Winona Ryder biography
Actress. Born Winona Laura Horowitz, on October 29, 1971, in Winona, Minnesota. Named after the city where she was born, she is the third of four siblings (including one half-brother and one half-sister from her mother’s first marriage). Ryder’s parents, Michael and Cindy (née Palmer) Horowitz, were hippie intellectuals, and family friends included the likes of beat poet Allen Ginsberg, and counterculture guru Timothy Leary—who was Ryder’s godfather. Ryder’s family lived briefly in Colombia with Chilean revolutionaries before returning to northern California in 1974. Later, the family moved to a commune in Mendocino, where they lived for four years without television or electricity. They relocated to Petaluma, California in the early 1980s, where Ryder attended school and developed an interest in dramatic arts. At the age of 12, her parents encouraged her to enroll in the American Conservatory Theater (ACT) in San Francisco. In 1985, Ryder was performing a monologue chosen from J.D. Salinger’s Franny & Zooey at ACT when Deborah Lucchesi, a talent scout, spotted her. Lucchesi arranged for Ryder to take a screen test for the upcoming Desert Bloom, starring Jon Voight and Ellen Barkin. Ryder lost the part to Annabeth Gish, but it wasn’t long before she was cast in her debut role as Rina in David Seltzer’s coming-of-age-film Lucas (1986). She shot the film during her summer vacation then entered eighth grade in the fall. She attended Petaluma High School, where she graduated with a 4.0 grade point average (the highest possible score). Throughout her high school career, however, Ryder’s parents tutored her at home whenever necessary to accommodate her acting gigs.
As a young actress, Ryder had unusual success. Her waifish beauty and her ability to portray innocent but world-savvy characters landed her some plum teenage roles. Following the positive reception of Lucas, Ryder appeared in the Golden Globe- nominated drama Square Dance (1987). She then did a comic turn as the frustrated daughter of oblivious yuppie parents in Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice (1988). That same year she appeared in the critically panned 1969 as the sister of Robert Downey Jr.’s drug-addled character.
Ryder’s noteworthy performance in the film Heathers (1989) seemed to ensure her top or equal billing in future endeavors. The classic coming-of-age teen comedy with a murderous twist was directed by Michael Lehmann and has since become a cult classic.
The film costarred Christian Slater and Shannen Doherty. In 1990, she played a suburban cheerleader in Tim Burton’s gothic fantasy Edward Scissorhands (1990), costarring Johnny Depp. The same year Ryder appeared in Mermaids, featuring Cher, with whom Ryder lived briefly during the film’s production. Media reception of Mermaids was tepid, but Ryder was nominated for a Golden Globe and won a Best Supporting Actress Award from the National Board of Review for her role. As in the case of her performance in Welcome Home, Roxy Carmichael (also 1990), she was singled out by critics as a bright talent.
Following this whirlwind of success, Ryder backed out of a role in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather III due to exhaustion. She also checked herself into a mental health facility to be treated for the depression and anxiety that she had been intermittently suffering from for years. However, within a week of her hospitalization, she decided that her treatment was not helping and opted to return to her home in San Francisco.
Ryder’s subsequent projects, such as the ensemble-filled Night on Earth (1991) and Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula (1992) fared moderately well; while Billie August’s The House of the Spirits (1993) (featuring an all-star cast including Glenn Close, Meryl Streep, and Jeremy Irons) flopped with critics and audiences alike. Ryder’s next film was a tremendous success, however. In Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-winning The Age of Innocence (1993), costarring Daniel Day-Lewis and Michelle Pfeiffer, she won a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress and was nominated for an Academy Award. She was nominated for an Oscar again the following year for her lead role in Gillian Armstrong’s Little Women (1994). Looking for Richard (1996), a film directed by Al Pacino—in which Ryder plays both herself and the politically targeted Lady Anne, was an art-house hit. She followed this with several projects, including The Crucible (1996), a film based on Arthur Miller’s play (also featuring her Age of Innocence co-star Day-Lewis); and Alien: Resurrection (1997), with Sigourney Weaver.
Girl, Interrupted (1999) garnered more attention for Angelina Jolie (who won a Golden Globe and an Oscar for her supporting role as an oversexed sociopath) than for Ryder, but her performance was nonetheless noteworthy.
Much of the inspiration for this film—in which Ryder portrays a psychologically fragile woman whose parents send her to a psychiatric hospital—was drawn from Ryder's personal experience during her own breakdown in 1990.
Recently, Ryder starred opposite Richard Gere in the romantic drama, Autumn in New York (2000), in which she played a dying young woman, and Janusz Kaminski’s Lost Souls. Michelangelo Antonioni’s romantic drama Just to Be Together is scheduled for release in 2001.
Ryder has been romantically linked to actor Johnny Depp, to whom she was engaged for three years. Depp tattooed “Winona Forever” on his arm (since then it has been partially removed so that it now reads, “Wino Forever”). After her heavily publicized breakup with Depp, she dated David Pirner, the lead singer for the rock group Soul Asylum, from 1993 to 1996. She began dating actor Matt Damon in 1998 after the two met at a New Year’s Eve party. Ryder and Damon broke up in the spring of 2000.