Following her breakthrough in 1988's Beetlejuice, Winona Ryder emerged as one of the most celebrated actresses of her generation. Adept at playing characters ranging from depressed, angst-ridden goths to Edith Wharton debutantes, the saucer-eyed, porcelain-skinned Ryder has attained critical respect in addition to widespread popularity.
Ryder was born in and named after the city of Winona, MN, on October 29, 1971. The daughter of communal hippies and the goddaughter of LSD guru Timothy Leary, she grew up on a commune in Northern California. Ryder's family moved to Petaluma when she was ten; following regular abuse from her classmates, who targeted her for her unconventional, androgynous appearance (she was once jumped by a group of boys who had mistaken her for a gay boy), she was home schooled. At the age of 11, she joined the American Conservatory Theatre, and was soon trying out for movie roles. An audition for the part of Jon Voight's daughter in "Desert Bloom" failed to yield a role but did land the actress an agent, and at the age of 14, Ryder -- who had changed her last name from Horowitz -- made her film debut in "Lucas" (1986).
Finding popularity with her turn as a suicidal teen who has more in common with the ghosts living in her attic than with her yuppie parents in Tim Burton's black comedy "Beetlejuice", Ryder quickly became one of the most steadily employed actresses in Hollywood. She continued to corner the alienated and/or confused teen market with starring roles in a number of offbeat films, including the 1989 cult classic "Heathers", "Great Balls of Fire" (in which she played Jerry Lee Lewis' 13-year-old bride), Burton's "Edward Scissorhands", and "Mermaids".
The early '90s saw Ryder begin to branch out from teen roles toward parts requiring greater maturity. Following a turn as a taxi driver in Jim Jarmusch's "Night on Earth" (1991), the actress starred in Francis Ford Coppola's lavish adaptation Bram Stoker's "Dracula" and then went on to play Antonio Banderas' lover in the critically disembowelled "The House of the Spirits". Greater success came with Martin Scorsese's 1993 adaptation of Edith Wharton's "The Age of Innocence". Ryder won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her portrayal of Daniel Day-Lewis' picture-perfect wife, and in the process started getting taken seriously as an actress capable of playing more adult characters.
A second Oscar nomination -- this time for Best Actress -- followed the next year for Ryder's portrayal of Jo March in Gillian Armstrong's adaptation of "Little Women". The same year, the actress took on an entirely different role in "Reality Bites", in which she played a twenty-something suffering from post-graduation angst. Similar twenty-something angst followed in "How to Make an American Quilt" (1995) but was then traded for Puritanical adultery, hair extensions, and another turn with Daniel Day-Lewis in Nicholas Hytner's 1996 adaptation of "The Crucible".
Following a starring role in the highly anticipated and almost as highly criticized "Alien Resurrection" in 1997, Ryder had a turn as the waif-ish object of Kenneth Branagh's affections in Woody Allen's "Celebrity". She managed to escape much of the criticism leveled at both of these films, and in 1999 and 2000, she reappeared with lead roles in two films, "Girl, Interrupted", in which she played a mental institution inmate in the female answer to "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest", and the supernatural thriller "Lost Souls".
In 2002, Ryder appeared in "Mr. Deeds", after which her career declined and she took a break from films. In 2009, she returned in the high-profile film "Star Trek". In 2010, she was nominated for two Screen Actors Guild Awards: as the lead actress in the television film "When Love Is Not Enough: The Lois Wilson Story" and as part of the cast of "Black Swan".
Since 2016, Ryder has starred in the Netflix science fiction-horror series "Stranger Things". She plays single mother Joyce Byers, whose 12-year-old son vanishes mysteriously. The show and her performance has received critical acclaim, with many critics praising its homages to 1980s genre films.
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