new FOX network, Depp becomes a teen heartthrob, receiving 10,000 fan letters a month. Although he signed a six-year contract with the show, not believing it would last a season, Depp begins to rebel against his heartthrob status and by 1990 negotiates his way out in order to pursue movie work. "He didn't make any secret of the fact that he didn't particularly care about being on that show," recalls castmate Holly Robinson to PEOPLE.
Depp meets actress Winona Ryder at a film premiere and is immediately smitten. "There's been nothing in my 27 years that's comparable to the feeling I have with Winona," he tells PEOPLE at the time. Five months after their first date, the couple is engaged; three years later they split. Depp, who alters the "Winona Forever" tattoo on his right biceps to read "Wino Forever," seems to have a fiancée fetish: before Ryder, he was also briefly engaged to actresses Sherilyn Fenn and Jennifer Grey.
In an extreme contrast from his 21 Jump Street persona, Depp takes on the eccentric title role in Edward Scissorhands. It is his first collaboration with director Tim Burton, whom he works with on many other films, including Ed Wood (1994) and Sleepy Hollow (1999).
Depp passes on big-budget roles for films like Benny & Joon, where he plays an eccentric who models himself after silent-movie star Buster Keaton. He'll continue the trend with What's Eating Gilbert Grape (opposite Leonardo DiCaprio) and Ed Wood. "I was so uncomfortable being a product, I swore to myself that I would choose my own path," Depp says on Inside the Actors Studio. "I figured I could always go back to playing guitar or pumping gas or something."
Fellow actor and pal River Phoenix collapses outside the Viper Room, the Sunset Strip club Depp co-owns until 2003. An autopsy shows that Phoenix's body had toxic levels of cocaine and heroin, as well as marijuana and Valium. Depp faces accusations that his nightspot is one of the centers of Hollywood's drug trade. "To pinpoint one club or one street is really ridiculous," he tells USA Today. "There's a tragic loss of a very gifted, very sweet, nice young man."
Depp meets model Kate Moss at the Manhattan bistro Café Tabac, and from the beginning their union is one of tremendous highs and lows. "They can't keep their hands, lips, mouths, legs off each other," a friend says to PEOPLE. The passion often turns the other way as the pair are frequently seen shouting at each other in public. "Instead of hitting women, he just gets angry and lets off steam in other ways," a longtime friend says to PEOPLE.
Suspected of being drunk and fighting with Moss, Depp is arrested on suspicion of criminal mischief after trashing his $1,200-a-night room at New York City's Mark Hotel. Charges are dismissed after Depp pays nearly $10,000 in damages and fees. Ironically, legendary hotel trasher Roger Daltrey of The Who was trying to sleep next door. "On a scale of 1 to 10," Daltrey says to PEOPLE, "I give him a 1. It took him so bloody long. The Who could've done the job in one minute flat."
BIOGRAPHY (top to bottom): Classmates Yearbook Archives; Everett Collection; MPTV; Tammie Arroyo/Celebrity Photo; IPOL INC/GLOBE; EVERETT; TONY BARSON/WIREIMAGE; REX USA