Born on December 22, 1972, in Saint-Maur-Des-Fossés, France; daughter of Andre and Corinne Paradis (interior design firm owners); children (with actor Johnny Depp): Lily-Rose Melody, Jack. Addresses: Record company--c/o Polygram Promotions, 22, rue des Fossés St. Jacques, 75235 Paris, France.
Vanessa Paradis was a teen pop sensation in her native France in the 1980s. At the age of 14 she recorded a pop single about a Paris taxi driver, titled "Joe le Taxi," which spent eleven weeks at at the number one spot in France and became an international smash hit as well. In the United States, however, Paradis is better known as the partner of actor Johnny Depp, with whom she has two children. A writer for the London newspaper Independent Sunday described her as a "French sex kitten of sub-[Brigitte] Bardot variety, endowed with mysterious superstarlet status despite infrequency of international bits."
Paradis, who uses her given name, was born in 1972 in Saint-Maur-Des-Fossés, a suburb of Paris. Her parents ran an interior design business, and her uncle, Didier Pain, was an actor who moved on to record producing. Thanks to Pain, she won a spot on a television talent showcase at the age of seven, singing a song called "Emilie Jolie." When she was 14, Pain introduced her to Etienne Roda-Gil, a well-known figure in French pop music who had written a string of hits in the 1960s and 1970s. He penned a song about a Parisian taxi driver for Paradis, and "Joe le Taxi" swept the French pop charts in 1987. It also reached number one in 13 other countries---even in Britain, where French-language tracks rarely do that well on the charts. An Independent Sunday assessment some years later described the song as a "candied rendition" that the then-teenager "pouted her way" through, but at the time, taxi drivers across Europe named their vehicles "Joey" in homage to the song.
Paradis went on to record a full-length LP, M & J, released on Polygram's French subsidiary in 1987. Her young, vixenish looks made her a star, but the sudden fame also made her a virtual outcast at the Paris school she attended as a teen. She was roundly slammed in the press and even jeered at in public. "People started to react in a really mean way, and it was really disproportionate to what I was and what I was doing---this teenage girl singing this cute little song," she recalled in an interview with Nui Te Koha of the Melbourne, Australia, Herald Sun. It seemed even odder when she considered her country's history of producing sugary pop ditties sung by kittenish teenaged girls. "They're left alone ... even if their music is worse than mine or their personality is worse than mine," she told Koha. "I think people attacked me because the song was so successful, so you have to bring it down, drag it down. It's a human thing."
Paradis made her film debut at age 16, starring in Noce Blanche ("White Wedding") as the mistress of a middle-aged man, and even won a César award, France's Oscar equivalent, for Best Newcomer in 1990. Despite the honor, she suffered renewed public criticism. "Women hated me," she recalled in an interview with journalist Caroline Graham of London's Mail on Sunday. "People had this image of me as someone completely cretinous. It was a shock. I never understood why. They would write 'slut' on the walls of my house and call me names."
Paradis's second LP, Variations sur le Meme T'Aime, featured lyrics written for her by French pop raconteur Serge Gainsbourg. The 1990 record was thoroughly dance-pop, save for a cover of the Lou Reed classic "Walk on the Wild Side." Finished with school, Paradis moved on to a career in modeling. She was signed by Chanel as a spokesmodel for its Coco fragrance in 1991, with an ad that featured her dressed as an exotic caged bird. Romantically linked with rocker Lenny Kravitz by then, she began to learn English in preparation for her self-titled English-language debut album in 1992. Vanessa Paradis was produced by Kravitz and featured nine tracks written by him, including "Be My Baby" and "Your Love Has Got a Handle on My Mind." The album also included another Lou Reed classic, "I'm Waiting for the Man." The record gained a small measure of attention in the United States, but reviews were mixed. A critic for Time found that "even [the] best songs have a predictable, surface appeal."
Returning to acting, Paradis made a film, Elisa, with renowned French actor Gerard Depardieu in 1995, but became more of a full-fledged international celebrity---and notorious yet again---when she began dating Johnny Depp in 1998. The American actor, best known at the time for his lead roles in Edward Scissorhands and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, was in Paris filming The Ninth Gate with director Roman Polanski, and had been dating English supermodel Kate Moss for four years. The trauma of their break-up reportedly sent Moss into a substance-abuse treatment facility, and once again Paradis was widely reviled in the pages of Europe's tabloid press.
Paradis became pregnant just a few months after she and Depp began dating, and their daughter, Lily-Rose Melody, was born in 1999. That same year she returned to the big screen with The Girl on the Bridge, directed by French filmmaker Patrice Leconte, and the film earned good reviews on both sides of the Atlantic. In it, Paradis plays a lovelorn woman who meets a stranger on a bridge, where both are planning to commit suicide. French heartthrob Daniel Auteuil, cast as a knife-thrower in a carnival, saves her after she jumps, and the two begin an erotically charged relationship as partners in his carnival act. Interview's Diane Baroni called it "one of the year's most surprising performances."
In 2000 Paradis released her fourth studio LP, Bliss, another French-language work. She has also recorded two live concerts, released as Live in 1994 and Vanessa Paradis Au Zenith in 2001. She and Depp had another child, Jack, in 2002. The following year the couple appeared in Lost in La Mancha, a documentary film about the problematic filming by Terry Gilliam of a new film version of the Spanish classic Don Quixote. She was also slated to appear in a 2004 science-fiction film, Atomik Circus: Le Retour de James Bataille, and to sing on its soundtrack accompanied by the Little Rabbits, a French rock group.
Paradis and Depp have homes in Paris, the South Coast of England, and in Cote d'Azur, a Mediterranean resort area in the south of France. She has often stated that she would willingly give up singing and acting if the needs of her family dictated. "I'm not a very big career woman," she told Graham. "I have done well because I've been lucky---I have had no formal singing or acting lessons---and because people have been interested in me. Of course, I didn't just wait on the couch, but I don't know if I deserve it."
by Carol Brennan
Vanessa Paradis's Career
Released first single, "Joe le Taxi," in France in 1986; song reached number one in 14 countries; released first LP, M & J, on Polygram, 1987; first English-language LP, Vanessa Paradis, released in 1992.
Vanessa Paradis's Awards
César Award, Best Newcomer, 1990.
- Selected discography
- "Joe le Taxi," Polydor, 1987.
- M & J Polygram, 1987.
- Variations sur le Meme T'Aime Polygram, 1990.
- Vanessa Paradis Polydor, 1992.
- Live Polygram, 1994.
- Bliss Universal, 2000.
- Vanessa Paradis Au Zenith (live), Polygram, 2001.
- Daily Variety, January 28, 2003, p. 10.
- Entertainment Weekly, November 27, 1992, p. 82; August 11, 2000, p. 52.
- Harper's Bazaar, August 2000, p. 106.
- Herald Sun (Melbourne, Australia), April 6, 2000, p. 37.
- Independent Sunday (London, England), December 13, 1998, p. 3.
- Interview, December 2000, p. 36.
- Mail on Sunday (London, England), March 19, 2000, p. 6.
- New Yorker, February 3, 2003, p. 98.
- People, June 14, 1999, p. 10; August 7, 2000, p. 37; February 25, 2002, p. 77.
- Time, March 1, 1993, p. 69; July 31, 2000, p. 62.
- Time International, April 29, 2002, p. 13.
- "Vanessa Paradis," MSN Entertainment: Celebs, http://entertainment.msn.com/celebs/ (August 24, 2004).