Last October, Hopper’s manager Sam Maydew announced that his client had been diagnosed with prostate cancer and would cancel all traveling and acting commitments to concentrate on treatment. He is survived by four children.
Hopper’s career began alongside James Dean in the iconic films Rebel Without A Cause and Giant. After scoring several plum supporting roles in studio features, he went on to direct and star in one of the defining films of the New Hollywood movement – 1969’s Easy Rider. The film – in which he, Peter Fonda and Jack Nicholson played rogue, cross-country bikers – was famous for a troubled production fuelled by drug and alcohol abuse. However, the picture’s unique style and European sensibilities helped kick off a new age of American filmmaking.
Hopper followed up his directorial debut with the disastrous, esoteric flop The Last Movie. Over the course of the seventies, the drug-addled Hopper took less high-profile roles, even starring in the Australian cult-classic Mad Dog Morgan. He returned to prominence in Francis Ford Coppola‘s Apocalypse Now, playing a manic war photographer in the film’s final chapter.
Hopper sobered up in the eighties, and in 1986 he starred in the sports-drama Hoosiers – a role for which he scored an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. That same year, he appeared in David Lynch‘s classic Blue Velvet, playing the demented, sadomasochistic villain Frank Booth.
During the last two decades, the reformed Hopper made a name for himself as one of Hollywood’s hardest working actors, appearing in pictures as diverse as True Romance, Speed, Land of the Dead and The Night We Called It A Day. His last film role was in the animated feature Alpha and Omega, which will be released later this year.
Although he worked hard to dispel the public perception of his volatile, unhinged persona from the 1960s and 70s, Hopper spent his final months in a bitter divorce battle with wife Victoria Duffy.
Despite his personal troubles, Hopper will be remembered as one of the all-time great American film icons; a brave writer, director and performer who helped changed the shape of cinema as we know it.
To learn more about Hopper’s role in the New Hollywood movement, I highly recommend Peter Biskind’s novel Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, or the documentary of the same name.
Discuss: Your favourite Dennis Hopper role? Although Frank Booth is tough to beat (pun intended), he’s never been as wonderfully touching and heartbreaking as he was in Hoosiers. He will be missed.