The Story of one of Owensboro’s Favorite Sons and his Connection to our City
Johnny Depp’s connection to Owensboro is as elusive as his most famous character, Captain Jack Sparrow from Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise. A little dark, but also fun, completely mysterious, and somehow endearing all at the same time.
Yes, he was born in Owensboro. That much is well documented. (On June 9, 1963, at Mercy Hospital, the former hospital location where the HealthPark is now.)
Yes, he lived in Owensboro until he was 6 or 7 when his parents moved to Miramar, Florida. But there are differing reports of Johnny’s age when they left Owensboro and his parents may or may not have lived in Frankfort before heading to Florida. Johnny has been quoted often saying he moved up to twenty times during his childhood.
Yes, several news outlets reported recently that Johnny’s official Facebook page lists Owensboro as his hometown, but it’s anyone’s guess if that’s actually Johnny maintaining that page or not. Either way, the “official” Johnny Depp Facebook page (the one with the Beta verified badge and 14 million followers) does in fact say “Born in Owensboro, Kentucky. Father of Lily-Rose and Jack.”
Yes, Johnny still has a few family members remaining in Owensboro. But when Owensboro Living spoke with them for this article, they respectfully declined an interview and politely asked us to honor their privacy, which we’re happy to do. (Editor’s note: This article is not about dishing out any details about those family members, their names, or addresses. This article is simply our way to recognize Owensboro’s most famous son.)
The one quote Johnny’s closest family member did give Owensboro Living to use was “Johnny is a wonderful man and very easy to love.”
Yes, he still comes to visit those few remaining family members in Owensboro from time to time. Most recently on October 21, the day before he performed with Jeff Beck at the Louisville Palace Theater, Johnny was spotted by a few lucky people who just happened to be in the right place at the right time. Johnny did pose for a couple of selfies with the understanding that they would not post the photos until he was gone again.
Those photos went viral for about a day when they were all deleted off social media. When Owensboro Living spoke with the man who took the selfie with Johnny, he politely and regrettably also declined any comment out of respect for Johnny’s family’s privacy.
Beyond that, rumors have abounded over the years about chance sightings of Johnny on Frederica Street in a fancy sports car. (Or was it just someone who looked a lot like Johnny?) Photos and stories pop up on social media of childhood interactions with Johnny. (But wasn’t he in Florida at that age?)
Yes, Johnny is an Owensboro Hall of Fame inductee (see sidebar) and was honored with an Owensboro Walk of Fame plaque. But unlike his fellow 2015 Walk of Fame honorees in the entertainment category, Florence Henderson (TV’s Brady Bunch, etc, whose plaque is in the sidewalk just outside the Owensboro Symphony Orchestra building) and Christine Johnson (Broadway, whose plaque is installed just outside the RiverPark Center), Johnny’s plaque has yet to be installed in any downtown sidewalk.
When asked why Depp’s plaque has not been installed, City officials (again, politely and respectfully) were not forthcoming with an explanation.
Fans From All Over
Ever since his breakout TV role in 21 Jump Street, it’s been a known fact that Johnny Depp is from Owensboro. As his popularity in Hollywood grew, so did references to Owensboro and his connection to Kentucky.
The VisitOwensboro office regularly gets questions and comments about Johnny Depp.
“At Visit Owensboro we interact with two types of visitors on a regular basis. The first are those who are here to learn more about our city and attractions, and then are surprised to learn of Johnny’s connection to Owensboro,” said Mark Calitri, President of VisitOwensboro. “The second type of visitor is the true fan that sees Johnny as a symbol of inspiration, talent, and cultural influence. These visitors are looking to express admiration and pay tribute to Johnny, while fostering a sense of connection to this icon.”
Both types enjoy seeing Johnny’s picture and bio displayed in the Hall of Fame at VisitOwensboro. So, it would make a lot of sense for Johnny’s sidewalk plaque to be one more stop downtown for Johnny Depp fans traveling to Owensboro to see his hometown.
VisitOwensboro also points fans to the two Depp-inspired downtown murals.
The first, called “Candiculture,” was painted on the south-facing wall of the historic Andria’s Candies building (217 Allen Street) in 2012. It was painted by Czech artist Pavel Forman along with Monty Helm. Candiculture depicts several images from Johnny’s lead role in Tim Burton’s 2005 film Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
The newest mural, a portrait of Johnny’s title character from the 1990 movie Cry-Baby, is also getting a lot of attention. It was painted on the street-facing side of the RyCo Jewelers building (100 W. 2nd St) by Owensboro artist Aaron Kizer in September 2023.
Tony Yager, who leases the ground floor of the building and owns the jewelry store (with Steven Riley), says he had been kicking around the idea of a mural, but it was Kizer’s idea to go with a painting of Johnny Depp.
“Johnny is definitely the most famous person from Owensboro, so it just made sense that his image would be the best choice to represent Owensboro,” Kizer explained. After considering several ideas, Yager and Kizer landed on the 50’s inspired character Johnny played in Cry-Baby.
“That’s the quintessential version of Johnny. Other than Jack Sparrow. But for me, that Cry-Baby image is what I remember Johnny looking like when I first heard people start talking about Johnny being from Owensboro. That’s him!” Kizer said. “And there’s a sense of nostalgia to it, too, because it’s one of his earlier movies. Plus, if we went with Jack Sparrow, the pirate theme wouldn’t make sense with the store or with our downtown really.”
The public reaction has been incredible. People love seeing it and often stop for selfies. In fact, when Kizer asked people to email him their selfies with the Cry-Baby mural, he received 100 photos in one week.
Several Johnny Depp fan pages have shared or posted images of the mural, as well.
Although Kizer has done speed paintings of Depp before, the Cry-Baby mural was a fresh idea and not a recreation. “I did use reference photos, of course, but I didn’t speed paint it like I do in my shows because I knew this one would last forever, and I wanted it to look right.”
Once the image was determined, there wasn’t a lot of planning and things moved very quickly. “We decided on Wednesday what face I would paint, and by Thursday night it was done,” Kizer said.
While Kizer was painting the mural, the street was shut down for a street party vibe and the store held a reveal party to unveil the mural and celebrate the accomplishment.
Mentions of Owensboro
The Kentucky Room at the Daviess County Public Library has several articles about Depp that mention Owensboro.
A biography on Depp in the Kentucky Room talks about Johnny picking tobacco on his Pawpaw’s farm until his Pawpaw passed away in 1970, when Johnny was 7. That Pawpaw was Johnny’s mother’s father, Walter E. Wells, whose obituary says his funeral services were held at Haley McGinnis.
Johnny’s paternal grandfather, by the way, was Oren Lawrence (“Larry”) Depp, of the engineering firm Johnson, Depp, and Quisenberry. Johnny’s uncles worked for the firm, as well. Vicky Quisenberry, who now manages the “JDQ” building on Frederica Street says there’s a very good chance a young Johnny was running around the hallways of the offices.
There are multiple interviews and articles where Johnny mentions “Owensboro” or “Kentucky” as where he’s from, but he usually qualifies it with “but we moved a lot.”
Keith Lawrence wrote a story in 2009 during the promotional cycle for the movie Public Enemies, where Johnny portrayed the 1930’s gangster John Dillinger. According to Lawrence, the LA Times and The Mirror (London, England) both mention that Johnny’s hometown of Owensboro, KY is just 160 miles from the Indiana farm where Dillinger spent his teenage years. Johnny was then quoted that he drew upon some of his own ancestor’s encounters with the wrong side of the law in his portrayal of Dillinger when he told Parade Magazine, “the key to channeling [Dillinger’s] voice in my head was when I realized he was born in Mooresville, Indiana, across the Ohio River from where I was born and raised in Owensboro, Kentucky. That’s the moment it all clicked for me.”
A 1999 article in The Kentucky Explorer magazine traces Johnny’s genealogy and says Johnny’s “sultry, dark, good looks can be attributed to his French Huegonette bloodline, as well as his Cherokee bloodline on his mother’s side.”
A 2009 article by Suzy Bartholomy tells the story of a man who unknowingly bought Depp’s childhood home on Stockton Drive and lived in it from 2001 to 2009. Fans would stop by to take pictures of the home. One lady even drove all the way from Maine to Owensboro just to find and see that house.
In the 2004 film Finding Neverland, Johnny played JM Barrie, the author who wrote and created Peter Pan. In an interview with entertainment reporter David Sheehan, Johnny talked about embracing his inner child to capture the role. “We all age, but I’m still a kid inside in a lot of ways,” Johnny told Sheehan. “We can still stay young inside. Imagination is the greatest gift we have.” It’s safe to say that some of Johnny’s childhood imagination originated right here in Owensboro.
Maybe that statement also sheds light on how Johnny’s been able to portray such imaginative characters, from Barrie in Finding Neverland to Edward Scissorhands, Willy Wonka, and of course, the swashbuckling pirate Jack Sparrow.
Somewhere along the line, Johnny picked up a love for playing guitar and even called music his “first love” in a 2008 Rolling Stone interview, which explains why Johnny still plays guitar in bands to this day, even touring with Jeff Beck in 2023.
But acting was not his childhood dream. “I never wanted to be an actor,” Johnny said in that Rolling Stone article. “It was just a way to make easy money. I didn’t care what the movie was. If they were going to pay me, fine. That was my philosophy.”
It was actually music, not acting, that brought Johnny to Hollywood. Here’s how he explained it to Rolling Stone. Johnny and his bandmates in Florida decided to take a chance and move to LA, but soon he was a starving artist and needed money so badly he was willing to try anything to make rent. That’s when his buddy Nicolas Cage asked Johnny if he’d ever considered acting and introduced Johnny to his agent. Cage’s agent sent Johnny to read for a small part in Nightmare on Elm Street, which he got despite having zero experience and zero training.
That small role in Nightmare on Elm Street was that of a boyfriend who gets killed by Freddy Krueger, and it was union pay at the time, which was $1,200 a week for eight weeks of filming. So, he told his bandmates he was going to do that job to earn some cash and be back with the guys in two months. But by that time, the rest of the band had given up their dreams and gone back home.
Obviously, the roles never stopped coming and Johnny’s still acting, and playing music, every chance he gets.
Will Johnny Ever Come Back to Owensboro?
Whether or not Johnny ever makes an official public appearance or performance in Owensboro or eventually comes back to install the Walk of Fame plaque remains to be seen.
If that opportunity ever comes to fruition, it would be epic for Owensboro.
Or, perhaps that bronze sidewalk plaque will one day finally appear quietly with zero fanfare.
After all, that would be the Jack Sparrow thing to do; arriving out of nowhere from the misty fog and then drifting out to sea again. OL