Tragic Details About Winona Ryder

Winona Ryder is a beloved actor, a Gen-X icon, a fashion trendsetter, and a '90s indie dream girl. But despite how glamorous her life appears to be, her life behind the scenes has not always been so nice and shiny. The "Stranger Things" actor has opened up in interviews about the struggles she has experienced while growing up in the spotlight, noting that she felt completely alone when she became a superstar.

"I was wishing so badly that I had someone to talk to. A friend, someone... and I didn't," she admitted in a 1999 interview with Diane Sawyer. "And I saw this magazine stand, this outdoor magazine stand, and I saw myself on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine. And it said something like, 'Winona Ryder is the luckiest girl in the world.' And it broke my heart because there I was in so much pain, and feeling so confused, feeling so lost in my life." 

From her breakup that ended in flames (and we're not talking figuratively) to her legal issues, there is a whole lot to unpack in Noni's highly publicized lifetime. Here is a peek inside the tragic life of Winona Ryder.

Members of Winona Ryder's family died in the Holocaust

Members of Winona Ryder's father's family were killed in the Holocaust, and as a child, she was scared something similar would happen to her. In an interview with the Mirror, Ryder shared that she would sleep on the floor "outside of her parents' bedroom" due to fear that they would be taken away by Nazis. It got to the point where the actor started obsessing over details about the atrocities. "I used to go to the library and look at books about it," she said, referring to texts on the Holocaust. "I couldn't stop turning the pages and thought, 'This is horrible. Why am I doing this?' Then I realized maybe I was looking for my family, for someone I recognized." 

In 2020, Ryder starred in HBO's "Plot Against America," a series based on the Phillip Roth novel in which Nazis take over the world. While speaking to Variety, she expressed that the series was "so incredibly timely," which is why she chose to take on the role. 

She's experienced antisemitism in Hollywood

Winona Ryder has opened up about experiencing antisemitism at several points throughout her career in Hollywood. The actor told The Sunday Times that people would often act surprised about her ethnic background, claiming she was too "pretty" to be Jewish. In the same interview, Ryder shared a story about actor Mel Gibson, who was recorded hurling antisemitic remarks at one of the police officers when he was arrested for driving drunk in 2006.

Ryder told The Sunday Times that when she and her friend ran into Gibson at an event in the '90s, the "Braveheart" actor lobbed bigoted comments in their direction. "Mel Gibson was smoking a cigar, and we're all talking and he said to my friend, who's gay, 'Oh wait, am I gonna get AIDS?' And then something came up about Jews, and he said, 'You're not an oven dodger, are you?'" She's talked about the incident in previous interviews, including a 2010 GQ feature where she said, "It was just this weird, weird moment. I was like, 'He's anti-Semitic and he's homophobic.' No one believed me!"

Though he apologized for the aforementioned DUI tirade, the same cannot be said about his interaction with Ryder. In a statement obtained by NBC News, a rep for Gibson alleged that Ryder's account is "100% untrue" and claimed "she lied about him trying to apologize to her back then."

Winona Ryder was bullied in school

You'd think that stardom would give Winona Ryder some "cred" at school. Come on, who wouldn't want to sit next to a movie star at lunch time? Well apparently, Ryder's classmates were not fans. So much so, according to the actor, her fame only made her more of a target for bullying. After starring in "Beetlejuice," her peers made fun of her for playing Lydia Deetz, a spooky teen who befriends some ghosts and ends up at odds with Betelgeuse. "They called me a witch," she revealed to Marie Claire UK.

According to Ryder, she was so heavily bullied in her formative years that she feared for her own life. She was picked apart for her style, as she refused to conform to the preppy school's standards. Instead, she'd show up to class in hand-me-downs while rocking an angsty crew cut. As she shared in a 2000 interview with Harper's Bazaar (via New York Magazine), her classmates weren't at all interested in accepting her unique style or her newfound fame. Instead, she was physically attacked by the girls at school. "They slammed my head into a locker," she told the magazine. "I fell to the ground, and they started to kick the sh** out of me. I had to have stitches... The school kicked me out, not the bullies." (As she shared with Harper's, when one of the bullies asked her for an autograph some years later, she told her off.) Per V Magazine, she switched to homeschooling after the incident. 

She was told she wasn't 'pretty enough' to be in movies

Although the majority of the world has a big ol' crush on Winona Ryder, according to the actor, she was told by Hollywood casting directors that she wasn't "pretty enough" to star in movies. Despite developing amazing acting chops at a young age, she was rejected because of her physical appearance.

"I remember one time in particular," said Ryder while sitting down with Interview. "I was in the middle of auditioning, and I was mid-sentence when the casting director said, 'Listen, kid. You should not be an actress. You are not pretty enough.'" Even so, she "wasn't crushed" by this remark because her parents taught her "that was way cooler to be an individual and to be unique and that you don't want to blend in." Furthermore, despite being practically born for the part of Veronica Sawyer in "Heathers," the role almost went to Jennifer Connelly. "I knew that they thought I wasn't pretty enough," she said in another chat with Interview.

Little did they know that girl would grow up to become the ultimate muse for a plethora of famous actors and musicians. As her "Reality Bites" co-star Ben Stiller said in Rolling Stone, "Every guy I've ever talked to has a crush on her." Take that, casting directors.

Winona Ryder has experienced mental health struggles

Winona Ryder struggled with depression early on in her career, and even developed insomnia due to her anxiety. "I was overworked and overtired— too tired to sleep," she said in The New York Times in 1999. "I was in a really bad state."

The depression she was experiencing led to some terrible "anxiety attacks" and she checked into a psychiatric hospital when she was 20. She told the NYT, "The worst part of it was not being able to describe it — the overwhelming horror of the anxiety attacks — even to my own family, to the people closest to me." And although it was difficult for Ryder to open up about her mental health issues in the past, she stated in a 2016 interview with New York Magazine that she is glad she's been able to speak about her own experiences publicly. "I have had women come up to me and say, 'It meant so much to me,'" she shared. "It means so much when you realize that someone was having a really hard time and feeling shame and was trying to hide this whole thing."

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

Winona Ryder's split from Johnny Depp

Winona Ryder's headline-making relationship with Johnny Depp began in 1989 and it all came crashing down in 1993. Not only was Depp her first love, but he was also the man she had planned on marrying. She said in an interview with, "When I met Johnny, I was a pure virgin. He changed that. He was my first everything. My first real kiss. My first real boyfriend. My first fiancé. The first guy I had sex with. So he'll always be in my heart. Forever... Kind of funny that word."

Speaking of "forever," after only a few years of dating, the "Pirates of the Caribbean" actor famously got the words "Winona Forever" tattooed on his arm. "It ain't goin' nowhere," he told Rolling Stone back in 1991. It turns out "forever" in celebrity terms is less than half a decade, because the couple split just a couple years later. (Depp has since changed up the Ryder tattoo to "Wino Forever.")

The breakup hit Ryder hard. "I was very depressed after breaking off my engagement with Johnny," she told And while grieving the relationship, she almost accidentally burned down her hotel room. One night, she "fell asleep with a lit cigarette, and woke up to the flames." Ryder told the outlet the moment was "wake up call" and she "hasn't visited the dark side since."

Her friend Brittany Murphy died unexpectedly

While filming "Girl, Interrupted," which premiered in 1999, one might've assumed Winona Ryder and fellow goth queen Angelina Jolie would've struck up a friendship. But as it turns out, the real bond that sprung from the film happened between Ryder and the late Brittany Murphy. After the production wrapped, they remained close and the two were photographed out and about together. What's more, Murphy even referred to Ryder as her "mentor." She told the Los Angeles Times in 2001, "I have never said anything about it in print before because it's weird to talk about a friend. But she's really there for me and my ultimate mentor."

Murphy tragically died in 2009 from "pneumonia and anemia," according to Rolling Stone. She was only 32 years old, and she left her loved ones in a state of shock and confusion. Someone who took the news especially hard was Ryder, who told Total Film Magazine (via The Sydney Morning Herald) that she can no longer watch "Girl, Interrupted" due to Murphy's character's tragic storyline. "I was very close to her before she died," she said.

She experienced 'trauma' while filming Dracula

Acting in a horror movie can be an emotionally challenging experience, and it sounds like Francis Ford Coppola's "Bram Stoker's Dracula" was no exception. In a chat with The Sunday Times, Winona Ryder alleged Coppola told other members of the cast to "yell things" that might upset her. In a statement to People, Coppola claimed that he only asked Gary Oldman "to whisper improvised words to her and the other characters" but make it "horrific and evil." Her rep told People that she and the director "are in agreement and his recollection is correct." The statement continued, "Although that technique didn't work for her, she loves and respects him and considers it a great privilege to have worked with him."

While Coppola's attempt at drawing emotion out of his actors is a negative memory for her, Ryder did find a life-long friendship with her "Dracula" co-star Keanu Reeves, who, as she told The Sunday Times, refused to try to make her cry. What's more, Ryder told Vanity Fair the "John Wick" star "saved her" throughout the production. "I have these journals, and I just pulled one out recently. It was from around the time of 'Dracula,'" she explained. "The text: 'angst, angst, angst, angst, thank God for Keanu. Thank God I'm going to see Keanu... I was always just so happy when (Reeves) was around because there was so much, sort of, trauma."

Her notorious shoplifting scandal

In 2001, Winona Ryder was caught shoplifting over $5,000 worth of items from a Saks Fifth Avenue store. The actor, who was reportedly experiencing kleptomania, was "convicted ... of grand theft and vandalism," per Time. Her sentence included probation, community service, and restitution.

Looking back at the incident to Porter magazine in 2016, the "Edward Scissorhands" star tried to unpack her actions. Ultimately, she suspected she'd reached a breaking point. "Psychologically, I must have been at a place where I just wanted to stop," she said.

Up to that point, the weight of fame was something she'd been carrying for over a decade. Ryder's acting career began when she was 14 years old, and it's no secret that being a child in show business can be an intense way to grow up. She once expressed how much pressure she endured over working in Hollywood at such a young age, noting that she couldn't take breaks like most of her peers. "I was going through adolescence on screen," she said while speaking to The New York Times. "I mean, most kids can have a bad day and miss school, but I couldn't miss a day of work because that would be a $300,000 insurance day, blah, blah, blah."

Winona Ryder's struggles with pain medication

Winona Ryder decided to take on a physically demanding role in the 1997 sci-fi movie "Alien Resurrection." According to Lena Dunham and Alissa Bennett's "The C-Word" podcast, it was reported Ryder "injured a disk in her back" while making the flick and was prescribed pain medication. She continued to take prescription drugs long after sustaining the injury, and her pain med usage made front page news when she was arrested for shoplifting. As CBS News reported in 2002, a probation report indicated she "filled 37 prescriptions from 20 doctors under a half-dozen aliases" for years and was "apparently addicted to pain killers."

"Two months prior to [the shoplifting arrest], I broke my arm in two places, and the doctor, a sort of quack doctor, was giving me a lot of stuff and I was taking it at first to get through the pain," she explained to Vogue (via People). "And then there was this weird point when you don't know if you are in pain but you're taking it." 

Ryder told the magazine that her family was "not concerned with a drug problem or anything" following the arrest. She continued, "Because after that night I pretty much didn't ever. ... If you are ever arrested, you can't ever do that again."

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Winona Ryder became a Hollywood pariah

Back in the '90s, Winona Ryder was Hollywood's "it girl." Following her notorious shoplifting scandal, her reputation took a hit. "I went from 'weirdo teenager' to 'pixie waif' to them not knowing what the hell to do with me," Ryder told British Vogue of the trying time period. And because she grew up in the spotlight, it was a difficult transition for the actor to go from being one of the biggest stars alive to "that girl who stole from Saks Fifth Avenue."

Following the shoplifting incident, Ryder essentially got "cancelled" — or at least what the 2000s equivalent of that would be. The actor told Vogue (via People) she chose to move back to San Francisco to be closer to her parents. It was there that she took time off from making movies for a much-needed and well-deserved break. And according to the "Edward Scissorhands" star, getting out of the spotlight for a spell was a "conscious decision." What's more, it set her up for a tremendous comeback. 

"I think for me, personally, it was good for my soul and stuff to be M.I.A," she said in British Vogue. "In the big picture, I see it as something that opened the door for me to get away. All I'd ever done was act."