Johnny Depp joined Gerry Conlon and his family for a driving holiday in Ireland in August 1990, new book reveals
A new book, In The Name Of The Son, tells the story of Gerry Conlon after he was released from jail following a miscarriage of justice
A new book, In The Name Of The Son, tells the story of Gerry Conlon after he was released from jail following a miscarriage of justice. In these extracts, Author Richard O'Rawe tells the story of the time Hollywood star Johnny Depp accompanied the Conlons on a family holiday in Ireland and also how Gerry tried to kick his addiction to crack cocaine.
Depp’s holiday with Gerry Conlon had taken place in August 1990. Ten months had passed since Conlon’s release from prison. His words had boomed and reverberated in the corridors of imperial and colonial power on behalf of the Birmingham Six.
But during that period, it had played heavily on his mind that he had barely seen his mother and sisters: it was time for Conlon to rectify that error. He decided to bring his family on their first holiday together in almost twenty years. There was never really any other choice of destination: it had to be Ireland.
Conlon had had lunch with Johnny Depp two months earlier in New York and the pair had hit it off immediately, so it seemed natural for Conlon to invite Johnny to spend time with him in Ireland. The elder of the two Conlon sisters, Bridie, had made other arrangements which could not be broken. Her 32-year-old younger sister, Ann, had vivid memories:
"There was me, my mammy, and our David, who was a thalidomide victim. Now David had no arms but he was our driver; he drove with his feet, y’see. My daughter, Mary-Kate, who would’ve been only six at the time, was also there. We picked up Johnny in Dublin and we stayed in Sinead O’Connor’s apartment; it was beside a big football stadium.
"And Johnny just loved my mother, and you know, he made such a fuss over her. He bought her the loveliest cardigan you ever saw, and he said she was so like his own mother. He spoke so tenderly about his mother. I’ve always admired him for that. Johnny was very, very down-to-earth – so similar to our Gerry. I swear to God, you’d have thought the two of them were brothers in their ways of kindness and decency.
"But sure, anyway, my ma couldn’t stick it ’cause the Gerry fella was smoking weed and she hated that, and she insisted on David driving her back to Belfast and, once her mind was made up, that was it.
"Then David came back to Dublin and we travelled on down through Ireland. We went to Limerick and we stayed in a hotel there for a couple of days. Sure didn’t Mr Gerry and Mr Johnny and our David go out on the tear? I don’t know if they were looking for girls, or what – they probably were. And our poor ’oul David … they handcuffed him to the bridge.
"When asked how it was possible to handcuff a man with no hands to a bridge, Ann exclaimed: It was his artificial hands! They handcuffed his artificial hands to the bridge. And when they came back to the hotel, the pair of them were giggling their heads off. You just knew they were up to mischief, and I said: ‘Johnny Depp, where’s our David? You’d better tell me where our David is.’ And he said in his American voice, ‘He’s sorta tied up.’ Then he and that Gerry one went into kinks, laughing. And I said, ‘What do you mean he’s sorta tied up?
"Where is he? You’d better show me where he is, Mister Johnny.’ And he did. David was on a bridge beside one of them big fancy hotels, and he laughed his head off when we came to get him, and all David wanted to know was where they were going for another drink.
"After Limerick, the Conlon-Depp party headed to the picturesque town of Dingle, County Kerry, where they stayed for a couple of boozy nights. ‘They brought the town to a standstill," Ann said, a grin on her face.
"Johnny and Gerry were in this little pub and the whole town came to see them. You couldn’t move in the place, and then everybody was stopping Gerry in the street and saying, “Aren’t you him out of the Guildford Four?” I think the celebrity thing was getting to him in the end."
"And then Johnny nearly poked my eye out,’ Mary-Kate interjected. When asked how that had happened, Mary-Kate replied, "We were out in this wee boat in the bay looking for Fungie the Dolphin and Johnny said, “Here, Mary-Kate, come on and see the dolphins” and when I leaned over, he accidentally stuck his finger in my eye. And he was so apologetic. Later he went out and brought me Levi shorts and a top, and he bought me a bodhrán. I still have it."
"That’s right," Ann chipped in. "He bought it when we stopped in Tipperary town."
"We stopped in quite a few towns, didn’t we, Mammy?" Mary-Kate said.
"Quite a few?" Ann cried out. "Them pair of boys stopped in nearly every town we went through and had a pint. They were never sober, so they weren’t!’"
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Like most drug addicts, Conlon lived life in the minute; tomorrow was too far away to worry about, and besides, it always took care of itself. Above and beyond that, he was used to withdrawing thousands of pounds from banks whenever the notion took him, and it may well be that he expected everything would magically work out and that, come what may, he would survive in the comfort to which he had become accustomed.
Yet, on more lucid occasions, he had told his sister Ann that he regarded having pocketfuls of money as ‘a curse’. Furthermore, during sessions with his psychotherapist Barry Walle in 2000, he had expressed relief that the money had dried up. Whether or not he wanted to escape from the ‘curse’ of having too much money, he was looking at a bleak financial future by the start of 1998.
Now frantic to get off crack cocaine, Conlon looked around him for a pathfinder, someone who would lead him to a drug-free utopia, and he found that pathfinder in Alan, his one-lunged friend with emphysema. Alan was even more desperate than Gerry to break his crack habit and had fled London to take up residence in Plymouth. Word filtered back to Gerry, Angie and Juno that Alan had kicked his habit. A new, more settled order of things beckoned; there was hope where previously there had been none.
Angie was the first to follow Alan to Plymouth. "I never thought I’d come off crack, never in a million years. I thought it was my life– it was my life at that time – I’d have done literally anything to get it."
With Gerry’s money running out fast, Angie asked him for a deposit for a flat in Plymouth. She wanted to move there and come off the drugs. Gerry agreed, but only on the condition that she went to Plymouth first and then he would send the money. He was afraid that, like before, she would just take the money and spend it on crack.
"I was back and forth between London and Plymouth for a few weeks, but we were fighting hard to stay off crack. We were off it, on it; off it, on it. We both wanted the same thing, but the crack wasn’t letting us go without a fight," said Angie.
As if to bid one final hurrah to London, Conlon and Angie decided that, before cutting their ties completely with the capital, they would exact some payback on the drug dealers. "We knocked every f***ing dealer we could for about ten grand each before we went to Plymouth," Angie said, laughing. By any standards, they were playing a dangerous game:
"The dealers smashed up my flat and everything, looking for the money we owed them. They were looking for Gerry too, for sure. But I told them so many porkies. I told one dealer that Gerry was making a film in LA, and he’d be back shortly, so if you just give me his ten grand with the gear, he’ll square you up when he gets in.
"I told the same dealer I’d to pick him up at the airport on Friday – and all the time Gerry was in the bedroom next door. We did the same to the next dealer, and the next. They thought nothing of giving him tick. Had to be done. It had to be done. We knocked the dealers for tens of thousands."
In ripping off the crack dealers, what Conlon and Angie had effectively done, figuratively speaking, was to burn The Bounty: a permanent return to London was now out of the question.
When asked if the dealers would have hurt Conlon, Angie hesitated: "I’m not sure. Maybe. I remember going into a crack house. Gerry was already there and he had these Yardies on their knees and they were all smoking … and Gerry was the centre of attention. It was like he was holding court. The Yardies f***ing loved him.
"He could speak their lingo and all. And he went into some very dark places, y’know? It was almost like he wanted to face death. These things that he did, the places he went and the chances he took, it was like he wanted things to end badly, and people always admired him. Most people were so shocked by the front of him: the balls that he had." Angie adds: "He slept with a knife under his pillow. That was just the way it was.
"I think he did that even when he wasn’t facing situations. I don’t know how he didn’t get killed; I don’t know how he didn’t. The dealers only ever saw pound signs."
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** Further extracts from In The Name Of The Son in tomorrow's Irish News, including when Gerry got an apology from the British prime minister