In the closing minutes of the People’s Choice Awards on Wednesday night, a surprise guest showed up: Johnny Depp, who won the prize for Favorite Movie Icon and thanked his fans for standing by him through “good times or bad.”

It was Depp’s first major appearance since news broke last spring of his very public, very nasty split with his then-wife, actress Amber Heard, who made allegations of physical abuse (which Depp denied) and filed a restraining order. They eventually reached a settlement agreement in August and Heard, 30, withdrew the abuse allegations. A judge finalized the divorce this past Friday. Depp paid Heard $7 million, which she donated to charity.

Judging by the reaction of the People’s Choice Awards crowd, you never would have known anything happened — the audience exploded in cheers for Depp as he took the stage. The 53-year-old actor looked a little teary as he slowly made his way through an acceptance speech, occasionally interrupted by fans screaming “I love you!”

“I came here for you, the people — who, through whatever good times or bad, you know, have stood by me, trusted me. Thank you,” Depp said. The crowd roared its approval.

Depp didn’t get into specifics, but he emphasized his gratitude. “You’ve very, very graciously invited me here once again tonight. So I appreciate that very much. You have no idea how much I appreciate it,” he continued. “I was very deeply affected by the kindness of your recognition and by your well wishes to my family and to myself, which is why it’s especially meaningful to me to be here in front of you to say thank you. And to tell you that I truly feel that need to thank you.”

“Because, in all honesty,” Depp concluded, “We all know that none of us, especially me, wouldn’t be standing up here if it weren’t for you tonight. So thank you.” He ended with a shout-out to his mother, Betty Sue Palmer, who died last spring: “Give ’em hell, Betty Sue,” he said, raising his trophy in the air and looking to the sky.

Depp and Heard, who met on the set of “The Rum Diary” in 2011, were married for less than two years. Their split dominated headlines with warring stories in the press. In late May, Los Angeles police were called to a domestic dispute at Depp’s home; Heard declined to press charges, and police did not find evidence of an assault, according to the Associated Press. Several days later, Heard filed for divorce and alleged in a sworn statement that Depp hit her and struck her with a cellphone; she showed up in court to request a restraining order with a bruise on her face.

Over Memorial Day weekend, several Hollywood figures stepped forward to defend Depp and said Heard was lying; Heard’s attorneys slammed the “vicious false and malicious allegations that have infected the media” and said the actress “suffered through years of physical and psychological abuse” from the actor.

When the divorce was settled in August, the couple offered a joint statement: “Our relationship was intensely passionate and at times volatile, but always bound by love. Neither party has made false accusations for financial gain. There was never any intent of physical or emotional harm.”