A Troubled Ride – Dennis Hopper

Dennis Hopper

On a sad note, this weekend saw the passing of a Hollywood legend, Dennis Lee Hopper, to prostate cancer at age 74. Hopper appeared in more than 100 films, and as a self-described “prolific creator,” had a significant impact both in front of and behind the camera.

Dennis Hopper Easy Rider

First finding fame in a supporting role alongside James Dean in 1955’s “Rebel Without a Cause,” Hopper’s demand for artistic license, rebellious character and onset clashes saw him effectively blacklisted by Hollywood in the late 50’s. In 1969 Hopper reestablished himself directing and starring the counter-culture classic Easy Rider, his telling of the American dream captured the nations imagination and won him universal recognition.

Denis Hopper Easy Rider

What followed during the 1970s was a downward spiral of prolific substance abuse, reportedly a daily gallon of rum, 3 grams of cocaine and 20 beers. This cycle perpetuated for nearly 15 years, a period seen contritely by Hopper as artistic dissolution. His roles following his detoxification in the early 80s were largely unremarkable until he was cast as Frank booth in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet. Hopper’s portrayal of the perverse and violent Frank Booth displayed a frightening characterization of the depraved villain. Blue Velvet is the first role I recall Hopper in, and it turned my marrow cold. Perhaps why I’ve always found him such a noteworthy actor, though I’ve never been able to shake that sense of placid evil from his roles. His composure in the face of a violent death as Clarence Worley’s father in True Romance, as he venomously insults Christopher Walken’s character, again exhibits a capacity to tap into a tormented past and procure a calm guile, quite eerie in its delivery.

Dennis Hopper as Frank Booth in Blue Velvet

Hopper followed up his acclaimed portrayal of Frank Booth with a poignant 1988 directorial, “Colors” featuring a young Sean Penn and Robert Duvall. The films effortless violence, unflinching delivery and provocative controversy seemed typical of Hopper’s character, perhaps made more facile following his detoxification. The roles that followed largely relied on Hopper’s ability to convincingly depict the villain in films such as “Speed” and “Waterworld.” Although relentless in his work, and effective in his roles, the 90s didn’t recapture the dizzy artistry his early work exhibited. Through this period and into the new millennium, Dennis Hopper continued his work as a photographer and art collector, his capacity in each of these has received acclaim, particularly his aptitude for art. His substantial collections disappearing in divorce settlements.

Dennis Hopper

Dennis Hopper was married 5 times during his life time, all relatively brief affairs, and his last marriage was poised for divorce at his time of death. He had been battling prostate cancer since 2002. Dennis Hopper leaves behind 3 daughters and a son.

Dennis Hopper 1972

So a sad farewell featured in this week’s icon, a man who gave a wealth to visual art, whose life followed a rocky path but whose moments of brilliance and defining contributions leave an indelible influence on the silver screen.

[images courtesy of Rolling Stone]

~ by bowlphilosophy on June 2, 2010.

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