Farewell Dennis Hopper: An Appreciation
by L.L. Soares
This being a movie site, we take it personally when a cinema great dies, and Dennis Hopper was one of the greats. That’s not to say all his movies – and all his roles – were great. There were some clunkers in there as well. But Hopper almost always rose above his material, and certainly left a lasting impression on those who followed his career.
Dennis Hopper died yesterday (May 29, 2010) after a long battle with prostate cancer. He was 74, and worked right up to the end. In the last few months, he was mostly in the media because of his illness and because of a very ugly divorce with his wife. Let’s hope he’s finally at peace and free of pain.
Hopper’s career spanned over 50 years and countless movies and television roles. Toward the end, he was a regular on the Showtime series CRASH, based on the Oscar-winning movie (not the superior David Cronenberg film of the same name).
Just some of his finest moments include:
- Being in two James Dean films – REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE (19556), where he played one of the “goons” who harassed Dean’s character, and also Dean’s final film, the Texas oil epic GIANT (1956). Dean only made three theatrical films, and he’s still an iconic figure in film history. Hopper was also a good friend of Dean’s offscreen.
- NIGHT TIDE (1961) – a underrated little gem directed by Curtis Harrington, where Hopper played a man who falls in love with a mermaid. It was actually a bit darker and more melancholy than it sounds.
- He had roles in tons of television shows during the 50s and 60s, especially lots of westerns, including the big ones like GUNSMOKE, BONANAZA and THE RIFLEMAN
- He was an astronaut in the alien/vampire movie QUEEN OF BLOOD (1966) also directed by Curtis Harrington (and produced by Roger Corman)
- He was in psychedelic films like Roger Corman’s LSD film THE TRIP (1967) and the Monkees’ movie HEAD (1968), both written by Jack Nicholson. And it was no secret that Hopper used a lot of drugs in his real life, too. But he sobered up in the 1980s, and had a big career resurgence soon after that.
- He directed and co-wrote EASY RIDER (1969), arguably the most important counter-culture movie of the 1960s, where he and Peter Fonda rode cross country on motorcycles, meeting some interesting characters along the way. If Hopper had stopped making movies after EASY RIDER, he still would have earned his place in movie history.
- He had roles in some of the biggest movies of all time, including COOL HAND LUKE (1967), TRUE GRIT (1969), APOCALYPSE NOW (1979), as well as one of the biggest box office flops of all time, WATERWORLD (1995)
- He was in foreign films, like Wim Wenders’s THE AMERICAN FRIEND (1977), playing Tom Ripley from the Patricia Highsmith books.
- He was “Lefty” – tracking down the evil Sawyer family with vengeance on his mind – in Tobe Hooper’s THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 (1986)
- He played Frank Booth in David Lynch’s 1986 masterpiece, BLUE VELVET. Frank was a psychopathic drug lord in a small town, part of the seedy underbelly that most people didn’t see. His deranged, intense performance made Booth one of the most memorable villains in movie history.
- He starred in cool little indie movies like PARIS TROUT (1991), RED ROCK WEST (1993), BASQUIAT (1996), and JESUS’ SON (1999), just to name a few.
- He was Clifford Worley in the underrated TRUE ROMANCE (1993), written by Quentin Tarantino
- He did voices for popular video games like GRAND THEFT AUTO: VICE CITY (2002).
- He was one of the stars of George A. Romero’s big “comeback” movie in 2005, the zombie flick LAND OF THE DEAD.
And that’s just some of his work. Hopper is gone now, and we’ll miss him. But we’ve got a lot of movies to remind us just how cool he was.
Frank Booth from BLUE VELVET – maybe Dennis Hopper’s greatest role ever.