The Viper Room: Johnny Depp Co-Owned the Famous Bar With a Man Who Sued Him in 1999 and Has Been Missing Since 2001

The Viper Room is one of the most infamous spots in Hollywood. It’s always been a place that attracted a ton of A-listers, from legendary actors to rock ‘n’ roll’s most iconic bands. 

The club was also a hotbed of illegal activities, tabloid rumors, and one heartbreaking tragedy. The Viper Room is also surrounded in a controversy involving former owner Johnny Depp, and a business partner who mysteriously went missing after suing the actor for fraud.

The Viper Room's green neon sign
The Viper Room | Barry King/Getty Images

The Viper Room: The West Hollywood hot spot has quite a history

8852 Sunset is the address of the legendary Hollywood hot spot, The Viper Room. It’s well-known among the Hollywood elite, having been frequented by mega-stars for decades. However, it wasn’t always a ritzy club loaded with A-list celebrities. The building had a very humble start way back in the 1920s.

It opened in 1921 as a very small grocery store and was located very close to the small industrial neighborhood, Sherman. Residents of Sherman shopped there for necessities for more than 20 years, until the location transformed from a grocery store to a nightclub. 

It was the mid-1940s and the strip had gone through a complete makeover. Gone were the dusty, unpaved roads, replaced with the early glitz and glamour that began attracting Hollywood stars. 8852 Sunset had become the Cotton Club, before changing ownership again in the late 1940s, when it was renamed Greenwich Village Inn. 

By this time, the underground club scene in Hollywood wasn’t so “underground” anymore. Undercover investigators were sent into various clubs, reporting back to the government about shocking, provocative, disturbing acts occurring at these clubs. Nothing came of these investigations, because law enforcement and the mobsters were all profiting in one way or another from activities like prostitution, drugs, and gambling. 

In 1950, the club changed names once again and became a strip club called The Last Call. The club was shut down in 1951 when laws were passed banning lewd dancing and cross-dressing. In 1951, the establishment became The Melody Room, cementing its place on Sunset Strip as the place to go for live music. 

Johnny Depp co-owned The Viper Room with a man that mysteriously disappeared

Since The Melody Room opened in 1951, 8852 Sunset changed names a few times but remained at the top of the Hollywood music scene. The building was home to Filthy McNasty’s from 1973-1980, and Central from 1980-1993. 

According to Visit West Hollywood, Johnny Depp teamed up with fellow actor Sal Jenko to open The Viper Room in 1993. Depp gave guests a stunning opening night, booking Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers to usher in a new era of ownership. The club has hosted numerous legendary musical artists and has also been used on the big screen in a variety of movie scenes. 

Just a few weeks after Depp’s opening, The Viper Room was forever changed by a tragic event. On Halloween night in 1993, actor River Phoenix fatally overdosed on cocaine and morphine. According to Grunge, the 23-year-old’s brother and sister were at the scene and desperately tried to save Phoenix with CPR while waiting for paramedics to arrive. Unfortunately, the young actor was pronounced dead at the hospital later that night. 

Fans were shocked by Phoenix’s death because he had been the epitome of a young, healthy, rising star. He was known for being vegan and promoting a healthy lifestyle, but one night of partying at The Viper Room put an end to all of that. Depp reportedly closed the club every Halloween after that to honor the legendary young actor. 

After that tragic night, The Viper Room was no stranger to other close calls, drug overdoses, and scuffles among stars. These incidents, however, are nothing in comparison to the most shocking rumor associated with The Viper Club. 

Amber Heard was hoping to uncover evidence of Depp’s involvement in the disappearance

In 1999, the relationship between Johnny Depp and one of his business partners, Anthony Fox. Fox accused the actor of cheating him out of money from The Viper Room. According to Meaww, Fox said Depp used “shady accounting and fraud” to hide millions of dollars from him. 

Fox sued Depp, alleging that the actor hid assets in another company to defraud him. He was due to testify in court in 2001, in front of Depp and four other business partners associated with the club. However, on December 19, 2001, Fox mysteriously disappeared. 

According to the Charley Project, investigators found that Fox’s pickup truck was missing, along with a .38-caliber revolver. He also left behind several thousand dollars in a bank account, and he had a teenage daughter. His pickup truck turned up a few weeks later, but Fox was never found. In 2004, Depp ended up giving his share of The Viper Room to Fox’s daughter, who sold it. 

Although Depp was never accused of any involvement in the incident, rumors swirled that Fox’s disappearance right before he had to testify was very suspicious. Amber Heard, Depp’s ex-wife, asked a private investigator to look into the issue further after the two split, according to Daily Mail.

No evidence was turned up during any of the investigations, however. Fox’s case still remains open, and he is still considered to be an endangered missing person. 

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