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.
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Winona Ryder biography
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