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uneasy rider Director, Actor, Artist, Bad Boy, Fanatic, Bohemian... there are many words that can be used to describe the life and times of the late, great Dennis Hopper. After a long battle with cancer, Hopper died on May 29, leaving a legacy behind him that is as complicated as the man himself.

Hopper went from obscurity to stardom when he starred in and directed Easy Rider, the first of the so-called ‘New Hollywood’ movies. The tale of two free-spirited bikers crossing America would pave the way for directors like Martin Scorcese, Brian De Palma, Francis Ford Coppola and Steven Spielberg. But his second movie, The Last Movie, destroyed his career and he went into self-inflicted exile from Hollywood.

Dennis Hopper was born on May 17, 1936 and, under the influence of actor Vincent Price, developed an interest in acting and art after high school. He studied acting and would star in Rebel Without A Cause and Giant. Shocked by James Dean’s death, he became self-destructive, later to be salvaged by John Wayne, who helped him into movies like True Grit and Cool Hand Luke. In 1979 Coppola gave Hopper a role as a crazed war photographer in the iconic Apocalypse Now, returning him from an obscure career in lowbudget film. The shoot, which was fraught with problems, became the stuff of legend and the seemingly-insane Hopper was only bested by the severe antics of the film’s star, Marlon Brando. 36

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Despite a career in film, it’s Hopper’s art legacy that makes him truly impressive. Apart from being a prolific painter and sculptor, producing dozens of works, he was also a major supporter of upcoming artist and helped usher the career of Andy Warhol into bloom: he and his wife even hosted Warhol’s first major exhibition. Hopper counted many big artists as his personal friends, including pop artist Roy Lichtenstein.

Hopper’s flagging career was again revived when he starred as Frank Booth, the infamous gas-huffing villain in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986). Booth frequently is voted amongst the top villains of cinema and typecast Hopper as a movie bad guy. In 1988 he directed the critically-acclaimed gang movie Colors.

During the Nineties Hopper struck dirt as often as gold: he starred in major flops Mario Bros (1993) and Waterworld (1995), but also delivered iconic roles in True Romance (1993) and Speed (1994). In the past decade he filled major roles in TV shows like 24 and Crash.

Like his career, Hopper’s personal life was colourful. He was married five times, abused drugs for twenty years and burned more bridges in the film industry than most. But his 55-year career culminated to over 150 movie roles and he counted people like Viggo Mortensen and Jack Nicholson amongst his friends. In March he received a star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame, but dies two months later from complications with prostate cancer. Despite his prickly nature and outlandish behaviour, Hopper is a rare Hollywood legend that went against the grain and managed to change the system with him.


APr 2010

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Dennis Hopper | Feature | Charged  

A feature I wrote and produced.