JANET STREET-PORTER on Amber Heard and Johnny Depp’s court battle


Like two mythical beasts fighting to the death, the world’s most litigious and potty-mouthed couple face each other in a Virginia courtroom as the latest round in the long-running feud between Amber Heard and Johnny Depp plumbs new depths.

Once they described their marriage as ‘intensely passionate and at times volatile, but always bound by love’- and that was in a joint statement issued in 2016 after it had ended in divorce and Miss Heard had agreed to a $7 million settlement.

Since then, the ‘bound by love’ aspect of their former passionate relationship has degenerated into ‘joined in battle until both our careers get flushed down the toilet’.

War was declared after Amber Heard wrote an opinion piece for the Washington Post in December 2018 describing herself as a victim of domestic violence, (but not naming Depp). 

In response, fearing his career would take a nosedive, the Pirates of the Caribbean star filed a $50 million defamation suit in Virginia, where the Post has offices. Not to be outdone, Miss Heard then countersued for $100 million- and the current unsavoury spectacle is the result.

Amber Heard

Johnny Depp (left) and Amber Heard (right) at Fairfax County Circuit Court, Virginia yesterday

Johnny Depp might have been worried that the original article would damage his career, but worse was to come. He then sued the Sun newspaper in the UK for defamation after they described him (following the Post article) as a wife-beater. 

The 2020 trial was a rehearsal for this week’s proceedings in Virginia, with each side making horrendous allegations about the other, hundreds of weeping fans lining the street outside the courtroom, some of whom attacked Miss Heard online, branding her a fantasist and a liar.

Heard would sweep into court each day dressed as a trophy survivor for victims of domestic abuse, beautifully dressed and suitably downbeat. (As she’s doing now). Johnny was… just Johnny. 

It’s hard to describe a man who thrives on such massive excess in all areas. A man who once complained that the reports he splashed out $30,000 a month on wine were ‘insulting’ because he spent far more.

Depp has admitted periods of addiction to alcohol and drug abuse, confessing he started taking his mother’s ‘nerve pills’ aged 11. By 14, he’d tried most drugs. 

Johnny Depp appears in the courtroom at the Fairfax County Circuit Court yesterday

Johnny Depp appears in the courtroom at the Fairfax County Circuit Court yesterday

Whatever you think of his lifestyle, there’s no denying that this troubled man is one of the world’s greatest actors, who has consistently shunned the easy career options, choosing to make a whole slew of well-regarded indie movies along with his fabulously well paid role as Jack Sparrow in the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.

From Ed Wood, Edward Scissorhands to Sweeney Todd and Alice in Wonderland, Johnny Depp has gone for challenging roles that no other Hollywood leading man would choose. 

Somewhere along the way, he seems to have lost touch with reality, buying islands, chateaux and property and, of course, enough booze to fill the Caribbean. 

By 2012, a year after he’d met Heard on the set of The Rum Diaries, he was the highest paid actor in the world, critical to the success of the Pirates series and engaged in a series of well regarded quirky films with the British director Tim Burton.

Amber, on the other hand, was a promising actress who had yet to win critical acclaim although she had appeared in a handful of indie films. Her career didn’t really take off until she starred in Aquaman in 2018, followed by the Justice League.

Actress Amber Heard attends Johnny Depp's defamation trial against her in court yesterday

Actress Amber Heard attends Johnny Depp’s defamation trial against her in court yesterday

But is Johnny Depp more than a potty-mouthed eccentric? Is he a violent man who married a beautiful woman and then treated her appallingly? Is he a wife-beater?

The judge in the Sun case decided that the description was substantially true, that Depp had attacked his wife a dozen times, causing her to fear for her life on three occasions.

At that point you might have expected Mr. Depp to give up on his planned US libel case, retire to lick his wounds and rebuild his reputation. 

As a direct result of that case he was fired from the Pirates franchise, much to the despair of fans, 500,000 of whom signed a petition begging for his return. (It didn’t work).

Depp is notoriously litigious. In 2017, he sued his management company claiming they had mismanaged his earnings, claiming he was $40million in debt. They counter-sued and the case was settled. 

Johnny Depp and Amber Heard at the Venice Film Festival in Italy in September 2015

Johnny Depp and Amber Heard at the Venice Film Festival in Italy in September 2015

He sued his lawyers the same year and that case was also settled. Despite the wife beater ruling, he remains the face of the Christian Dior mens’ fragrance Eau Sauvage, regularly appearing in television advertising all around the world.

To his die-hard fans, he represents a free spirit, an anti-macho star outside the conventional Hollywood roster of leading men. In spite of all his demons, millions of people still think he’s brilliant and a leading French couture house places sex appeal over morals when it comes to flogging product.

That’s the dilemma for his former wife. Although Heard was vindicated in London, now she has to stand up in court and prove herself all over again by defending her version of events. 

This week, the unedifying spectacle of two adults determined to say anything to wreck the other person’s career and reputation has begun, in a case due to last at least six weeks.

To win, Depp must hope that the jury are not swayed by the result in the British courts – but how can most people not know about it? 

f Amber Heard with an apparently bruised cheek

Amber Heard with a mark below her eye

These photos were previously shown in court from May 2016 of Amber Heard with an apparently bruised cheek (left) and a mark below her eye (right)

He has hired top lawyers alleging he has fresh evidence concerning his former wife’s behaviour, that her claims ‘change and evolve for the purpose of Hollywood shock value…which Amber has mastered and used to exploit a serious social matter’.

Depp’s lawyers say that far from being the victim, Heard was the perpetrator of violent acts during their arguments, alleging that she severed his finger with a vodka bottle and that her version of the row in May 2016 which ended their marriage after just a year is ‘a hoax’ and that she ‘faked’ her injuries.

There’s no doubt that Johnny Depp has sent incendiary texts to friends regarding his relationship with his former wife. 

In the Sun case it was revealed he told his friend, actor Paul Bettany, ‘Let’s down her before we burn her’ adding ‘I will f*** her burnt corpse afterwards to make sure she’s dead’. 

This week we discovered he sent another text saying he hoped ‘her rotting corpse was decomposing in the trunk of a Honda Civic’ car.

Amber has alleged that during one fight, he dragged her across the floor by her hair over broken bottles (although she admitted she smashed a bottle to stop him drinking any more) and he then penetrated her with an alcohol bottle during a three day ‘hostage situation’.

Johnny Depp's injured face

Johnny Depp's injured face

As part of Johnny Depp’s defamation case against Amber Heard, he included images of his own bruised and battered face (pictured) following her alleged attacks

Depp alleges her injuries were faked in photos and they don’t match the abuse she describes. An audio tape reveals Heard saying ‘I can’t promise I won’t get physical again…God I get so mad I f***ing lose it’.

There’s going to be more and more of this stuff.

Which begs these questions:

Are the abused and beaten women of the world well served by this torrent of repellent claims and counter claims between two relatively wealthy and privileged people? About behaviour which took place in private.

What does Amber Heard hope to achieve? She has a gorgeous one-year-old daughter and said she was ‘beginning the rest of my life’ in 2021, 12 months after her mother died. If she wants to fight for victims of domestic abuse, is a courtroom battle with a troubled former husband really the best place?

And shouldn’t Johnny Depp accept that his drink and drug-fuelled behaviour might be seen by most people as unacceptable (whatever actually happened during his marriage)? Maybe he needs to get more of a grip on the real world.

The best outcome for all concerned would be for this couple to declare the current rematch a nil-nil draw and call it quits. The only winners in this situation are lawyers, not battered women.

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