In the 80s and 90s, Winona Ryder was everywhere, gracing the silver screen in cult classics, Oscar-nominated dramas, and sumptuous period pieces. But for modern audiences, she's best known for her iconic role as Joyce Byers, the devoted and tough-as-nails mom on Netflix's Stranger Things.
Over the years, audiences have seen Ryder fight aliens, battle Dracula, and deal with life in a mental asylum--but few people know that the actress has grappled with equally formidable demons in real life. Put on your most 90s-grunge-inspired outfit and check out these 42 far out facts about the one, the only Winona Ryder.
Winona Ryder Facts
1. Goth Friends
Winona Ryder and eccentric filmmaker Tim Burton are one of cinema's greatest duos. They first worked together on the wildly successful horror-comedy Beetlejuice, followed up that hit with the even more successful Edward Scissorhands (why isn't this movie recognized as a bonafide Christmas classic?), and the 2012 animated film Frankenweenie.
Bonus points if you knew about their most niche collaboration: the glam goth music video for The Killers’ “Here with Me."
2. Real Life Rom Com
Over the years, Ryder has worked with film icon Keanu Reeves kind of a lot (who can blame her? He's supposed to be one of the nicest people in the biz). Extra fun fact: in most of their movies, they play a romantic couple. Many fans, ever eager for a good ship, have wondered, did their onscreen chemistry ever develop into anything offscreen?
The answer is yes and no. The pair have never dated...though they might be married. According to Ryder, when they shot a scene where their characters get married in Francis Ford Coppola's adaptation of Dracula, a real priest performed the ceremony. This is why Ryder starts most of her texts to Reeves with a coy greeting: "Hello husband."
3. Interesting Coincidence
During the mid-1990s, Ryder was nominated for two Oscars back-to-back. Most of the time, consecutive nominations see actors play vastly different roles, but Ryder got the nod for acting in similar movies, both set in 19th-century America. Apparently, the Academy has a soft spot for Ryder in a bonnet. Sadly, though she didn’t win either award.
It's like they always say, if your first Oscar nod for a film set during the post-Civil War era doesn't win the award, try again...and then try again one more time.
4. Say it Ain’t So!
Ryder was only 15 when she starred in the film Beetlejuice, which made her a star virtually overnight. But Ryder actually needed a lot of persuading to act in the film! Apparently, Ryder wasn't sure about the movie's bizarre story, turning down the role before changing her mind. If Ryder had stuck with her first instinct, cinephiles would have seen Alyssa Milano play the now-iconic role of emo-teen-par-excellence Lydia Deetz.
5. Brave New Winona
Ryder was born on October 29, 1971 in Minnesota. Allegedly, she was born in a farmhouse rather than a hospital. If you’re wondering what inspired her name, Ryder was given the first name “Winona” in honor of the city where she entered the world.
She was also given the middle name “Laura” as a tribute to her parents’ friend, Laura Huxley. Laura happened to be the wife of Aldous Huxley, who wrote the eerie sci-fi classic Brave New World. I guess you could say that Ryder was destined to gravitate towards creepy stories.
6. In The Genes
Both of Ryder’s parents were published authors and editors. Additionally, Ryder’s mother worked in video production while her father was a bookseller. We won’t argue that a tendency to the creative arts can be genetic, but in Ryder’s case, we’re sorely tempted.
7. Double Threat
During her career, Ryder has contributed to the soundtracks of three films: Reality Bites, Girl, Interrupted, and Frankenweenie. If you saw Frankenweenie and thought, "Maybe she should have declined to sing," don't worry: Tim Burton asked Ryder to sing poorly.
8. Oh, What’s in a Name?
Ryder's father’s family was of Jewish origin and lived in Russia and Romania with the surname Tomchin. During the Holocaust, most of Ryder’s paternal family were tragically killed, while those who managed to escape to the US changed their last name to Horowitz.
If you’re wondering where "Ryder" comes from, it's just a stage name--and an homage to the musician Mitch Ryder.
9. Bullet Dodged. Wait…
Very early into her career, after the success of Beetlejuice, Ryder was offered a major role in the independent film Heathers, a dark comedy about teenagers that includes a plot involving a school massacre. Ryder was allegedly urged by her agent to avoid the film, as it might kill her career when it was only just beginning.
Instead, Ryder embraced the film for her own, earning critical acclaim for her performance despite the financial disappointment that Heathers ultimately became. Given that she’s still acting today, we can safely say her agent was wrong, yes?
Bonus points if you know why we've put a picture of a certain ghost below this fact!
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10. No Thanks!
Although she’s been involved in several classic films, Ryder has her share of famous productions which she either rejected or missed out on. Among the films that she turned down were Sleepy Hollow and The Wicker Man (the one with Nicolas Cage). Ryder auditioned for the role of Marla in Fight Club and was considered for the musical Chicago but didn't book either film.
11. Pass it Along
Winona Ryder reminds me a little of Keira Knightley or Natalie Portman, but definitely not smiley Julia Roberts. Casting agents in the 90s did not agree. When Ryder turned down roles in Conspiracy Theory and Steel Magnolias, both parts went to Roberts. We can only assume that Roberts sent Ryder a “Thank-you” note on those occasions.
12. Winona & Johnny
While acting in Edward Scissorhands, an 18-year-old Ryder began a romantic relationship with her co-star, Johnny Depp. The pair was a major young Hollywood couple in the 90s, becoming engaged in July 1990. Depp was so devoted to Ryder that he even got a tattoo that said "Winona Forever" on his upper arm!
But after three years, the couple parted ways. They've never revealed exactly what caused their breakup, but Depp once noted that the media attention was a factor in their split. And if you're wondering what Depp did with that tattoo post-breakup, it was partially erased and now says "Wino Forever." RIP to one of the 90s' coolest couples.
13. You’re Welcome!
A lot of you will probably remember the film Girl, Interrupted, which co-starred Ryder and gave Angelina Jolie her big break, (oh, and an Academy Award). Despite Jolie overshadowing Ryder in the film, it was Ryder who made the film possible.
Ryder discovered the novel which the film was based on and spent nearly 10 years struggling to get the film made. It was also Ryder who chose James Mangold to direct the film, and it was the first time where Ryder was credited as an executive producer for a film. Did Jolie remember to thank Ryder in her acceptance speech? (The answer is yes... right after she thanked her brother, who she kissed on the red carpet. Yup.)
14. I Must Have Him!
Speaking of Ryder’s producing work on Girl, Interrupted, that wasn’t the first time that she was involved in choosing the cast and crew of her film projects. Before signing on to do Reality Bites, Ryder insisted that Ethan Hawke should be cast opposite her in the film after she saw him in A Midnight Clear. To be fair, we can imagine a lot of women would sympathize with Ryder in her pursuit of Hawke to play her romantic partner!
15. How it Began
For three years during her childhood, Ryder and her family lived on a commune known as Rainbow in Mendocino County, California. They shared this 300-acre plot of land with seven other families and didn’t use electricity at all. During this time, Ryder became a passionate book reader (as you can imagine), but when her mother showed her films on the side of the family barn, she developed a passion for acting.
16. Personal History
In 1995, Ryder was nominated for a Grammy Award for her spoken word reading of The Diary of Anne Frank. Given her family's tragic experiences during the Holocaust, we can imagine that she brought tremendous emotion and gravitas to this particular performance.
17. I Must Have Her!
When filming Reality Bites, Janeane Garofalo was not the world's best co-star. By Garofalo’s own admission, she strongly dislikes rehearsal and has a bad work ethic. For co-star and director Ben Stiller, her behavior was unacceptable. He fired Garofalo and planned to find a replacement--until Ryder insisted that he walk it back and rehire the 90s comedienne.
18. Meeting Your Idols
One of Ryder’s acting inspirations growing up was Sigourney Weaver, particularly Weaver’s performance in the film Alien. Naturally, she was very eager to act alongside Weaver in the sequel Alien Resurrection. Unfortunately for Ryder, the film was critically panned and disowned by its original screenwriter Joss Whedon. Still, at least she got to work with her hero!
19. Matchmaker, Matchmaker
While working on the film Little Women, Ryder ended up introducing her co-star Christian Bale to the woman he would marry. At the time, Sibi Blazic was working as Ryder’s personal assistant. She and Bale were married in 2000 and remain married as of this article’s publishing date. We can only hope that they invited Ryder to the wedding!
20. Still Awake
One thing you might not know about Ryder is that she suffers from the sleep condition known as insomnia. Allegedly, this led to Ryder forming a connection with actor Al Pacino, who also suffers from the condition. The two of them even call each other when they’re kept up by their conditions to shoot the breeze! It’s a shame that Ryder didn’t also act in the film Insomnia with Pacino just to make it all the more fitting.
21. Prestigious Peers
Because her parents were both deeply enmeshed in the art world as writers, Ryder grew up surrounded by some of the most famous American writers of her lifetime. These included Beat Generation poet Allen Ginsberg, Beat Generation publisher Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and sci-fi novelist Philip K. Dick. Fittingly, Ryder would go on to act in a film adaptation of one of Dick’s books (more on that later).
22. Interesting Way to Meet a Future Co-Star!
Before her acting career really took off, Ryder was hired to babysit the children of legendary American musician Tom Waits. Waits and Ryder would later collaborate in Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
23. For the Cause
In 1993, Ryder’s hometown Petaluna, California was rocked by a horrible tragedy. A 12-year-old girl named Polly Klaas was kidnapped and later found dead. Before Klaas’ fate was determined, Ryder became personally involved, offering a $200,000 reward for Klaas’ safe return.
Ryder also became involved with the Polly Klaas Foundation, which was founded with the purpose of preventing child abductions or else aiding in the search for missing children. Ryder dedicated her performance in Little Women to Polly Klaas’ memory and coincidentally went on to star in Stranger Things as a mother whose child is missing.
24. What Might Have Been
It might not surprise you to know that the success of Beetlejuice prompted a discussion to make a sequel. The film project was known as Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian, presumably because Beetlejuice 2: Electric Boogaloo wasn’t allowed. Incredibly, Ryder and her co-star Michael Keaton both signed on to be in it with Burton coming back to direct!
Of course, Burton and Keaton ended up making Batman and Batman Returns instead, leading to Beetlejuice Goes Hawaiian to enter production development hell. We can only hope that’s where it will stay.
25. But I Thought Gentlemen Prefer Blondes?
Contrary to what you might have assumed about Ryder, she is actually a natural blonde. When she made her 1986 film debut with Lucas, however, the role required that she dye her hair black. Allegedly, she was urged to maintain this look for the rest of her career, and for the most part, she’s done so.
The one major exception was when she wore her hair in its natural color for the film Edward Scissorhands.
In 2002, Ryder co-starred in the Adam Sandler comedy Mr. Deeds. But while filming a scene where the characters ride bicycles down a flight of stairs, Ryder actually got injured, breaking her arm. So remember, kids, do not try this at home!
27. Complex Ideas
In 2006, Ryder co-starred in the film adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s challenging dystopia novel A Scanner Darkly. Although the film wasn’t financially successful, it was highly acclaimed by critics (and the few people who saw it in theaters). Why wasn't it a bigger commercial success? Maybe the movie's downer tone impacted ticket sales. Ryder once declared that A Scanner Darkly was the most difficult story and script that she had ever read and worked on.
28. Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out
Ryder's godfather was none other than Timothy Leary, the writer and psychologist who was instrumental in the psychedelic drug movements of the 1960s. He was so tied in with the hippie movement that US President Richard Nixon called Leary “the most dangerous man in America.” We can only imagine the stories he had to share with his little goddaughter!
29. Art Imitating Life
In Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan, Ryder portrays a former ballerina star who has been cast aside by a tyrannical and abusive artistic director played by Vincent Cassel. In real life, Ryder only ever attended one day of ballet class, but refused to pursue it because of a “really mean” instructor. Considering the pretty horrific fate of Ryder's character in Black Swan, she made the right call.
30. Thanks, J.D.!
One of Ryder’s favorite novelists is J. D. Salinger. She first became enamored with his work when she read Catcher in the Rye as a child. In fact, her very first audition tape involved her reading a monologue from Salinger’s Franny and Zooey. This tape led her to being cast in her first film Lucas.
31. Music in Your Soul!
Aside from film or television, Ryder has had a rather prolific career acting in music videos. Some of the musicians or bands that can boast having Ryder in their music videos are Annie Lennox, Cher, The Killers, Crowded House, and Soul Asylum. In the case of the latter, Ryder was dating one of the band members, so she was easy to contact.
32. I’m Outta Here
In 1990, Francis Ford Coppola released The Godfather Part III, the most controversial film of the Godfather series. This was in no small part due to the performance of Coppola’s daughter Sofia as Mary Corleone, which was especially savaged by critics. But don't blame Sofia! The real culprit is none other than Winona Ryder!
Ryder dropped out of the production at the eleventh hour. Coppola was in a pinch, ultimately deciding to cast his daughter. Some sources have explained Ryder's withdrawal as being due to personal exhaustion, while others claim that she backed out of The Godfather in order to star in a much more critically successful movie: Edward Scissorhands.
33. Excuse Me, What?!
Ryder came under fire in 1997 by Joseph Califano Jr., who was the then-Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare. Califano accused Ryder of committing “more damage to young girls” than any other actress in Hollywood. Califano backed up this rather hyperbolic claim by pointing to how often Ryder’s characters smoke cigarettes. Even with that, though, calling Ryder the worst of the worst seems extreme!
34. Brush with the Law
In 2001, Ryder was arrested in Beverly Hills, California. The charges laid against her were that she’d stolen more than $5000 worth of accessories and clothing. During her trial, she was also accused of using medication that hadn’t been prescribed to her. Ryder was sentenced to “three years of probation, 480 hours of community service, $3,700 in fines, and $6,355 in restitution to the Saks Fifth Avenue store.”
35. Misery and Company
Ryder understandably took a hiatus from acting after her arrest, appearing in no films between 2002 and 2006. During this time, filmmaker Woody Allen was preparing his 2004 film Melinda and Melinda. According to Allen himself, he was interested in casting Ryder and Robert Downey Jr. in this film. However, due to both actors being at serious low points at this time and having been convicted of felonies, they were considered uninsurable.
36. Burying the Hatchet
After backing out of The Godfather Part III at the last minute, Ryder was highly nervous about how things stood between her and Francis Ford Coppola. However, the two were reunited over the screenplay which became Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
It was Ryder who got Coppola interested in the project, which resulted in one of Coppola’s major financial successes. Interestingly, according to Coppola, Ryder was the driving force behind the cast of the film, which means you have her to thank for Gary Oldman, Anthony Hopkins, and Keanu Reeves for being in that film!
On the subject of her theft charges, Ryder has since explained that she was under a lot of stress during this time and was dealing with depression. Moreover, it was revealed that she had been unethically supplied medication by a doctor named Jules Mark Lusman. Lusman’s medical license was subsequently revoked by California’s Medical Board.
38. Old Soul
It’s safe to say that Ryder’s career got a huge boost in recent years due to her co-starring in the Netflix series Stranger Things. Interestingly, Ryder had no idea of what Netflix even was before she was offered the part! Allegedly, she needed to have the concept of streaming services explained to her.
39. Aquatic PTSD
When Ryder was 12 years old, she suffered a near-drowning incident in a lake near her home. Years later, Ryder filmed a sequence in Alien: Resurrection where she had to be underwater for allegedly the first time since her incident. This unsurprisingly proved among the most stressful moments of her entire career.
40. Troubled Years
During her youth, Ryder was subjected to a large amount of bullying and abuse from her classmates. There was one incident where Ryder was mistaken for an effeminate boy and targeted by a group of bullies at her high school. The subsequent physical assault proved so severe that Ryder needed stitches as a result.
Things got worse when the 15-year-old Ryder became famous for her performance in the quirky Beetlejuice, much to her surprise (she’d hoped that she’d be more liked as a result of this newfound fame. Apparently, teenagers are way more evil than ghosts wearing pinstripe suits).
41. Hindsight is 20/20
When Ryder was at a party in the 90s, she recalls a very drunk Mel Gibson making inappropriate comments about gay people. When conversation turned to Ryder's Jewish heritage, he made antisemitic comments. At the time, Ryder was stunned into silence but when Gibson went on a racist rant in 2010, she revealed her experience.
42. Happily Ever After
Though she's had her share of high-profile romances, Ryder has never tied the knot. In her words, "I'd rather never have been married than been divorced a few times." Her parents' incredibly happy union can't help but add pressure: "when your parents are madly in love for 45 years, your standards are really high."
But even if she's not married, Ryder is happy with her love life. The actress has been in a long-term relationship with fashion designer Scott Mackinlay Hahn since 2011.