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After two uncompromising decades playing emotionally scarred fuck-ups, drug addicts, freaks and outcasts, John Christopher Depp is living proof that good things come to those who wait. As he enters his forties, the former guitar-hero turned left-field pin-up is back on top with a sustained run of box office smashes, from his Oscar-nominated turn as buccaneer Jack Sparrow in the theme-park swashbuckler Pirates Of The Caribbean to the splatterpunk “taco western” Once Upon A Time In Mexico and the romantic period piece Finding Neverland. Anticipation is already huge for Depp’s reunion with long-time collaborator, Tim Burton, on next year’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory remake.

Too many actors harbour naff rock-star dreams, but Depp is the real deal. He was born on the road, a part-Cherokee daydreamer from a blue-collar family who roamed Kentucky and Florida. A lover of Kerouac and Ginsberg, his childhood was a classic rock’n’roll tale of drugs and juvenile delinquency before he relocated to LA with his most serious group, The Kids. They never rose above support-act status, but Depp would later count Iggy Pop and Keith Richards as his mates, jamming with Shane McGowan and Noel Gallagher.

Following a string of high-profile romances including Sherilyn Fenn, Winona Ryder and Kate Moss, Depp now lives mostly in France with the mother of his two children, Vanessa Paradis. He is a calmer chameleon nowadays, but he continues to take commendably left-field roles that showcase his talents as an actor, not a sex symbol.

“I’m certainly amazed I’ve been able to stick with it this long,” Depp told Uncut in 2004. “I started about 20 years ago, so it’s amazing to me that I still get jobs. Then when something like Pirates happens – you get the call, and it’s a hit! I was still like: come on, you’ve got to be kidding? But I did it for the right reasons. I never thought about the money.”