Seedy and Insane Stories From The Johnny Depp Owned Nightclub, The Viper Room

By: Kate Row | Last updated: May 05, 2022

The Viper Room was a pillar of LA’s wildest nights in the 1990s. Opened by Johnny Depp, the nightclub attracted Hollywood’s biggest celebrities, along with plenty of controversy. Located in the heart of Sunset Boulevard, Johnny Depp teamed up with his former 21 Jump Street co-star to establish the rock venue. 

Viper Room was not as fancy as the other venues in town, but this was a part of its charm. Its name came from a “group of pot-smoking musicians who called themselves the Vipers.” Yet, underneath its divey charm, the venue was hiding a dangerous underbelly of death, drugs, and disappearances. Read on to learn more about the infamous Viper Room.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Performed for Opening Night

On August 14th 1993, Tom Petty and Heartbreakers per Johnny Depp’s request. This makes sense, as right around that time Johnny Depp appeared in the band’s Into the Great Wide Open video.

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It was not unusual to see stars performing at the club. A slew of famous bands came through there during the Viper Rooms heyday, many of whom even got their start there performing, such as the burlesque group, The Pussycat Dolls.

The Tragedy of River Phoenix

River Phoenix was destined to be a superstar in the early nineties and had gained a following for his roles in films like Stand By Me and My Own Private Idaho. It appeared that he would be the next big thing in Hollywood. But all of that came to a devastating end one night outside of the Viper Room.

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River battled against a horrible drug addiction. On the night of October 30th 1993, he went to the venue with his girlfriend Samantha Mathis, as well as his siblings Rain and Leaf (now known as Joaquin). It would be his last night alive

Something Seemed Off

According to his girlfriend Samantha, River was “high in a way that made [her] feel uncomfortable.” After River took a trip to the bathroom, Samantha said she then saw a bouncer shove River outside of the club with another man. Initially, Samantha thought that the two men were in a fight.

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That was when Phoenix dropped to the ground. He began to go into convulsions right outside of the nightclub. Samantha ran back inside to get River’s siblings who called 911. River died before help could arrive at 1:51 AM.  An autopsy revealed he died from an overdose of cocaine and heroin. 

A Haunting Spotlight On The Viper Room

River Phoenix’s death put the Viper Room into the spotlight and more sad stories followed suit. In 1995 an Australian actor named Jason Donnovan suffered a coke-induced seizure at the venue during Kate Moss’ birthday celebration. Fortunately, he survived. Then in 1997, an Australian rock star named Michael Hutchence played his last show at the club days before taking his own life.

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Tragedies and controversies seemed to plague the nightclub, and its owner, Johnny Depp when he and his partner went head to head in what seemed to be an incoming court battle.

Johnny Depp and His Partner Have a Falling Out

The controversies followed Johnny Depp all the way into 2000. He was sued by his business partner Anthony Fox who claimed that Johnny had committed fraud and mismanaged funds within the nightclub. It looked like a bitter court battle was on the horizon.

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However, before the two former partners were due to appear in court, a mysterious disappearance took place that ensured that the battle would never reach court, and would be forgotten about entirely.

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Anthony Fox Mysteriously Disappears

Anthony Fox disappeared without a trace in December 2001, just before he and Johnny were due to scrap it out in court. In January 2002, his abandoned truck was discovered in Santa Clara, California. 

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To this day, no one knows what happened to Anthony Fox. No one ever heard from him again, and his body has never been found. A few years later, Johnny relinquished his ownership of the club to Anthony Fox’s daughter. 

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The Viper Room Was a Part of an Illegal Poker Ring for Celebrities

In the nineties and early two thousands, the Viper Room was involved in an illegal $100 million high stakes poker ring meant for Hollywood celebrities such as Ben Affleck, Tobey MaGuire, and Leonardo DiCaprio.  Apparently, according to former waitress and host Molly Bloom, Tobey MaGuire was a poor loser. 

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Other celebrities who visited were people like former New York Yankee Alex “A-Rod” Rodriguez, the Olsen twins, and Matt Damon. Eventually it turned into a hub of organized crime.

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Server Turned Poker Princess, Molly Bloom

A woman named Molly Bloom spilled the intimate details of life in the seedy poker ring in the Viper Room. Molly began as a waitress but then began to host the illegal poker games. Molly spilled the details in an interview with 20/20.

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According to Molly, she was pulling in $4 million a year with her income by 2008. Eventually, Molly began to take some from every pot and was launched into a life of organized crime. This made her a target for mobsters who assaulted her after she refused to allow them into her business. Eventually, the FBI raided her and froze all of her assets. She pleaded guilty to illegal gambling and spent 12 months on probation.

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The Pussycat Dolls Had Residency At The Viper Room

A woman named Robin Antin was a dancer living at Christina Applegate’s house in 1995. She went on to be the founder of the Pussycat Dolls. She crafted the burlesque group’s first routine at Christina Applegate’s home studio and debuted her act at the Viper Room that same year.

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Johnny Depp was in the audience that night and was highly impressed with the routine. Johnny decided to sign the group up for weekly residency. The show became very popular, and A-listers like Gwen Stefani and Carmen Electra started to volunteer for guest spots. Eventually they were signed by Jimmy Iovine to Interscope Records.

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