Subhuti on why non-doing is sometimes the best thing to do – especially if you’re famous!
Day after day, Hollywood actor Johnny Depp shows up at the High Court in London to star in an ongoing lawsuit that could well become a movie itself. The famous actor is suing The Sun, a British tabloid newspaper with a reputation for sleaze and scandal, that published an article referring to him as a “wife beater.”
Let me say, from the outset, that I don’t support any kind of violence towards women and that’s not the reason why I sympathize with Johnny Depp. I feel sorry for him because he’s a brilliant actor who’s gotten himself entangled in an unnecessary lawsuit that’s not only hard to win but potentially damaging to his career.
Let’s backup for a moment to April 2018, when The Sun published a story headlined “Potty – How can JK Rowling be ‘genuinely happy’ casting wife-beater Johnny Depp in the new Fantastic Beasts film?”
This referred to Rowling’s follow-up to her massively successful Harry Potter films, a movie titled, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, in which Depp played a cameo role, and a second part titled, The Crimes of Grindelwald, in which Depp plays a much bigger part. The first movie was released in 2016 and was a box office hit. The second movie is on its way.
Meanwhile, in January 2017, Johnny Depp and his ex-wife, Amber Heard, reached a final settlement in an ugly divorce battle in which Heard had accused Depp of being physically abusive to her – a claim that Depp vigorously denied. Seven months later, in August 2017, Heard and Depp issued a joint statement saying their relationship had been “intensely passionate and at times volatile” but had always been “bound by love”.
Later that same year, JK Rowling admitted that because of Heard’s accusations against Depp she’d considered dropping the actor from the cast of her Crimes of Grindelwald movie, but in the end was ‘genuinely happy’ to keep him.
So, by the end of 2017, everyone involved seemed content. Amber Heard was happy with her divorce settlement. JK Rowling was happy with her casting. And while Johnny Depp has a reputation for hardly ever looking happy, we can assume he felt okay about the way things turned out.
But, alas, the story wasn’t over. Four months later, a gossip-hungry reporter named Dan Wootton called Depp a “wife beater” in his article for The Sun and Depp was foolish enough to rise to the bait and start a court case against the newspaper.
Johnny, I wish I could turn back the clock for you and whisper in your ear, “For Christ’s sake leave The Sun alone!” If I’d been Depp’s lawyer, I’d have done the same, but of course lawyers don’t make money by telling their clients to ignore gossip. They make money by going to court and this case is expected to last three weeks – imagine the lawyer’s fees!
Why would I have advised Johnny Depp to take no action? Because nobody with any intelligence reads The Sun, nobody takes its gossip seriously and nobody would have thought any the worse of Depp if he’d just ignored the article.
Certainly, JK Rowling, who is an intelligent, media-savvy woman, showed no sign of changing her mind as a result of Wootton’s comments. However, Depp decided to sue and now the whole can of worms that had been neatly sealed after the actor’s divorce settlement with Amber Heard has to be opened again.
Why? Because, in order to defend itself, The Sun has to summon Heard as a witness and she will be asked to testify that her accusations of physical abuse by Depp were true. It’s already clear she is willing to do this. In order to defend himself, Depp, for his part, has been compelled to smear Heard’s character, describing her as “delusional” and a liar.
It’s all very unpleasant and is likely to become even more so as the case proceeds, which is just fine for The Sun, because the more Depp’s reputation is tarnished the less likely he is to win the case.
It’s not just Johnny’s marriage woes that are being aired in court. Already, he has been obliged to admit serious alcohol and cocaine abuse problems, as well as addiction to Roxicodone, a narcotic, pain relief drug prescribed by his doctor.
In a democratic country like Britain, which protects free speech – at least to some extent – it’s a challenging task to prove that you’ve been libelled, especially if you are a public and controversial figure like Johnny Depp.
Conceivably, he could win this battle, but the odds seem stacked against him. If he loses, he doesn’t just lose the case. He also loses his reputation, because Heard’s accusations will have been accepted as truer than his denials. In which case, JK Rowling may feel compelled to drop him from her movie and other Hollywood producers may do likewise.
And all for… what? To hit back at a dirty little newspaper that every day has to fill its pages with a fresh load of garbage in order to keep its readers stimulated and titillated.
Long ago, senior members of the British Royal Family decided to adopt a “stiff upper lip” approach to gossip printed about them in The Sun and other tabloid newspapers, understanding that in most cases it would be far more damaging for them to take legal action than to do nothing.
For many years, Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, has deeply hated Rupert Murdoch, the so-called “Dirty Digger” from Australia who owns and controls The Sun. But even the impulsive, outspoken duke has for the most part been wise enough to ignore stories written about him.
The younger Royals have not been so cautious. Prince William successfully sued a French magazine that published topless photos of his wife, Kate. But it didn’t do him much good. The damages awarded by the court were modest and the magazine received massive publicity as a result of the case.
His brother, Prince Harry, is currently engaged in another lawsuit, this time against the Mail on Sunday, which published a private letter from his wife, Meghan, to her father. So far, the case, which accuses the Mail of unlawful invasion of Meghan’s privacy, doesn’t seem to be going too well for the prince. If he’d ignored the Mail’s story, the public would have long since forgotten the letter and everything in it.
Strangely enough, I had my own encounter with The Sun last year, shortly after the publication of my book about life with Osho, titled Wild Wild Guru, by the well-known London publisher, Hodder & Staughton. Predictably, The Sun came up with an awful review of my book, rehashing all the usual stuff about Osho, including sex, violence, Rolls Royces, crimes in Oregon, etc. The management team at the Osho Resort in Pune urged me to write a strongly worded rebuttal, but I politely declined their invitation.
Why? Because nobody saw the article. Only the readers of The Sun, to whom it was nothing more than a quick, forgettable thrill as they turned their newspaper’s pages from one piece of scandal to the next.
In fact, the only reason the Pune managers even became aware of the article was because their internet scanning software had been programmed to automatically pick up on the words “Osho” and “Rajneesh.” Otherwise, they, too, would never have seen it. Mercifully, the article passed into well-deserved oblivion without so much as a blip on the public’s radar.
I am convinced the same would have happened to Dan Wootton’s insulting reference to Johnny Depp as a “wife beater” if the actor had left The Sun alone. Now, whether Depp wins or loses, this label will stick to him for years and either way it seems likely to damage his acting career.
For the man who gave us the brilliant and hilarious portrayal of Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean, as well as many other fine roles, this would indeed be a pity.
One more thing: Johnny Depp wouldn’t be the first artist to suffer from initiating a court case. Over a hundred years ago, the famous playwright and social dandy, Oscar Wilde, who at the time was at the height of his success, decided to prosecute a libel case against the Marquess of Queensberry. The Marquess was the father of Wilde’s lover, Lord Alfred Douglas, and the trial revealed Wilde’s homosexuality which eventually caused him to be arrested and imprisoned for two years.
Let’s hope nothing so drastic happens to Johnny Depp.
‘Wild Wild Guru’ – Viramo reviews Subhuti’s recently published memoir