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Winona Ryder

Winona Ryder


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Also Known As: Winona Laura Horowitz Died:
Born: October 29, 1971 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Winona, Minnesota, USA Profession: actor, producer, screenwriter


An icon of 1990s film, actress Winona Ryder first earned a loyal following for giving unusual depth and inner life to teen characters in films like "Heathers" (1989) and "Edward Scissorhands" (1990). Her enormous, expressive brown eyes and a radiance that reminded early champion Tim Burton of the "timeless old movie stars" went on to become a favorite element in period dramas like "Bram Stoker's Dracula" (1992), "The Age of Innocence" (1994) and "The Crucible" (1996), as well as the perfect angst-ridden teen in films like "Reality Bites." After a break of several years, Ryder returned with a string of independent films in 2007 and scored a major coup when cast in the role of Spock's mother in J.J. Abrams reimagined film franchise, "Star Trek" (2009), followed by a turn as an over-the-hill ballerina in Darren Aronofsky's "Black Swan" (2010), and, several years later, an acclaimed starring role in the breakout Netflix series "Stranger Things" ( 2016- ). Ryder had successfully made the difficult segue from film ingénue to seasoned actress, so rarely achieved in an unforgiving industry.Winona Laura Horowitz was born near Winona, MN, on Oct. 29, 1971. The child of counterculture writers Michael Horowitz...

An icon of 1990s film, actress Winona Ryder first earned a loyal following for giving unusual depth and inner life to teen characters in films like "Heathers" (1989) and "Edward Scissorhands" (1990). Her enormous, expressive brown eyes and a radiance that reminded early champion Tim Burton of the "timeless old movie stars" went on to become a favorite element in period dramas like "Bram Stoker's Dracula" (1992), "The Age of Innocence" (1994) and "The Crucible" (1996), as well as the perfect angst-ridden teen in films like "Reality Bites." After a break of several years, Ryder returned with a string of independent films in 2007 and scored a major coup when cast in the role of Spock's mother in J.J. Abrams reimagined film franchise, "Star Trek" (2009), followed by a turn as an over-the-hill ballerina in Darren Aronofsky's "Black Swan" (2010), and, several years later, an acclaimed starring role in the breakout Netflix series "Stranger Things" ( 2016- ). Ryder had successfully made the difficult segue from film ingénue to seasoned actress, so rarely achieved in an unforgiving industry.

Winona Laura Horowitz was born near Winona, MN, on Oct. 29, 1971. The child of counterculture writers Michael Horowitz and Cynthia Palmer Horowitz, the young girl grew up surrounded by some of the brightest literary lights of the era, with Timothy Leary for a godfather and regular visits with poets Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. The family relocated to San Francisco soon after Ryder was born and moved onto a commune in Northern California's Mendocino County when she was 10. There she cohabitated with seven other families on a farm without electricity or running water, though her mother used to screen movies in a nearby barn. It was there that Ryder was first inspired to act by watching the films of John Cassavetes - not your usual entertainment for 10 year olds. Nudity, free love, and drag queens were as much a part of her every day life as trips to the outhouse, and when the family moved to a more traditional living situation in the San Francisco suburb of Petaluma, an outcast Ryder with her strange clothes and permissive parents found herself longing to fit in.

An unwelcome arrival at Kenilworth Middle School was followed by the decision to home-school Ryder, an avid reader and naturally curious 12-year-old who was wise beyond her years. To add spice to her home study program, her parents enrolled her in acting classes at San Francisco's American Conservatory Theatre. The following year, Ryder performed a favorite monologue from J.D. Salinger's "Franny & Zooey" when she was spotted by a talent scout and screen tested for a role in "Desert Bloom" (1986). The film role went to Annabeth Gish, but the audition tape found its way to director David Seltzer, who cast her as best friend of a young Corey Haim as "Lucas" (1986) in the now classic teen film. "Lucas" was literally the debut of Winona Ryder, who adopted her professional surname from 1960s rock group Mitch Ryder and Detroit Wheels.

With her flexible home-schooling schedule enabling her to pursue further acting work, Ryder followed up with a role as a Texas teenager torn between her grandfather (Jason Robards) and her mother (Jane Alexander) in "Square Dance" (1987), walking away with the best reviews in the film. Her personal experience as a suburban reject was a handy reference point in Tim Burton's, "Beetlejuice" (1988), a breakout part that won her significant audience and critical recognition. Ryder nailed her supporting role as a morose, black-clad teen thoroughly alienated from her yuppie parents; nearly stealing the film from co-stars Michael Keaton, Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis with her perfectly deadpan vocal delivery. Further solidifying her reputation as a queen of teen inner turmoil, she defied her agent and took a leading role in the dark comedy "Heathers" (1989), deftly negotiating complex terrain as her character evolved from passive hanger-on to murderer with a conscience, all the while retaining the audience's affection.

Ryder banked on her doe-eyed innocence and pulled off a heroic feat of naiveté in "Great Balls of Fire!" (1989), playing the 13-year-old bride of famed piano man Jerry Lee Lewis (Dennis Quaid). The following year, she graduated from Petaluma High School with a 4.0 grade point average and appeared as the offbeat but intelligent Dinky in "Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael" (1990). Ryder reteamed with Burton (and shared the screen with future boyfriend Johnny Depp) to deliver a naturalistic portrait of a young woman at first repulsed then later drawn to the freakish but gentle "Edward Scissorhands" (1990). Although the director did not depict her as thoroughly disaffected, he certainly took ample shots himself at the cookie-cutter conformity of suburban existence. Ryder again called on her own background to inform her portrayal of Cher's eldest daughter in "Mermaids" (1990), her character dreaming of structured nunhood as an escape from the unconventional lifestyle of her mother. Ryder received the film's best notices and picked up her first acting award from the National Board of Review.

The success of "Edward Scissorhands" put breakout stars Depp and Ryder in the headlines, where the tragically hip twosome evolved into the poster couple of the early 90s. With their rumpled thrift store clothes and offbeat film choices, Ryder and Depp embodied the emerging spirit and values of alternative music and Generation X. The pair was engaged in 1990, with Depp famously receiving the tattoo "Winona Forever" on his forearm. Though still a young woman, the 19-year-old actress began to shift her career away from teen angst roles in the search for substantial young adults to embody. A mysterious illness - some called it a "nervous breakdown" - forced her out of the pivotal role of Mary Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola's "The Godfather, Part III" (1990), but upon her recovery, Jim Jarmusch tapped her to play a tomboyish cab driver in "Night on Earth" (1991). Ryder was sadly unconvincing in the feminist renegade role created for her, but fared better in another attempt to go against type in Coppola's "Bram Stoker's Dracula" (1992). Her pale, sylph-like beauty was perfect for the period piece, and Ryder provided the film's emotional core without being overshadowed by its phantasmagoric special effects, lavish production design and showier co-stars - most of whom were annihilated by critics for their camping overacting - i.e. Keanu Reeves and Gary Oldman.

Martin Scorsese recruited Ryder for his remake of "The Age of Innocence" (1993), in which she built on the air of sophistication developed opposite Anthony Hopkins in "Dracula," swooshing around in hooped dresses and earning an Oscar nomination for portraying the demure yet strong-willed May Welland, whose fiancé (Daniel Day-Lewis) has fallen in love with her cousin (Michelle Pfeiffer). Later in the year, Ryder lent her star power to a sad hometown cause when 12-year-old Polly Klaas was kidnapped from her home in Petaluma, CA. Ryder helped publicize a search for the young girl and offered a $20,000 reward, but sadly Klaas was found dead several months later. In memoriam, Ryder worked hard to bring an adaptation of Klaas' favorite book, Louisa May Alcott's "Little Women" (1994), to the screen. As ringleader of the spirited "Little Women," Ryder delivered a strong performance in what was arguably one of the best screen renditions of the novel, garnering her a second Oscar nomination.

Ben Stiller's directorial debut "Reality Bites" (1994) offered Ryder the chance to lose the period garb and don jeans, playing an ambitious college grad struggling to find a medium ground between joining the corporate ranks and succumbing to cynical choices embodied by suitors Ben Stiller and Ethan Hawke. The timeless theme suffered a bit from heavy-handed hipness, but Ryder acquitted herself well and earned critical praise for her work. Offscreen, the end of Ryder and Depp's engagement and her new relationship with Soul Asylum guitar player Dave Pirner reinforced her position as the alternative "It" girl of the '90s. Ryder continued to impress, essaying a graduate student who learns about life and love in "How to Make an American Quilt" (1995) and was an excellent casting choice to voice an audio version of "The Diary of Anne Frank" for which she earned a Grammy nomination for Spoken Word Album. She tried her hand at Shakespeare, playing Lady Anne in Al Pacino's award-winning documentary "Looking for Richard" (1996), before she was again cast opposite Day-Lewis in an adaptation of Arthur Miller's stage play "The Crucible" (1996), proving her mettle as a scorned woman seeking revenge by fabricating tales of witchcraft.

Broadening her efforts to be accepted in adult roles, Ryder teamed with Sigourney Weaver to battle the monsters of the "Alien" franchise in "Alien Resurrection" (1997), but she was admittedly out of her element. Following a small but luminous role in Woody Allen's "Celebrity" (1998), Ryder saw her first executive produced feature come to fruition with "Girl, Interrupted" (1999), an adaptation based on Susanna Kaysen's memoir of her experience at a mental hospital in the 1960s. Ryder rose above the script's limitations to credibly render the rich, spoiled and confused 17-year-old lead, though Angelina Jolie trumped her as the irrepressible sociopath more responsible for Susanna's rehabilitation than the doctors. Jolie would, in fact, earn the Oscar for her role, while Ryder was not even nominated. The following year saw her star in the exorcism thriller "Lost Souls" and the woefully bad "Autumn in New York," in which she played a dying woman romanced by a playboy (Richard Gere).

In 2003, she narrated a documentary about child slavery called "The Day My God Died" (2003) but did not return to the screen in full force until she starred, in digitized form, in Richard Linklater's "A Scanner Darkly" (2006). The Philip K. Dick adaptation received limited independent release, but met with generally favorable reviews for its thought provoking portrayal of a dystopian future and for the visual impact of its rotoscoping animation technique.

Ryder inched her way back into the film world with several features in 2007, including the commandment-inspired "The Ten," in which Ryder helmed a segment devoted to "Thou shalt not steal." She reunited with "Heathers" writer-director Daniel Waters to star in "Sex and Death 101" (2007), playing a femme fatale who adds to the doubts of a commitment-fearing fiancé. In 2008, Ryder was slated to play a recent widow and love interest of the man who ghost-authored her husband's suicide letter in "The Last Word," an offbeat drama co-starring Ray Romano and Wes Bentley. She would also appear in Bret Easton Ellis' "The Informers," but her casting as Spock's human mother in J.J. Abrams feature film relaunch of "Star Trek" (2009) received the most advance press, signaling Ryder's unequivocal return to Hollywood, with all forgiven. Her comeback momentum continued when Ryder delivered a riveting performance in the title role of the biographical telepic, "When Love is Not Enough: The Lois Wilson Story" (CBS, 2010). Ryder shone as the wife of Bill Wilson, with whom she co-founded Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon after years of suffering through her husband's alcohol abuse. Near the end of the year, Ryder also turned in a pivotal supporting portrayal of a prima ballerina past her prime in director Darren Aronofsky's delirious psychodrama "Black Swan" (2010). The decade ended on a high note for Ryder, when she received two Screen Actors Guild nominations - the first for her lead in "Lois Wilson" and the second as part of the ensemble cast of "Black Swan."


Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

 Experimenter (2015)
 Homefront (2013)
 Frankenweenie (2012)
 Iceman, The (2012)
 Stare, The (2012)
 Dilemma, The (2011)
 Catch My Disease (2010)
 Catch My Disease (2010)

Milestones close milestones

At age 13, discovered by talent scout Deborah Lucchesi who observed her performing a monologue from her favorite author J.D. Salinger's "Franny & Zooey" at San Francisco's American Conservatory Theatre
Cast as a newscaster in "The Informers," an adaptation of Bret Easton Ellis' short stories
Co-starred with veterans Jason Robards and Jane Alexander in "Square Dance"
Collaborated on a screenplay with "Beetlejuice" co-writer Michael McDowell; script sold but never produced
Earned an Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actress for her performance in Martin Scorsese's "The Age of Innocence"
Played Jerry Lee Lewis' 13-year-old bride (and second cousin) Myra in "Great Balls of Fire!"
Made TV acting debut with voice role on "The Simpsons" (Fox)
Co-starred with Alan Arkin and Robin Wright Penn in "The Private Lives of Pippa Lee," written and directed by Rebecca Miller
Landed first action hero role in "Alien Resurrection"
Replaced by Coppola's daughter Sofia in the role of Mary Corleone in Francis Ford Coppola's "The Godfather, Part III" after she dropped out due to a respiratory illness
Starred in Coppola's "Bram Stoker's Dracula"; brought Coppola Jim Hart's script, interesting him in the project
Starred in Jocelyn Moorhouse's "How to Make an American Quilt" opposite Ellen Burstyn and Anne Bancroft
Starred in the cult hit "Heathers"; first film with friend Denise Di Novi as producer
Took the forgettable "1969" just to get out of her home town of Petaluma
Spoofed arrest with appearance on "Saturday Night Live" (NBC) and on the cover of <i>W</i> Magazine
Starred in Richard Linklater's "A Scanner Darkly," adapted from the novel by Philip K. Dick
Arrested and charged with shoplifiting over $5,500 worth of merchandise from Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills, CA
Attended San Francisco's prestigious American Conservatory Theatre
Executive produced and co-starred with Angelina Jolie in "Girl, Interrupted"
Joined Amnesty International at the age of 12
Played a dying woman romanced by a playboy (Richard Gere) in "Autumn in New York"
Portrayed the meek, religious daughter of a promiscuous mom (Cher) in the coming-of-age drama "Mermaids"
Re-teamed with "Heathers" screenwriter Daniel Waters for the surreal black comedy "Sex and Death 101"
Portrayed an aging prima ballerina in Darren Aronofsky's "Black Swan"
Portrayed the co-founder of Al-Anon in CBS biopic "When Love Is Not Enough: The Lois Wilson Story"
Co-starred with Vince Vaughn and Kevin James in "The Dilemma"
Reunited with director Tim Burton to voice Elsa Van Helsing in animated film "Frankenweenie"
Landed a supporting role in the crime drama "Homefront"
Starred in two episodes of the Comedy Central series "Drunk History"
Played Sasha Menkin Milgram in the biographical drama "Experimenter"
Earned a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Jo March in the remake of "Little Women"; produced by Di Novi
Made singing debut in Ben Stiller's "Reality Bites"; her involvement as star enabled the project to attract financing
Portrayed Spock's mother Amanda Grayson in J. J. Abrams's "Star Trek"
Won attention for her supporting role as the Edward Gorey-esque Lydia in Tim Burton's "Beetlejuice"
Acted in Woody Allen's "Celebrity" as an actress/waitress who gets involved with Kenneth Branagh
Starred opposite Daniel Day-Lewis in "The Crucible," playing his spurned lover who set the witch trials in motion
Acted opposite Adam Sandler in "Mr. Deeds," a loose remake of "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town" (1936)
Co-starred with then-fiancé Johnny Depp in Burton's "Edward Scissorhands"; produced by Di Novi
Film acting debut, "Lucas"; film shot during her eighth-grade summer vacation
Received star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (October)
Nominated for the 2011 Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Television Movie or Miniseries ("When Love Is Not Enough: The Lois Wilson Story")
Nabbed a supporting role on the HBO mini-series "Show Me a Hero"
Was cast as the lead on Netflix's 80s-themed series "Stranger Things"


American Conservatory Theatre: San Francisco, California -
Petaluma High School: Petaluma, California - 1989


In December 2001, Ryder was arrested for allegedly shoplifting items of clothing valued at over $4500 as well as possessing pharmaceutical drugs without a prescription. Her lawyer denied all the allegations, claiming the actress had receipts for the store items and a prescription for the painkillers found on her. Ryder was freed after posting $20,000 bail. In January, she was charged with four felony counts including theft, burglary, vandalism and possession of a controlled substance. At her February arraignment, the actress entered a plea of not guilty.

Winona Ryder disclosed to Harper's Bazaar (August 2000) that she is a natural blonde and has been dyeing her hair since age 12.

Ms. Ryder did not have to research her role [in "Girl, Interrupted"]. Her brief stay in a psychiatric ward when she was 20 is still a vivid memory. "I was overworked and overtired, too tired to sleep," she recalls. "I was in a really bad state." The insomnia and anxiety attacks she had been suffering on and off for years had become paralyzing. At the tail end of a long, difficult parting with her first serious boyfriend (she had left home to move in with Mr. Depp when she was 17), she "hit bottom," she says, and checked herself into a hospital. She signed herself out a week later, feeling she had not been helped.

But she was never self-destructive, she says. Her parents, who permitted her to work only during summer vacations while she was in high school, told her that they, too, had suffered from depression at her age. "I didn't do drugs; I didn't get loaded," Ms. Ryder says. "But the depression. 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." She had all the classic symptoms: "My breathing would get labored; everything would start speeding up, and I'd get very scared. The closest I ever came to describing it was that feeling when you almost get in a car wreck and you swerve, and for a second there are needles in your head and needles in your body. It's that moment, but stretched out."---From The New York Times, November 14, 1999.

"When it comes to business, she is not that delicate creature," says the screenwriter Jay Cocks, who wrote the adaptation of "The Age of Innocence." He recalls a dinner during which a famous director tried in vain to persuade her to take the lead in a remake, something she objects to on principle. "He kept telling her to take the money, but he couldn't convince her," Mr. Cocks says, noting that Ms. Ryder has also turned down countless offers to reprise Audrey Hepburn roles (including, reportedly, the famously unsuccessful 1995 remake of "Sabrina," which starred Julia Ormond.) "She has fantastic confidence in her own judgment, which she should have, because she has very good taste."---From The New York Times, November 14, 1999.

In an interview with "60 Minutes", former secretary of Health Education and Welfare Joseph Califano cited Ryder as a bad influence on young women because she has played characters who smoke cigarettes. Ryder told USA TODAY (April 11, 1997): "As much as people want to call us role models, we're actors first. It's up to individuals to decide whether to smoke. I don't apologize for smoking onscreen. It should be our choice, and I don't think we influence people to smoke."

"I grew up in San Francisco, then in this commune for four years. I grew up around drag queens and gay men and hard-core feminists and all sorts of people, and I never differentiated. Also, there was a lot of free love. Everyone was naked, so it was never really a big deal... [But] I think I wanted things to be more strict. I wanted rules and a curfew, and I wanted to have my dinner with my family every night. I wanted to be like all the kids at school. I wanted to live in a town, in a little house."---Ryder on her upbringing, to Hillary Johnson of Buzz, December-January 1996-1997.

"Nowadays there is a new generation every year... because of TV, because everything changes so fast. My little brother is 19, and he's of a completely different generation than me. I mean, we're totally bonded. But I feel like I don't understand him or his friends. We're really impractical now. Things are dated. We abandon things before we even swallow them. When I go off to do a movie for six months and I'm completely out of it, I've missed a whole generation."---Winona Ryder on being dubbed a "Generation X" icon, as quoted in USA Weekend, October 6-8, 1995.

"I became successful in such a gradual way. I was never in a huge hit that made me an overnight star. So I never got shoved down peoples' throats. I was doing movies, some were successful, some weren't, but the ones that weren't successful weren't a Winona Ryder movie."---Ryder quoted in USA Weekend, October 6, 1995.

"'The Age of Innocence' was the first time I ever felt proud of myself as an actress, and it really made it hard for me because nothing compares," said Winona Ryder.

"I think she's reacting to being part of a labor of love. We had a very good time. Winona has a good sense of humor, and her energy is boundless. It was like having rampant youth on the set. She'd be jumping up and down, but then when you said, 'Action,' she froze in position. All that energy was put behind her eyes, and I found that really fascinating."---Reacting to Ryder's gushing, Martin Scorsese told Rolling Stone, March 10, 1994.

Ryder on finally meeting Myra, the child bride of Jerry Lee Lewis, who she portrayed in "Great Balls of Fire!" during a screening of the film.

"I was so nervous. We were showing her some stuff where he was picking her up from school and says, 'I'm gonna marry you.' I looked over and she was crying and I was so scared because I didn't know what she was crying about. I didn't know if she was crying because I was a bad actress or that it was so real. And then she turned to me and hugged me and said, 'You're a gift from God.' It was probably the most amazing feeling that I've ever had in connection with acting."---Ryder quoted in the Los Angeles Times Magazine, May 28, 1989.

"I see Noni [Winona] as one of the first members of a new generation, 'The Kids of the Summer of Love'... Noni's never gonna end up with a cocaine habit! These kids who've grown up in houses where marijuana was smoked are not going to go berserk the first time a guy in a raincoat offers 'em something in an alley."---Timothy Leary to David Handelman in Rolling Stone, May 18 1989.

"Mr. Deeds" was the first movie that Winona Ryder costarred in, but did not appeared on any of the promotional posters

"During the hearing, Winona briefly took the stand. Until the judge ordered her to give it back."---Craig Kilborn, of CBS Late Late Show TV Guide, June 29, 2002.

On November 6, 2002 Ryder was convicted of grand theft and vandalism. Both are felony counts.

Companions close complete companion listing

Johnny Depp. Actor. Born on June 9, 1963; engaged to be married as of February 1990; had "Winona Forever" tatooed on his arm (since partially removed); separated in 1993; Ryder later said of their breakup: "I was just really young. I don't know what his excuse is, but that's mine".
David Pirner. Musician. Lead singer for the Minneapolis-based grunge rock group Soul Asylum; together from 1993 to 1996.
Matt Damon. Actor. Introduced by Gwyneth Paltrow at a New Year's Eve party on December 31, 1997; separated in April 2000.
Jimmy Fallon. Actor, comedian. Reportedly dated in spring 2001.
Peter Yorn. Musician. Reportedly dated in late 2001.
Beck. Musician. Rumored to be dating, no longer together.
Page Hamilton. Musician. Dating as of July 2003.

Family close complete family listing

Michael Horowitz. Writer, editor, publisher, bookstore owner. Born c. 1939; owner of "Flashback Books" (store specializing in the writings of the counterculture); book archivist for Timothy Leary; married Ryder's mother in 1982; helped daughter select stage name (reportedly his Mitch Ryder album was playing when "Lucas" director David Seltzer called inquiring about how she wanted to be credited); originally a Brooklyn Jew and graduate of New York University.
Cindy Palmer Horowitz. Educational video producer, writer, editor. Born c. 1941; previously married with two children; wed Ryder's father in 1982.
Timothy Leary. Psychologist, countercultural philosopher, drug guru. Born in 1920; coined phrase "Turn on, tune in, drop out" in 1960s; died in 1996.
Sunyata Palmer. From mother's first marriage; born c. 1967; name comes from "The Tibetan Book of the Dead".
Jubal Palmer. From mother's first marriage; born c. 1969; name came to his mother Cindy in a dream.
Yuri Horowitz. Named after first Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin; born c. 1976.
Conor Oberst. Singer. Rumored to be dating as of April 2003.

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