Dennis Hopper


He makes his Hollywood debut in 1955. The film
is Rebel Without a Cause with James Dean.

Dean and another friend, Vincent Price, introduce him to fine art, and encourage his interest in photography.

When Elvis arrives in Hollywood in '56,
he and Hopper quickly become friends.

"Jimmy was the most talented and original actor
I ever saw work. He was also a guerrilla artist
who attacked all restrictions on his sensibility.

Once he pulled a switchblade and threatened to murder his director. I imitated his style in art and in life. It got me in a lot of trouble."

Double Standard / Hopper

He gets a reputation for being 'difficult'. When The Duke aka John Wayne  gives Hopper
a role in The Sons of Katie Elder in 1965, it is his first acting gig in 7 years*.

It saves his ass.


Jane Fonda / Hopper

Brian Jones / Hopper

Tuesday Weld / Hopper

Martin Luther King / Hopper

Next, he turns up in a weird space vampire film called Queen of Blood. The executive producer
is one Roger Corman, who has just begun his cycle of dope and biker movies.

Something works. Corman casts Hopper with Peter Fonda in the seminal acid flick The Trip
in 1967.

Untitled / Hopper

That same year, he works with Peter Fonda, Terry Southern and Jack Nicholson
on Easy Rider.

Hopper is playing a leading role, and directing.
As in many films he will make, including those with John Wayne, Hopper's character dies.

Creative and personal differences come up between Fonda and Hopper. His marriage  dissolving, he refuses to leave the editor's desk until he's sure it's right, and he's ingesting increasing amounts of drugs and alcohol.

The result in a cultural coup d'etat.

They have created an instant icon for a new generation starving for a movie mythology to call its own.

They have also created a product for distribution that
in three years will return over $60,000,000 on a $400,000 investment.

Ba. Da. Bing.

Smitten, Hollywood gives him carte blanche
and a blank cheque. Hopper starts work on a film he presciently(?) titles The Last Movie.

Shot on location in rural Peru (seriously),
the players include Hopper, Fonda, Kris Kristofferson and Michelle Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas.

Hopper buys a house in Taos, New Mexico
and in October 1970, marries Phillips. After 8 days of
wedlock, they file for divorce.

Hopper will later recall
"The first seven days were pretty good".

Dennis Hopper / Warhol

Andy Warhol
does his portrait in 1971. The Last Movie is released and promptly tanks. Costing just over $1,000,000, the studio does not recoup their investment.

“I had final cut,
and I cut my own throat.”

Some might look at the cost/revenue balance over two movies and suggest  Hopper is still well over $50 million to the good, but it's not how they do the math in L.A.

Effectively exiled from Hollywood, Hopper spends more and more time in New Mexico. In the coming years his cocaine intake will reach three grams a day, typically complemented by thirty beers, marijuana, and Cuba Libres.

In 1977, Wim Wenders hires him to play the American friend who convinces a terminally-ill Bruno Ganz to become an assassin. Hopper ad-libs much of his part and the work is well-received.

It's the beginning of a long road back.

He regains a solid B status in 1979, when
Francis Ford Coppola casts him as a hypo-manic Vietnam-era photojournalist in  Apocalypse Now.

Coppola has based Apocalypse on the novel Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.

Again, it's
reported that Hopper ad-libs extensively, mashing up Conrad literary contemporaries Rudyard Kipling and TS Eliot with street-level vet speak, and delivering it all with a distinctly manic-depressive punk attitude... 

  • "Hey, man, you don't talk to the Colonel.
    You listen to him. The man's enlarged my mind. He's a poet-warrior in the classic sense.

    I mean, sometimes he'll, uh, well, you'll say "Hello" to him, right? And he'll just walk right by you, and he won't even notice you.

    And suddenly he'll grab you, and he'll throw you in a corner, and he'll say "Do you know that 'if' is the middle word in life? 'If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you, if you can trust yourself when all men doubt you'..."

    ... I mean, I'm no, I can't – I'm a little man, I'm a little man, he's, he's a great man. I should have been a pair of ragged claws scuttling across floors of silent seas
    – I mean ..."

  • This is the way the fucking world ends.
    Look at this fucking shit we're in man.
    Not with a bang, but with a whimper.
    And with a whimper, I'm fucking splitting, Jack.

* end of part 1 * take me to part 2 *

*Later, during his 15 minutes as a Hollywood golden boy, Hopper will return the favour when he appears with Wayne in True Grit.


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