The Viper Room Famous for Death, Big Breaks, Violence and Last Performances
Johnny Depp's famous A-list celebrity club
The Viper Room was a famous hangout for many A list celebrities in the 90s. Initially, it started life as a grocery store in 1921 but was converted into a nightclub in 1946. In 1947, it was bought by mobster Mickey Cohen and became a strip club called the Cotton Club.
In the 80s, it started to struggle financially, which was when it was purchased by Johnny Depp and his 21 Jump Street co-star, Sal Jenco. Depp's vision was for it to provide a haven for actors, musicians and artists. Somewhere they could go to let their hair down, away from the media spotlight.
Depp reopened the club, now named the The Viper Room, on 14th August 1993. He hired Tom Petty to play on the opening night. From that first night, it became a hub for generation X superstars with its capacity of two hundred and fifty. The club is known for many a great night of entertainment, but also many horrors.
The most famous death at the club was that of movie star River Phoenix. Just two months after opening on Halloween, Phoenix went to a party there. He took lethal cocktails of drugs and alcohol, complaining that he felt unwell he went outside. Once outside, he collapsed on the sidewalk. His sister and brother were both with him. Rain, his sister, sat on his chest to stop the convulsions, whilst his brother Leaf (later known as Joaquin) made a frantic 911 call. Phoenix died shortly after on the way to the hospital. He was found to have overdosed on cocaine, morphine, marijuana and valium.
This was not the start that Depp hoped for the club as he was trying to provide a safe and protected place for the young upcoming stars. However, he was devastated by the death of this twenty-three-year-old star and closed the club for the next week. From that year onwards, until Depp sold the club, it would be shut on Halloween as a mark of respect.
Much has been made of the death of Phoenix, as there are a few inconsistencies. One is that the CCTV from the club has never been viewed; it was wiped by accident. Some also report that they believe Phoenix had his drink spiked which caused his death. Finally, although many of the drugs that Phoenix had in his system could be injected, there were no track marks on his arms, further leading people to speculate how they got into his system.
Phoenix, however, was not the only celebrity who had problems with substances at the club. Having just finished Neighbours and launched his music career, Jason Donovan attended Kate Moss's twenty-first birthday. Moss was the girlfriend of Depp at the time. A heavy cocaine user, during the party Donovan collapsed from an overdose and was taken to hospital. Although he recovered, his career was never the same.
John Frusciante from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, a drug addict, vomited and collapsed on stage after just one song.
Despite all this, though, the club went from strength to strength.
Stars flocked to the club throughout the nineties. Celebrities such as Drew Barrymore, Jerry Springer and Jennifer Aniston were regularly in attendance. Some became stars because of The Viper Room.
The Pussycat Dolls had only just formed when they auditioned in front of Johnny Depp to play at his club. He was so impressed that they became a regular burlesque act for him. Joining the Dolls on stage were other stars such as Gwen Stefani, Carmen Electra and Jack Black's band Tenacious D.
The club also provided stars with a chance to return to everyday life. Counting Crows' lead singer, Adam Duritz, would take a job as a barman after he hit fame to feel grounded again.
With all these big names as everyday patrons of the club, it was no wonder that as well as drugs, the club had many an altercation between famous people.
Nicole Egbert from Baywatch fought another woman there, over a man.
Her more famous co-star Pamela Anderson would also be involved in a fight whilst leaving. Her then-boyfriend Tommy Lee attacked a cameraman as they left the club together. He went on to be charged with assault and battery.
Another photographer sued the club after he claimed staff there attacked him. Whilst taking a photo of Mick Jagger and Uma Thurman embracing, the staff stepped in and removed his camera.
One of the most surprising illegal activities in the club was the illicit high stakes poker games that Tobey Maguire set up. Some of the famous names that would be part of these games were Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and Leonardo DiCaprio.
The club helped many names reach the heights of their careers; it also was the last venue of a few stars. Michael Hutchence from Inxs would play his final concert there in November 1997; one week later, he was found in his hotel room having taken his own life.
Timothy Leary made his last performance at The Viper Room before dying from cancer.
The End of an Era
The club continued to be popular into the millennium. Depp remained in control of the club until 2001, when he and his business partner Anthony Fox fell out; Fox then disappeared. Depp's relationship with the club ended in 2004.
At the same time, the club had begun to lose its appeal in the age of reality stars, where celebrities would encourage the media to follow them around. A club for a discrete drink was no longer needed. This new type of celebrity needed to be in front of the cameras, not hiding away in an exclusive club.
Today, The Viper Room has shut its doors. It has been some time since any scandals of note have emerged from a club that was, in its heyday, a notorious spot for debauchery, death and celebrity conspiracy theories. A developer who bought the property plans to knock the building down in October to make way for a new fifteen storey development.
Many will remember the iconic Viper Room, and some, myself included, will be disappointed they never got to see it up close and personal. Although, many who have worked there said that the violence left its mark on the building as they would swear many a famous A list star or two haunts it.