Dennis Hopper Dies: Story and Video

He was born to be wild, the last rebel without a cause and a comeback kid. Dennis Lee Hopper, aptly born in Dodge City, Kan., emerged playing baby-faced outlaws in the 1950s, idolized “Rebel” co-star James Dean, directed and co-starred in the 1969 youthquake phenomenon “Easy Rider” and revived his career sucking on a gas mask as the twisted killer Frank Booth in David Lynch’s psych-out classic “Blue Velvet” (1986).
Many people know Hopper, who died yesterday of prostate cancer at 74, as mad bomber Howard Payne with Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves in “Speed” (1994).
But he was also a veteran of such landmark films as Nicholas Ray’s “Rebel Without a Cause” (1955) and George Stevens’ “Giant” (1956), in which he shared the screen with Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor and the aforementioned Dean. Hopper’s “Rebel” cast members Dean, Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo all died prematurely, while Hopper kept working.

The actor was among the cinema’s first juvenile delinquents, a social phenomenon that inspired such films as “Rebel” and “The Blackboard Jungle” (1955), films that uncovered an as-yet untapped American youth audience and a demand for films about it. Like “new sensations” Dean and Marlon Brando, Hopper was also an early devotee of Method Acting.
Born in Kansas on May 17, 1936, Hopper was a fixture in Westerns, co-starring with such icons of the genre as John Wayne in “The Sons of Katie Elder” (1965) and “True Grit” (1969), and Clint Eastwood in “Hang ’Em High” (1968).
According to Hollywood lore, shooting “From Hell to Texas” (1958) with the veteran director Henry Hathaway (“The Trail of the Lonesome Pine”), a twitchy Hopper required 85 takes for one scene, causing Hathaway, with whom Hopper would work again in “True Grit,” to state: “You’ll never work in this town again!”
In 1969, Hopper made screen history with “Easy Rider,” a low-budget effort co-written by Hopper, Peter Fonda and Terry Southern, directed by Hopper and featuring a pair of bikers (Hopper and Fonda) riding across America on choppers in search of “something.” It was a youth-culture boxoffice sensation and earned co-star Jack Nicholson his first Academy Award nomination. “The Last Movie” (1971), Hopper’s writing-directing follow-up to “Easy Rider” (1969), was a movie more notorious for the drugs taken on set than for anything seen onscreen.
In an earlier career resurrection, Hopper played a soulful sailor who falls in love with a sideshow mermaid in Curtis Harrington’s cult film “Night Tide” (1961). Later, he earned arthouse acclaim opposite Bruno Ganz in Wim Wenders’ Patricia Highsmith-based thriller “The American Friend” (1977).
On TV, Hopper acted in “The Twilight Zone,” “Wagon Train,” “Gunsmoke” and “Bonanza.”
Hopper returned to directing in 1980 with “Out of the Blue,” a powerful, imploding-family drama that has influenced such actor-directors as Sean Penn. In addition to “Blue Velvet,” Hopper appeared in the 1986 sports film “Hoosiers,” earning an Oscar nomination.
Hopper, who lived in Venice, Calif., married his fifth wife, Victoria Duffy of Weston, Mass., on April 12, 1996, at Old South Church in Boston’s Copley Square. She was 32 years Hopper’s junior; they had a daughter together, Galen Grier.
I interviewed Hopper in 1979 at the start of my career as a film critic, when he was in New York to promote “Apocalypse Now,” a film in which he plays a photojournalist who falls under the spell of the insane Col. Kurtz (Brando).
This was a deeply troubled time in Hopper’s life, and I honestly thought I was sitting in front of a guy about to self-destruct. Yet he pulled himself together and worked for another 30-plus years. A comeback kid to the end.

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