May 29, 2010
Tribute to Dennis Hopper (1936-2010)
What a career! The absolutely amazing Dennis Hopper lost his battle with cancer today. He was 74.
I first became familiar with Hopper like most people my age by way of his tour de force performance as the villainous Howard Payne in Speed. Many years later, while I was working my way through AFI's 100 Greatest Films list from 2007, Hopper's unique talent really etched itself in my mind with performances in films like Apocalypse Now, Giant and arguably his masterpiece, Easy Rider, which he wrote and directed. Easy Rider defined a generation of hippies through a film with just as much audacity as the free love movement itself.
Other notable roles include Gunfight at the OK Corral, Rebel without a Cause, Cool Hand Luke, True Grit, Out of the Blue, Rumble Fish and Hoosiers. He recently appeared on the television series 24 and Crash. Perhaps his most iconic performance is the one I most look forward to checking out for the first time soon--that of the huffing hellion Frank Booth in David Lynch's Blue Velvet.
His acting career started in fifties television series before he made some films from the Old Hollywood such as Johnny Guitar and Giant. Ironically, his Easy Rider helped to usher in the New Hollywood with its counter-cultural, anti-establishment plot and characters. The 1970s were difficult for Hopper as he was seriously abusing all kinds of drugs and his attempts to follow the success and significance of Easy Rider proved futile.
He rehabilitated his personal life as well as his career in the 1980s following the successes of Apocalypse Now and Out of the Blue. The eighties gave him a run of hits which culminated in Blue Velvet and his Oscar nominated turn in Hoosiers. Hopper further had an impressive run in the 1990s with True Romance and Speed among others. He worked up to and after he was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer in 2009. He was married five times and leaves behind four children.
Besides acting, Hopper was also an avid artist and photographer. Further, he became a neo-conservative in his later life, railing against many of the changes the country went through in large part due to the influence of Easy Rider.
Dennis Hopper is one of the most fascinating and influential talents Hollywood has ever seen. His passing today brings a sadness mixed with a sense of relief that his suffering is now in the past. Rest in peace to Mr. Hopper and thanks for everything you've done for the medium of film which I love so much.