For a quarter of a century, lovely actress Winona Ryder has been making legions of cinema-goers fall in love with her. Though she’s had her share of personal troubles, she is now experiencing a career resurgence. Ever charming, always entrancing, sorely missed of late … the doe-eyed beauty is back.
Winona Ryder was born Winona Laura Horowitz on October 29th, 1971 in Olmstead, Minnesota (not far from Winona, Minnesota, for which she was named). She is the daughter of Michael Horowitz, author, editor, publisher, and antiquarian bookseller, and Cynthia Palmer, writer, editor and video producer. Winona has a younger brother named Uri, as well as an older half-sister, Sunyata, and an older half-brother, Jubal. As the daughter of self-described hippies (not that there’s anything wrong with that), Winona’s godfather was LSD guru Dr. Timothy Leary (for whom her father was an archivist).
When Winona was 7-years-old, her parents moved to the Rainbow Commune near Elk, California, co-residing on the 300-acre plot with seven other families. With no electricity, Winona became an avid reader; as well as a rabid devotee of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. Of this time, Winona has said, "Everyone walked around naked. It wasn't a nightmare, but it was no Utopia as a child. In Northern California it gets really freezing in the winters. We had no electricity, no running water. Everyone was looking after everyone's else's kids and sometimes I just wanted my own family." Three years later, the Horowitz brood moved to Petulma (near San Francisco) – it was here, at Kenilworth Middle School, where tomboyish Winona was initially tormented by bullies who mistook her for a girlie-boy. For the rest of that year, Winona was home-schooled. Not long after, Winona enrolled at San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theatre, where she studied acting and appeared in several stage productions. As her mother had already introduced her to classic films, Winona (aka “Noni”) was determined to become a film actress.
After submitting an audition tape to the casting agents of the 1985 film Desert Bloom, Winona was turned down. She was, however, picked up by the Triad Artists Agency, where she came to the attention of screenwriter David (The Omen) Seltzer, who would soon cast her in his directorial debut, Lucas, starring Corey Haim and Charlie Sheen. When filming was completed, Seltzer asked Winona how she wanted her name to appear in the credits – as one of her father’s Mitch Ryder’s albums was playing in the background, Noni suggested "Ryder" as a surname. The director loved it and, voilá, “Winona Ryder” was born. After Lucas, Winona appeared in Square Dance – the role won her critical praise, but not much audience attention. Enter Tim Burton …
In 1988, cast as cute-but-moribund teenager Lydia Deetz in Burton’s Beetlejuice (starring Michael Keaton, Geena Davis, and Alec Baldwin), Winona finally found the part which would propel her to stardom. Because of this role, she would also become the instant darling of Goth kids everywhere. That same year, Winona co-starred with Robert Downey Jr. and Kiefer Sutherland in the film 1969. Against the advice of her agent, Winona next appeared in her first starring role, as Veronica in Heathers (her agent had warned that the movie would “ruin her career”). Though critics loved her in the part, the controversial film was a flop during its initial run – it has since become a huge cult favorite. The next year, 1989, Winona co-starred with Dennis Quaid in the Jerry Lee Lewis bio-pic Great Balls of Fire. Winona played Myra, Jerry Lee’s 13-year-old cousin (she was 18 at the time), whom the pop-sensation married, thereby derailing his previously piping hot career. Critics balked, audiences yawned … but personally, I love this film! Yes it plays like a cartoon, but a very enjoyable cartoon – seek it out.
In 1990, Winona reunited with director Tim Burton for Edward Scissorhands. Co-starring Johnny Depp (with whom Winona would have a three-year engagement), the film was a huge success, and propelled her even further into the cinematic firmament. (Many assume that the blonde hair Winona sported in the film was dyed – it is in fact, her real color). That same year, after filming Mermaids and Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael back to back, Winona withdrew from director Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Part III, due to exhaustion – Winona was to play Michael Corleone’s daughter Mary (the role went instead to Coppola’s daughter Sophia).
After a brief break, Winona next appeared in Night on Earth (1991), Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992 - directed by the forgiving Coppola), The Age of Innocence (1993 - directed by Martin Scorsese, of whom Noni opines: "the best director in the world"), The House of the Spirits (1993), Reality Bites (1994), Little Women (1994), How to Make an American Quilt (1995), Looking for Richard (1996), Boys (1996), The Crucible (1996), Alien: Resurrection (1997), and Woody Allen’s Celebrity (1998). Winona received Oscar nominations for her roles in The Age of Innocence and Little Women. She also badly injured her back on Alien: Resurrection, which caused her to be (over)prescribed a variety of painkillers ... this would shortly lead to bigger trouble.
In 1999, Winona starred in and executive produced Girl, Interrupted. Though the fact-based story had long been dear to Noni’s heart, and the film was meant to be a return to form after a string of box-office disappointments, it actually became a “welcome-to-Hollywood” coronation for co-star Angelina Jolie, who would win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Jolie would thank Winona during her acceptance speech. Next came Autumn in New York (2000 - with Richard Gere), Lost Souls (2000), and an infamous appearance on NBC’s Friends (2001 - where she kissed Jennifer Aniston).
Then trouble struck ...
On December 12, 2001, in Beverly Hills, California, Winona was arrested on shoplifting charges – accused of trying to steal over $5,000 worth of clothes and accessories from Saks Fifth Avenue. Also found on her person during the arrest, were multiple bottles of Demerol, Endocet, Vicodin and Vicoprofen. Winona hired celebrity defense attorney Mark Geragos. After plea-bargaining failed the following summer, and the case went to trial, Winona was convicted of grand theft and vandalism – she was sentenced to three years probation, 480 hours of community service, $3,700 in fines, and $6,355 in restitution to Saks Fifth Avenue. She was also ordered to attend psychological and drug counseling. By 2004, after Winona had complied with her sentence, the felonies were reduced to misdemeanors, and Winona remained on probation until December 2005.
Many have speculated what could cause the erstwhile well-off actress to commit this crime. Especially since her opening monologue from 1999’s Girl, Interrupted included this line of dialogue: “Have you ever confused a dream with life? Or stolen something when you have the cash? Have you ever been blue? Or thought your train was moving while sitting still? Maybe I was just crazy. Maybe it was the '60's. Or maybe I was just a girl ... interrupted.”
Says Winona about the experience: "Two months prior to my arrest, I broke my arm in two places and the doctor was giving me a lot of Oxycodone and I was taking it at first to get through the pain. And then there was this weird point when you don't know if you are in pain but you're taking it. Have you ever taken painkillers? It isn't a reckless state, like you're out of your head. It's just confusion. It all happened in the December after the September 11 terrorist attack. I couldn't believe so much attention was being paid to me, when terrorists had just attacked us and there was all this really important news going on. It was embarrassing. … I didn't have this tremendous sense of guilt because I hadn't hurt anyone. Had I physically harmed someone or caused harm to a human being, I think it would have been an entirely different experience. When it was over I moved to San Francisco to be near my parents. I made a very conscious decision not to work. No one in my family ever got angry with me. Concerned, yes, but not concerned with a drug problem or anything. Because after that night I pretty much didn't ever. If you are ever arrested, you can't ever do that again."
After the shoplifting incident, and after a brief hiatus, Winona returned to the screen in the 2002 Adam Sandler vehicle Mr. Deeds. While it was a box office smash ($126 million domestic), the same could not be said of its successors. Those disappointments include: S1m0ne (2002), The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things (2004), The Darwin Awards (2006), A Scanner Darkly (2006 - with Robert Downey Jr. and Keanu Reeves), The Ten (2007), Sex and Death 101 (2007), Water Pills (2007), and The Private Lives of Pippa Lee (2009). Winona was in need of a serious career rejuvenation.
That boost came in 2009 when director J.J. Abrams cast Winona as Amanda, Spock’s human mother, in his reboot of Star Trek, starring Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, and Leonard Nimoy. (The role had been played previously, on TV and in 1986’s Star Trek IV - The Voyage Home, by Father Knows Best actress Jane Wyatt.) The following year, Winona would play a past-her-prime ballerina in Black Swan, starring Natalie Portman.
On October 6, 2000, Ryder became the 2,165th recipient of a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame – it is located in front of the Johnny Grant building next to the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.
Ever the collector and movie lover, Winona owns some rather distinguished pieces of Hollywood memorabilia, including: Russ Tamblyn’s jacket from West Side Story (1961), Leslie Caron’s dress from An American in Paris (1951), Claudette Colbert’s gown from It Happened One Night (1934), Sandra Dee’s bikini from the Tammy films, and Olivia de Havilland’s blouse from Gone With The Wind (1939).
Winona has been romantically involved with many of her celebrity peers, including Johnny Depp, Soul Asylum’s Dave Pirner, and Matt Damon. Of her seeming inability to maintain a healthy relationship, Winona has said: "It's this weird pressure that I probably shouldn't even talk about. You know how people ask, 'Who is the love of your life?’ God, I hope I haven't met that person yet, in a way, because I'm single. I hope I haven't had that, since that would be sad."
Winona, it is so lovely to have you back – you were gone too long.