Dennis Hopper had died at the age of 74, at his home in Venice Beach, California, after a long fight with prostate cancer.
Hopper's friend Alex Hitz told Reuters that the actor-director died at 8:15 a.m. Pacific time, with family and friends at his bedside.
Hopper had a long and varied career as an actor and director, beginning with his film debut as "Goon" in Rebel Without a Cause. Although he did some crap films for easy money, and descended into self-parody in commercials for the NFL and retirement funds, the man known as "Dennis the Menace" was never, ever dull.
At his best, he was mesmerizing, at his worst...well, that's another column entirely. Although he is now in failing health, Hopper was always full of life, brimming with his own trademark brand of manic energy, which is on display in all of the films listed below.
Night Tide (1961), as Johnny Drake. Hopper plays a sailor on shore leave who falls for a mermaid at a seaside carnival in Curtis Harrington's atmospheric horror-fantasy. With Linda Lawson and Luana Anders.
Kid Blue (1973), as Bickford Waner. Although some critics considered Dennis a little long in the tooth to be playing the 20-something title character, he delivers a strong performance in this amiable Western comedy about an outlaw who tries to go straight in turn-of-the-century Dimebox, Texas. With Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, and the lovely Lee Purcell.
True Romance (1993), as Clifford Worley. Playing Christian Slater's ne'er-do-well father gave Hopper the opportunity to spout some prime Quentin Tarantino dialogue, especially in his final scene opposite Christopher Walken.
Mad Dog Morgan (1976) Playing the title role of a 19th century outlaw in the Australian outback, Hopper gives an all-out performance, complete with Irish brogue, in director Philippe Mora's ultra-violent epic, one of the first Aussie films to get major distribution in the US.
Speed (1994) and Waterworld (1996): Hopper reunited with his River's Edge co-star Keanu Reeves for director Jan DeBont's Speed, to play Howard Payne, the villain of the piece, in a relentless action picture that unfortunately helped to typecast him in psycho roles. One such role was Deacon, the maniacal, one-eyed villain in Kevin Costner's bloated epic Waterworld. Costner left some of Dennis's best work on the cutting room floor, as his own bland performance as the urine-drinking hero paled next to that of the flamboyant heavy. For Hopper completists (and masochists), the expanded 3-disc special edition been restores some of those scenes.
Der Amerikanische Freund a/k/a The American Friend (1977): Dennis gives a subtle, understated performance as Tom Ripley in Wim Wenders's adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's novel Ripley's Game. Of course, subtlety and understatement are not exactly the first words that come to mind when discussing Hopper's work, but this is nonetheless one of his best performances. With Bruno Ganz.
Giant (1956), as Jordan "Jordy" Benedict III. Hopper's first major screen performance, as the "weakling" son of a Texas Cattleman and his headstrong wife (Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor, in reality only a few years older than Dennis) showed a world of promise. The film also allowed him to deepen his friendship with James Dean, with whom he had forged a bond on the set of Rebel Without a Cause. Dean's death was a huge blow, but his friend's influence would shape Hopper's work for years to come.
The Last Movie (1971), as Kansas. After Easy Rider, Dennis was given the keys to the Hollywood kingdom, and carte blanche from Universal Pictures to make his next film. He promptly blew his newfound cachet with this brilliant, self-indulgent mess of a motion picture. After shooting a million feet of film in South America, a drug-addled Hopper retreated to Taos, New Mexico to edit the movie. After assembling the definitive version, he engaged in a bit of self-sabotage by recutting the film to make a non-linear narrative full of flashbacks, flash-forwards, and Brechtian alienation. The studio hated it, and buried the film, although it did win Best Picture at the Venice Film Festival. The post-production process, including much pontificating, firing of guns,and orgies with hippie chicks, is featured in the documentary American Dreamer .
River's Edge (1986): The year 1986 was a great one for Dennis Hopper, as he came back from the grave to become a sought-after character actor, with Blue Velvet, Hoosiers, and this dark tale of disaffected teens (not to mention his role in Texas Chasinsaw Massacre 2). Here he plays "Feck," the one-legged drug dealer who harbors dead-eyed fugitive John (Daniel Roebuck), before realizing that the kid is a remorseless killer. Bleak, but rewarding, and based on a true story.
Rumble Fish (1983) and Hoosiers (1986): In the '80s, Hopper made a great comeback as a character actor, proving particularly adept at playing damaged, alcoholic dads, as in these two films. In Coppola's stylized adaptation of S.E. Hinton's Rumble Fish, Hopper is father to Matt Dillon's Rusty and Mickey Roarke's Motorcycle Boy, while in Hoosiers, he picked up an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor as Shooter, a haunted, broken man dragged out of the gutter by Gene Hackman to become assistant coach of the high school basketball team.
Tracks (1976) and Apocalypse Now (1979): Two decidedly different takes on the Viet Nam war. In writer/director Henry Jaglom's Tracks, Hopper plays Jack, a Nam vet accompanying the body of his best friend to their hometown via train. His naked emotionalism and improvisational genius have rarely had such a showcase. In Francis Ford Coppola's epic re-imagining of Jospeh Conrad's Heart of Darkness, Dennis plays the harlequin figure, a whacked-out American photojournalist uner the sway of Marlon Brando's Colonel Kurtz. Brando refused to work with Hopper on the set, in part because Dennis was out of his mind, and partly because, in an attempt to get in character, he hadn't bathed in weeks.
The Glory Stompers (1967): Hopper stars as Chino, the perpetually stoned leader of the Black Souls Motorcycle Club, who kidnaps a pretty young thing (Chris Noel) after laying a beat-down on her boyfriend (Jody McCrea). Hopper's performance is not to be missed, and the dialogue is priceless: "Here's the situation, baby. Like we accidentally snuffed out your old man. Now the only way out for me and my people is to either snuff you out, or to sell you, to some high-class Mexican friends of ours. Now, being good people, we decided to sell you." With Casey Kasem and Jock Mahoney.
Easy Rider (1969): Hopper directs and stars as Billy opposite Peter Fonda's Captain America. After selling a large quantity of cocaine to Phil Spector, the two head off in search of America. Unfortunately for them, they find it. With a screenplay by the great Terry Southern (Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb), and a killer sountrack featuring Steppenwolf, the Byrds, and The Band, among others.
Out of the Blue (1980): Old pal Paul Lewis hired Hopper to direct and star in this crazed drama about an extremely dysfunctional family at a time when Dennis was otherwise unemployable. Hopper took the bare bones of the plot, rewrote the script, and created savage art. The film begins with Don, his character, driving his semi into a schoolbus full of children, and takes off from there. The apocalyptic flipside to Atom Egoyan's The Sweet Hereafter. With Linda Manz, Sharon Farrell, Don Gordon, and Raymond Burr.
Blue Velvet (1986): Hopper plays one of the screen's all-time great psychos, Frank Booth, in a pull-out-all-the-stops performance that is alternately hilarious and terrifying. Whether brutalizing Isabella Rossellini or weeping at Dean Stockwell lip-synching to Roy Orbison's "In Dreams," he is brilliantly over-the-top in director David Lynch's neo-noir masterpiece. With Kyle MacLachan and Laura Dern.
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