How Bad Reviews and the Death of River Phoenix Ended Johnny Depp’s Rock Career

The guitars roar, the crowd roars and then the shotgun goes boom, boom, boom. It’s 1991, grunge’s first summer, and at the Lollapalooza festival in Chicago, Butthole Surfers frontman Gibby Haynes has just fired several shots at the audience. Even in 1991, and even in America, that’s a lot – but not enough to cause Haynes any real trouble.

“He started shooting a shotgun at shows, and firefighters started showing up at sound checks,” Butthole Surfers guitarist Paul Leary later told Classic Rock. “What’s weird is that they arrested our dancer because he was naked, but they didn’t care about the shotgun.”

Haynes, the son of a Dallas children’s TV presenter – Haynes Snr was called “Mr Peppermint” and wore a candy cane striped hat and coat – was a born outlaw. The punk-pop equivalent, you might say, of Captain Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. In the 1980s he had lived with LSD guru Timothy Leary – until Leary caught Haynes urinating in a drawer in a chemical haze and threw him out. Later, as the Butthole Surfers and their offbeat version of indie rock and grunge became popular, Haynes would perform naked and throw chairs at the audience.

Unhinged and seemingly indifferent to the potential consequences of his outrageousness, he was a figure a young outlaw rocker named Johnny Depp was naturally drawn to. Haynes discovered he had a famous fan at a party in Austin shortly after the Lollapalooza shotgun incident.

He was standing there, holding his glass when a youth with penetrating eyes and high cheekbones approached. The kid proclaimed his fandom for the Haynes song Jesus Built My Hotrod (a collab with industrial rock band Ministry). “I was like, ‘Oh.’ I used to do that, I’m really cool,” Haynes recalled later. “I take one look and go, ‘Hey, ain’t it? And he says, ‘Yeah.’ “

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