Winona Laura Horowitz (Ryder) was born on October 29, 1971, and named after her place of birth—the Minnesota town of Winona—which is itself named after a deity in Indian folklore.
Her Parents—Michael and Cindy Horowitz—were active members of the 'counter culture' movement, and regular guests at the family home—in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco—included writer Allen Ginsberg and the so-called L.S.D. Guru Timothy Leary (Winona's Godfather).
Winona was seven when the family moved to a 300 acre commune at Elk, north of San Francisco. Without electricity or television, Winona and her siblings—Sunyata, Jubal, Yuri—were more inclined toward physical activity and role playing games than was usual for children of the second 't.v. generation.'
Winona was particularly attracted to the books with which her father surrounded himself, as well as movies introduced to her by her mother, who created a movie house in a barn using an electric generator, projector and a sheet.
It could be said that Winona's earliest acting influences included Bette Davis, Greer Garson and James Cagney, whom she saw, again and again, between readings from such books as "The Catcher in the Rye," "Franny and Zooey," "Little Women" and "1984." Certainly she existed not only in the real world of the commune, with its tire swings and organic vegetable gardens, but also within a world of her own: a place populated with characters of her own invention as well as those encountered in literature and film.
When the family returned to a more conventional setting—Petaluma, CA—Winona was unprepared for suburban life. Her style of dress, speech, humor and haircut, as well as her precocious intellect, marked Winona as an outsider, as did her modes of transport, which included skateboards, bikes, and 'Veronica'—a brightly painted bus used by mom for the school run.
Systematic bullying and social exclusion were significant factors in Winona's relations with the other students. On one occasion she was stopped in a hall-way and accused of being a 'fagot' (gay or effeminate boy); after stating that she was a girl, she was assaulted badly enough to require hospitalization. School authorities allegedly responded by classifying Winona as a 'disruptive influence.' Another bizarre incident involved her hair color: naturally blonde, Winona dyed her hair dark to suit her dark eyes, but upon reverting to her natural color she was taunted for having dyed her hair blonde. Winona eventually resumed dying her hair in an apparent effort to look 'normal.'
From age twelve Winona was home tutored, and while her academic progress was more than satisfactory, her psychological condition was not. At one time she papered over the windows of her room, and on another occasion wanted bars fitted. She acquired a paranoid fear of kidnappers and strangers, and was unable to sleep without taking various precautions.
As a form of therapy, and in recognition of her interest in literature and acting, Mr. and Mrs. Horowitz enrolled Winona at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, where she then appeared to flourish. Her first film role came in Lucas (1986), for which she was credited as Winona Ryder—a stage name chosen in honor of her father's favorite music artist: Mitch Ryder.
In 1988, Winona had her break-through role, playing a death infatuated, teenage 'goth babe' in the Tim Burton directed Beetlejuice. At around this time, she briefly returned to the formal education system in order to graduate high school. Still shunned by her peers, Winona left school with a 4.0 average.
Her next major role, in the deftly cynical Heathers (1988), was largely responsible for confirming Winona Ryder as a teen icon of her generation. Following this she appeared in Welcome Home Roxy Carmichael (1990), Mermaids (1990) and Edward Scissorhands (1990)—stories dealing with a search for identity or acceptance. Other highlights from Ryder's filmography include Reality Bites (1994), Little Women (1994), The Crucible (1996) and Girl Interrupted (1999).
In 1993, she was involved in the search for abducted Petaluma schoolgirl Polly Klaas. Winona posted a two-hundred-thousand dollar reward and participated in searches for Polly, who was later found dead. The incident affected Winona not only because it occurred in her home town, but because it occurred in the way that she had feared as a child—Polly was taken by a stranger, from her own home, in the middle of the night.
For some years, Winona's mental health was the subject of tabloid speculation but few substantial comments from Winona herself. It is known that, from her teens onwards, she was affected by insomnia, anticipatory anxiety disorder, depression, a tendency toward reclusiveness and recurring suicidal thoughts, all of which she attempted to self-treat with pain-killers, tranquilizers, 'partying,' isolation, and a 'shopping obsession' that eventually led her into court on theft and drug charges.
© Copyright 2006 The Winona Ryder Patchwork