Johnny Depp’s lawsuit against ex-wife Amber Heard continues to make public the private life of a former Hollywood couple, who were married from 2015 to 2017.
The defamation trial, which began on April 11 in Fairfax, Virginia, has been heavily covered by the press and commentators on social media. This follows a libel trial that took place in the U.K. in 2020 against the executive editor and publisher of The Sun covering some of the same issues.
Depp is suing Heard for $50 million over a Washington Post op-ed she wrote in December 2018 about being a survivor of sexual abuse. Heard wrote, “Like many women, I had been harassed and sexually assaulted by the time I was of college age. But I kept quiet — I did not expect filing complaints to bring justice. And I didn’t see myself as a victim.”
Depp is not named in the op-ed, but Depp’s legal team wrote in a complaint the op-ed is a “clear implication that Mr. Depp is a domestic abuser.” When Heard filed for divorce in 2016, she also filed for a domestic violence restraining order, accusing Depp of “violent and volatile” behavior perpetrated under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
Depp has denied allegations of domestic abuse: “Never did I myself reach the point of striking Ms. Heard in any way nor have I ever struck any woman in my life,” he said in his testimony.
Heard’s legal team has countersued for $100 million, accusing Depp of orchestrating a “smear campaign.” Heard has also denied allegations of abuse.
This is the latest in a publicized saga that began when Heard filed for divorce in 2016, and has spanned two lawsuits. To follow along, here is what to know about the former couple and how they got to this point.
2009: Heard and Depp meet
Heard and Depp met on the set of “The Rum Diary,” a movie based on a novel by Hunter S. Thompson. Depp played a journalist named Paul Kemp; Heard was cast as Chenault, an engaged woman who Kemp falls for.
During his testimony, Depp described kissing Heard during a shower scene, and feeling something he said he “should not be feeling.” At the time, Depp was married to Vanessa Paradis, and Heard was in a relationship with photographer Tasya Van Ree.
“That moment, was, it was, it felt like something, it felt like something I should not be feeling,” Depp said, explaining they were each in other relationships at the time. “I think there was something in the kiss in the shower that was real.”
In 2011, Heard told Vogue, “Working with Johnny was torture. It was better than I ever imagined, which is really saying something.”
2012: Depp and Heard begin dating
2014: Depp and Heard get engaged
Heard was photographed wearing an engagement ring. Depp confirmed the engagement by pointing to his own diamond engagement ring. “The fact that I’m wearing a chick’s ring on my finger is probably a dead giveaway. Not very subtle,” Depp said at a press conference in Beijing while promoting the movie “Transcendence.”
2015: Depp and Heard get married
Heard and Depp were married on his private island in the Bahamas in February 2015. The ceremony, according to Depp’s testimony, had about 20 to 25 attendees. His daughter, Lily-Rose, was not among them. According to Depp, she and Heard were “not on particularly great terms, for several reasons.”
2016: Heard files for divorce
Heard filed for divorce on May 23, 2016, citing irreconcilable differences. Days later, on May 27, Heard filed for a restraining order, and claimed that Depp was abusive toward her. She appeared in court with a visible mark on her face.
“Johnny has a long-held and widely-acknowledged public and private history of drug and alcohol abuse,” she said in her filing, per People. “He has a short fuse. He is often paranoid and his temper is extremely scary for me as it has proven many times to be physically dangerous and/or life-threatening to me.”
The mark allegedly came from a fight on May 21, when Heard called the police on a domestic violence call. In deposition transcripts from the 2016 hearing, obtained by the Hollywood Reporter in 2019, Heard said that Depp had thrown a phone at her “as hard as he could.” Depp denied the allegations at the time.
However, LAPD officers who responded to Heard’s call testified at the defamation trial and said they saw signs of crying but saw no signs of visible injury, which were prominent in court days later.
2016: The divorce is settled
Depp and Heard reached a settlement out of court.
“Our relationship was intensely passionate and at times volatile, but always bound by love,” the pair said in a joint statement. “Neither party has made false accusations for financial gain. There was never any intent of physical or emotional harm.”
Heard publicly said she was donating the $7 million settlement the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles and the American Civil Liberties Union, specifically to combat violence against women. Heard is listed as being an ACLU Ambassador for women’s rights, with a focus on gender-based violence, on their website.
The divorce was finalized in 2017.
June 2018: Depp sues a British tabloid for libel
Depp sued the British tabloid “The Sun” for alleged libel over an April 2018 headline that reads, in full, “Gone Potty: How can JK Rowling be ‘genuinely happy’ casting wife beater Johnny Depp in the new Fantastic Beasts film?”
Depp sued for £200,000 in addition to legal fees.
December 2018: Heard publishes an op-ed in the Washington Post
In an op-ed for the Washington Post, Heard wrote about her experiences with domestic abuse. She wrote, “I became a public figure representing domestic abuse, and I felt the full force of our culture’s wrath for women who speak out.”Depp was not mentioned by name in the article, but believes the op-ed is about him.
2019: Depp sues Heard for defamation
In March, Depp sued Heard for defamation regarding the Washington Post op-ed. The suit denies that Depp abused Heard and claims the article was part of an “elaborate hoax to generate positive publicity” for Heard. Heard’s legal team called the lawsuit an attempt to “silence” Heard.
2020: The lawsuit against the Sun begins
The three-week libel trial against the executive editor Dan Wootton and The Sun’s publisher News Group Newspapers began in July. During her testimony, Heard claimed Depp had been violent toward her on at least 14 occasions, Reuters reported. Depp, in his testimony, denied abusive behavior.
Ultimately, a high court judge said the paper’s allegations about Depp’s behavior were “substantially true.” Judge Andrew Nichol said in November 2020, “I have found that the great majority of alleged assaults of Ms Heard by Mr Depp have been proved to the civil standard.”
In a post on Instagram following the trial, Depp committed to his “fight to tell the truth,” and called the judgment “surreal.” He appealed in 2021.
2020: Depp loses his role in the ‘Fantastic Beasts’ franchise
After losing the libel suit, Depp said Warner Bros. requested he resign from his role as Grindelwald in the “Fantastic Beasts” movie series, the casting decision that prompted the initial “Sun” headline. Per the Hollywood Reporter, the decision was made by studio’s film chief Toby Emmerich. Depp was replaced by Mads Mikkelsen; the movie came out in 2022.
“I would be a real simpleton to not think that there was an effect on my career based on Ms. Heard’s words, whether they mentioned my name or not,” he said during the trial.
2021: Depp’s appeal for libel case is denied
Depp and his legal team contested the 2020 ruling that said there was “overwhelming evidence” that he assaulted Heard. In March, Depp’s team brought forth “fresh evidence” regarding Heard’s alleged charity donations with the divorce settlement money, claiming that she did not complete the payments. Ultimately, Depp was denied permission to appeal to the ruling.
During the 2022 defamation trial, Terence Dougherty, the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of the American Civil Liberties Union, said in a deposition that Heard has donated $1.3 million of the pledged $3.5 million, and has not made a payment in three years. Dougherty said, “We learned she was having financial difficulties.”
In her courtroom testimony, Heard said she
Dougherty also testified that the ACLU believes Elon Musk, who dated Heard following her divorce from Depp, was behind a $500,000 donation payment. Heard confirmed this in her courtroom testimony.
2022: The defamation trial begins in Fairfax, Virginia
The defamation trial began in Fairfax, Virginia, where the Washington Post’s online edition is published via servers. The trial is set to last six weeks.
Depp said his goal is “the truth” in the defamation lawsuit, which is against Heard directly, as opposed to the libel lawsuit in the U.K, which was against a publication. “Since I knew there was no truth to it whatsoever, I felt it my responsibility to stand up not only for myself in that instance but stand up for my children, who at the time were 14 and 16,” he said in his testimony.
Ahead of the trial, Heard posted a statement on Instagram. She wrote, “hopefully when this case concludes, I can move on and so can Johnny. I have always maintained a love for Johnny and it brings me great pain to have to live out the details of our past life together in front of the world.”
2022: Details about their marriage emerge via courtroom testimony
During the trial, Depp has shared details about his yearlong marriage to Heard, often depicting Heard as an aggressor. “It could begin with a slap, it could begin with a shove, it could begin with throwing a TV remote at my head, throwing a glass of wine in my face,” Mr. Depp said of their interactions. He also said that he was struck with a “roundhouse punch” from Heard. Heard, in an audio recording played in court, admitted to hitting Depp.
Depp claimed that Heard severed his finger by throwing a vodka bottle at him, shattering his middle finger. Depp said that he wrote on the walls with his blood in the ensuing fight: “The blood had dried … and so I stuck my finger into a can of paint and also mineral spirits to put my verbal messages onto the wall,” he said. Heard has denied the claim that she injured Depp’s finger.
Jurors also saw text exchanges between Depp and his friends addressing his substance abuse and relationship with Heard, including a text sent to his friend, the actor Paul Bettany, in which he said he wanted to “burn” Heard.
Depp said he uses alcohol and drugs not for the “party effect” but to cope with “trauma.” The actor said Heard’s claims of his drug addiction were “grossly embellished.”
Finally, audio clips were played of the former couple talking. In a recording played on the last day of testimony, Heard sketches out what it might look like for Depp to come forward with allegations. “Tell them, I, Johnny Depp, I’m a victim of domestic abuse ... and see how many people believe or side with you.” When asked by his lawyer whether he identified as a victim of domestic violence, Depp said, “Yes. I am.”
Other witnesses have included Depp’s older sister and personal manager, Christi Dembrowski, who backed up Depp’s claims of their abusive childhood home; talent agent Christian Carino; doorman Alejandro Romero; forensic psychologist Shannon Curry; the couple’s therapist Laurel Avis Anderson; and LAPD officers who responded to Heard’s call in 2016.
Heard's testimony began on May 4. In her testimony, Heard recalled instances of physical abuse from Depp. She said the first instance of physical violence came after Heard asked about Depp's tattoo, which reads "Wino Forever," and she laughed at his response.
“He slapped me across the face,” Heard said, per Reuters. “I didn’t know what was going on. I just stared at him.” Depp replied, "You think it’s funny, b---?” Heard said he later apologized for his actions.
Heard later alleged that Depp "threw a bottle" at her after the Met Gala in 2014, bruising her nose. “He shoved me down on the sofa and at some point he just whacked me in the face," she said in courtroom testimony.
She continued to allege sexual assault and domestic violence. In her courtroom testimony, per NBC, Heard said she believed she “wouldn’t survive” if she didn’t leave Depp. “I knew I wouldn’t survive it if I didn’t so I filed for divorce,” she said, later adding, “I knew if I didn’t, I’d likely not literally survive.”
Cross-examination has yet to take place. The trial is ongoing.
CORRECTION (5/4/22 at 12:08 p.m.): The article has been updated to correctly state the length of Depp and Heard's marriage.