There was a time when a movie starring Winona Ryder was a ticket to box office success. Her ability to draw fans into a wide variety of characters, and remain quirkily accessible was unparalleled throughout the 1990s. She was Miss Generation X and we couldn’t get enough of her, no matter what the role was. Her iconic status continued to rise as she played an eclectic spectrum of misfits who kept everyone wanting more Winona. She made a career of drawing out teen angst well into her twenties, and fans loved her for it.
Her career took a punctuated nosedive following controversy in her personal life, particularly after she was caught shoplifting in 2001. Since that time she has taken a lengthy hiatus from the hectic production schedule that at one point defined her.
In recent years, the raven-haired pixie has taken on a number of small but impactful roles in celebrated films including Black Swan and Star Trek. Winona has taken centre stage yet again as audiences everywhere are tuning in to Netflix to watch her portrayal of Joyce Byers in the popular supernatural series Stranger Things. You may think they know everything there is to know about Ms. Ryder, but there is much more to her than her filmography. Let’s explore 15 things you didn’t know, or probably have forgotten, about Winona Ryder.
15. Winona Is Her Stage Name
Like many celebrities Winona Ryder is a stage name, not the actress’ given name. Her real name is Winona Laura Horowitz. Ryder’s father’s family is Jewish and many of his family were victims of the Holocaust. Her father’s last name was originally “Tomchin” but the family adopted the name Horowitz when they migrated to the United States. Winona Ryder identifies as Jewish, and her given name is inspired by the city Winona, Minnesota, very close to where the star was born. Her stage surname was inspired by the name of a soul and rock singer, Mitch Ryder, (her father was a big fan). Her middle name Laura was chosen because of her parents’ friendship with Laura Huxley, the wife of the Brave New World writer, Aldous Huxley.
14. When Winona Disagreed With Her Agent, It May Have Made Her Career
One of Ryder’s most famous roles was her portrayal of Veronica Sawyer, the intelligent newbie to the group of Westerberg High’s most elite crowd “the Heathers.” When Winona received word that she had been awarded the role in the independent, soon-to-be cult classic, her agent begged her to reconsider taking the part as it would be career suicide. Starring alongside Christian Slater and a virtually unknown Shannen Doherty, she became a part of a genre defining cult classic. Future films like Jawbreaker, Easy A, and Mean Girls would play homage to the dark satire Heathers where Veronica and JT (Slater) began killing popular students and forging suicide notes.
13. Wino Forever?
In the early 1990s, Winona Ryder was romantically linked to her Edward Scissorhands co-star Johnny Depp. The two met at the New York premiere of the film Great Balls of Fire. The duo were engaged just five months after their first date and Depp had a tattoo penned on his right arm which read “Winona Forever.” They were together for three years total, and after their relationship ended Depp famously had the tattoo altered to read “Wino Forever.” In a 2009 interview with Elle, Ryder described her relationship with Johnny Depp as her first real heartbreak, which happened simultaneously with the height of her career. Ryder has commented about her romantic relationships, “Break-ups are hard for anybody, but it’s particularly tough when it’s being documented and you see the person’s picture everywhere. Most people don’t have that added problem when they break up with someone.”
12. She Had A Fling With Matt Damon
In 1997, Winona was introduced to Matt Damon by her former BFF and flatmate Gwyneth Paltrow (the two no longer speak). The two soon began dating shortly after the actor ended his romance with his Good Will Hunting co-star Minnie Driver (some speculated that Ryder and Damon began dating before he split from Driver). The pair dated for two years before calling it quits in 2000, at which time Damon began dating his All the Pretty Horses co-star Penelope Cruz. In 2009, Ryder commented during an interview with Black Book magazine, “Matt couldn’t be a greater, nicer guy. I’m really lucky that I’m on good terms with him.”
11. She Has Dated A Lot Of Musicians
Winona is a big fan of music, and her favorite bands include the Replacements, Wilco, and the Cocteau Twins. In addition to appreciating a good song, the actor has dated a number of musicians over the years. Her “catalogue” of ex boyfriends includes: Evan Dando of The Lemonheads, Soul Asylum singer Dave Pirner, Third Eye Blind singer Stephan Jenkins, Beck Hansen, Pete Yorn, and Helmet singer Page Hamilton. She has also been spotted on dates over the years with Chris Isaak, was rumored to have had a fling with Green Day’s, Tre Cool in 2005, and it’s said she’s also been involved with Dave Grohl. In 1986, she was reported to be romantically tied to the Monkees’ Michael Nesmith.
10. She Wasn’t Primus’ Musical Muse
Many believe that the Primus single “Wynona’s Big Brown Beaver” was written about Winona Ryder, despite the band’s frontman Les Claypool denying this rumor in various interviews. Claypool has explained the story in the song was inspired by a fly fishing trip, when he rounded a corner and was startled by a big brown beaver. The alliteration stuck in his head and he created this, “little mythical character that obviously had a little double entendre to it.” At the time Miss Ryder was dating Soul Asylum singer Dave Pirner who wasn’t buying the song’s back story and decided, live in concert, to rename one of his songs, “Les Claypool’s a Big F*****g A*****e”. 1990s singer Matthew Sweet actually wrote a song inspired by the singer, called “Winona.”
9. Tim Burton Connection
Although many people may associate Tim Burton with Winona Ryder and many of her most famous roles, the two have only collaborated four times. They worked together on three films, and one music video for the band The Killers. Winona starred as angst filled Goth teen in Burton’s movie Beetlejuice in 1988, and Edward Scissorhands in 1990. There was a 22-year hiatus before the two worked together again when Winona provided some voice work for Burton’s animated film Frankenweenie in 2012. Ryder has credited Burton with giving her a career in acting saying, “Actually, if you think about it, I don’t think I would be an actress if Beetlejuice hadn’t come along, because I really wasn’t thriving in those auditions. I’d just done a couple things, but I had black hair and was very pale and that movie led to other things. So yeah, he gave me a career.”
8. Winona Has Dated A Lot Of Actors
Beyond two high profile, long-term relationships with leading men Matt Damon and Johnny Depp, Winona has been romantically linked with a number of other stars. Her first celebrity boyfriend, in a time before Depp, was actor Charlie Sheen, and the pair dated in 1986. Ryder dated Rob Lowe from 1986 to 1988, and was rumored to have dated her Heathers co-star Christian Slater in 1988. It is believed she had a fling in 1988 with Iron Man Robert Downey Jr. She’s also been reportedly involved with Dracula co-star Gary Oldman, and had a brief encounter with Daniel Day-Lewis. She’s also rumored to have fallen for a couple of funny men, including Jimmy Fallon and Tom Green. In 2005, she was spotted locking lips with Val Kilmer and in 2008, there were whispers that Winona was dating Keanu Reeves.
7. Winona Is A Serial Monogamist
As a self-proclaimed serial monogamist, Winona really wants to be sure that a marriage will last before taking a walk down the aisle. She has been dating fashion designer Scott Mackinlay Hahn since 2011, but the two haven’t tied the knot. Ryder has recently said, “I’d rather never have been married than be divorced a few times. Not that there’s anything wrong with divorce, but I don’t think I could do it if that was a possibility. When your parents are madly in love for 45 years, your standards are really high. But I’ve been happily with someone for quite a while now.”
6. She Was Supposed To Be In The Godfather
The Godfather Part III would have been a very different movie had it contained the actress meant to play Mary Corleone. There are different rumors circulating as to why the actress dropped out of the 1990 film. These range from scheduling conflicts to exhaustion, to beginning to feel mentally unstable after working alongside method actor Gary Oldman in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Winona was replaced by Sofia Coppola, and many fans of the trilogy argue that had Winona claimed the role she was intended to, the film would have been a much greater success, as Coppola’s performance was what ruined the ending of the trilogy.
5. She Suffers From Aquaphobia
Winona suffers from a condition known as aquaphobia (also known as water fright), a phobia characterized by an uncontrollable fear of water – even though the person suffering is aware that water in a lake, ocean, or even bathtub causes no real personal threat. For Winona, this phobia stems from a traumatic childhood experience. When the actress was 12 years old, she nearly drowned. This fear made it extremely difficult to capture the underwater scenes in Alien: Resurrection and many of these scenes needed to be reshot numerous times.
4. She’s Really A Blonde
In the world of Winona, brunettes are the ones who get to have all the fun! While Winona Ryder may be known for her trademark dark hair, the actress is really a blonde. When the star made her film debut in the movie Lucas her hair was dyed black, and it has remained a dark color for the majority of her career. In one of her most famous roles, while portraying cheerleader Kim in Edward Scissorhands, Ryder can be seen rocking a wig that is very close in hue to her natural shade of blonde.
3. She’s Proven That Acting Can Be Dangerous
Winona has injured herself both on and off set a few times. She accidentally hurt her knee while shooting the 1999 film Girl Interrupted and broke her arm while filming the 2002 Adam Sandler comedy Mr. Deeds. Her injury occurred during the scene where she and Sandler rode bikes down a flight of stairs. In 2002, when she was attending a preliminary hearing for shoplifting and drug charges, she had to delay proceedings after she was “whacked” on her right elbow (from behind) while pushing her way through a crowd of reporters on the way back into court from lunch. It turned out she re-broke the same arm that had been injured a year earlier on the set of Mr. Deeds.
2. She Suffers From Anxiety and Depression
Many of the anxiety and depression issues Winona has battled throughout her life hit the tabloids when the actor was arrested in Beverly Hills for shoplifting and carrying pharmaceutical drugs without a prescription. She was released on $20,000 bail and later sentenced to 480 hours of community service, three years of probation and a number of fines. Since her arrest Winona has been candid about her struggles with anxiety, exhaustion, and depression. Winona has said, “When you finally accept that it’s OK not to have answers and it’s OK not to be perfect, you realize that feeling confused is a normal part of what it is to be a human being.”
1. Nominated For A Grammy Award
Winona is a celebrated actor, receiving two Academy Award nominations; one for The Age of Innocence and the other for Little Women. She won a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress for her role in The Age of Innocence. She has also received a Grammy nomination for her voice work narrating a recording of Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl in 1991. Ryder earned a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2000 to celebrate her many contributions to the film industry. In 2010, the actor was nominated for two Screen Actors Guild Awards: as a part of the cast of Black Swan and as a lead in the film When Love is not Enough: the Lois Wilson Story.