After becoming friendly with journalist Hunter S. Thompson, Depp portrays him in the film adaptation of Thompson's novel Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. In August 2005, six months after the author's suicide, Depp pays for an invitation-only memorial where Thompson's ashes are shot out of a 15-foot cannon over his Aspen ranch.
In Paris filming the supernatural mystery The Ninth Gate, Depp meets French model-singer Vanessa Paradis, 26. "[She] walked towards me, directly at me, and just said 'Hi.' And then I just knew, you know, it's over with," he tells Oprah. Meeting Paradis, he says, "changed [my life] completely." Within months, the pair move into a $2 million villa in a rural village on France's Cote d'Azur.
Depp and Paradis welcome their first child, Lily-Rose Melody Depp, in Paris. They have a son, John Christopher Depp III, whom they call Jack, in April 2002. "Johnny is the perfect father. He dresses the children, he changes them, he makes them laugh," Paradis says in French Elle in 2002. Her one complaint? "Well, he does give Lily-Rose too many potato chips."
Depp steals the show from Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley in Disney's blockbuster Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Modeling his character, Captain Jack Sparrow, after Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards, Depp's oddball portrayal earns him his first Oscar nomination. The film grosses $654 million during its theatrical run, and Depp reprises the role in 2006 and 2007.
Depp lands the cover of PEOPLE's Sexiest Man Alive in 2003, beating such handsome faces as Brad Pitt, Russell Crowe, Nick Lachey and George Clooney. With the popularity of Pirates of the Caribbean, Depp gains a new generation of fans. Lasse Halstrom, who directed Depp in What's Eating Gilbert Grape, talks of the leading man's charm: "He's a little dangerous, he has a secret, he has great warmth – all those things you can see in his eyes. That's the key to his appeal."
Depp goes two for two, giving another Oscar-nominated performance as Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie in Finding Neverland with Kate Winslet. "Johnny is at the pinnacle of his career," Neverland producer Harvey Weinstein says to PEOPLE. "He is the most versatile actor in the industry. He is a leading man, a character actor, and he has the courage of his convictions."
Delivering his own version of the Willy Wonka character popularized by Gene Wilder in 1971, Depp once again caters toward a younger audience in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Filming in London, Depp flies home to France every weekend until the last month of shooting, when he brings his family with him. "He wanted Lily-Rose to see him playing with the Oompa Loompas," producer Richard Zanuck says to PEOPLE.
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End opens at No. 1 at the box office, grossing $153 million its first week. Days later, the previous Pirates installment wins the MTV Movie Award for Best Movie and Depp takes home the popcorn for Best Performance. "I want to thank [the producers] and Disney for not firing me first," Depp says during his acceptance speech.
Depp appears on the cover of EW, where he discusses his sixth collaboration with director Tim Burton in the adaptation of the musical, Sweeney Todd. "He makes Sid Vicious look like the innocent paper boy," Depp says of his character. "He's beyond dark." Despite the singing (which "couldn't be more foreign to me in a lot of ways"), the actor says, "After certain takes, Tim would just howl with laughter and go, 'I think this is my favorite character.''' After winning a lead actor Golden Globe for the dark role, Depp earns a Best Actor Oscar nomination.
Depp is named PEOPLE's Sexiest Man Alive for the second time. "Johnny Depp has magical powers. He's unlike anyone else," says actress Isla Fisher. "He's funny, generous and clever. It's just a shame he's so hard on the eyes."
BIOGRAPHY (top to bottom): Nancy Kaszerman/ZUMA; Jeff Vespa/WireImage; Everett Collection; PETER MOUNTAIN/WARNER BROS.; Kevin Winter/Getty; Courtesy Entertainment Weekly