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Johnny Depp's sister Christi Dembrowski says their abusive mother beat him but he 'worshipped' her

61-year-old Christi Dembrowski testified at her brother's defamation trial against his ex-wife Amber Heard on Tuesday, April 12
UPDATED APR 13, 2022
Johnny Depp's sister Christi Dembrowski (inset) recounted in court their abusive childhood at the hands of mother Betty Sue Palmer (Twitter)
Johnny Depp's sister Christi Dembrowski (inset) recounted in court their abusive childhood at the hands of mother Betty Sue Palmer (Twitter)

Johnny Depp's elder sister spoke out in court about their troubled childhood at the hands of their abusive mother Betty Sue Palmer.

61-year-old Christi Dembrowski testified at her brother's defamation trial against his ex-wife Amber Heard on Tuesday, April 12, and told the jury about their upbringing in Lexington, Kentucky by a "high strung" mother, who was apparently the polar opposite of their "peaceful" father John Christopher Depp. Depp looked to the floor as his sister revisited the trauma of their shared childhood in court. 


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"Father was a kind, patient, loving, and gentle man. Our mom was the opposite, very high strung, very nervous, anxious, angry," Dembrowski told Depp's lawyer Benjamin Chew, adding that their parents were "two completely different personalities." She admitted that she still works closely with Johnny and was called his "personal manager" in the past.

"Did mother get angry with father?" Chew asked. "Yes," Dembrowski said, recounting how Betty "would scream, yell at him, she would hit him, call him names, that kind of thing." When asked whether their father physically retaliated, she said, "No, dad never reacted when mom hit him or screamed at him. Basically, he would let her scream and get it out and be done. The way you dealt with my mom, he always tried to keep the peace."

"How did your mother treat you and your brothers and sisters?" Chew asked. "Similarly in how she treated dad," Dembrowski said. "She screamed, she yelled, she hit, she threw things, she called us names. We each had our own set of names. Some we wouldn't repeat. My name was Violet. Violet was my father's mother and my mom hated my father's mother," she remembered.

Actor Johnny Depp (C) with mother Betty Sue Palmer (L) and ex-girlfriend Vanessa Paradis attends the 76th Annual Academy Awards at the Kodak Theater on February 29, 2004, in Hollywood, California (Frank Micelotta/Getty Images)

Betty and John divorced in 1978 when Johnny was 15 and Christi was 18. Depp has previously described their family home as a "ghost house" and his experience taught him to become a more "nurturing person." However, the trauma took a toll on Depp's mental health. He began abusing drugs at just 11 years old. Betty died of cancer in 2016 aged 81.

Despite the abuse, Depp worshipped his mother. He got a tattoo of his mom's name on his left arm in 1988. And after receiving his first Hollywood paycheck, Depp bought her a small horse farm in Kentucky. He even used to massage her feet after long days of waitressing. According to the Daily Mail, John Depp was Betty's second husband and she married twice more after the divorce. She was last married to the late Bob Palmer, whom Johnny called an "inspiration." Dembrowski said John was absent for much of their childhood. He is reportedly still alive aged 84.


At her funeral, Johnny described his mother as the "meanest human being I have ever met in my life." He even called her a "b***h on wheels" in a 2018 interview with Rolling Stone. However, he also said she was "funny" and that he "worshipped her." 

"Did your mother have a special name for Johnny?" Chew asked Dembrowski. "She had a few, some to not repeat," she revealed. "'One eye' was her favorite. Because when he was young the doctors thought had a lazy eye, they put a patch on his good eye to strengthen his other eye." When asked if Johnny ever reacted to them, his sister said, "Those names were just a way of life. We got used to them." 


Chew then asked if their mother would get angry with her and attack her physically. "Yes, she did but I was also very quiet, very shy, I learned early on to step back. I would stay away from trouble," Dembrowski explained. "She would hit us, threw things, go pick a twig off a tree, that would be what she'd hit us with. One that's nice and green. If it wasn't a nice green twig it wouldn't break."

Dembrowski remembered how Betty would get angry at Johnny and once threw an ashtray at him. Chew asked if Johnny would react when their mother was laying a beating. "He was a typical little boy, when hurt he would cry. For the most part, he just wanted to get away from it," Dembrowski said of her brother, noting that he never hit her back. "When he was older even if she hit or threw things, he never went to that place he would get away, he would leave the area, go to his room."

Actor Johnny Depp, mother Betty Sue Palmer, and former girlfriend Vanessa Paradis attend the 76th Annual Academy Awards on February 29, 2004, at the Kodak Theater, in Hollywood, California (Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Speaking of Depp's relationship with Heard, Dembrowski told the jury she booked an extra hotel room whenever the couple traveled together. "When they were traveling I wanted to make sure there was an extra room because it wasn't unusual for them to have an argument," she said, noting that Depp would then be able to "leave the room" just like he did as a child when their mother became abusive. "I saw a repeat happening in life," Dembrowski said of Heard and Depp. "When we were kids and arguments and fighting would start to happen. Our first thing to do was go and hide and get away from it. I recognized what felt to me like a repeat pattern from his childhood. I wanted to make sure there was a place he could do just that," she added.