Dennis Hopper, the born-to-be-wild man of Hollywood, a hell-raising iconoclast who rode to fame as the "Easy Rider" and built a legend around his death-defying party lifestyle, died yesterday after a battle with prostate cancer. He was 74.
In his heyday, Hopper's daily intake of stimulants included 30 beers, a half-gallon of rum and 3 grams of coke. He just assumed he would die young like his idol, James Dean."Did I ever expect to reach 70? Hell, I never expected to see 30," Hopper once said. "And when I did hit 30, 70 seemed off-the-charts old to me. It's a miracle I'm still here."
Hopper jumped into the deep end of excess when he was just 18, on the set of "Rebel Without a Cause," where he was introduced to peyote by Dean -- and had a tryst with screen siren Natalie Wood in a parked car.
It would be the start of an over-the-top quarter century of binge drinking, drug abuse and wild orgies.Hopper was the bad-boy sheriff of Hollywood, often carrying a gun and knife when he wasn't running around in the nude like a madman.
"My biggest drive wasn't alcohol or drugs -- it was sex," he said in an interview, looking back on his wild years.During the '70s, the sight of Hopper strolling around the streets of Los Angeles in the buff was all too common -- as were the nightly orgies with dozens of girls -- estimates ran up to 50.He was said to proposition women he passed on the street by telling them: "My name is Dennis Hopper. Do you want to f- - -?"
No one was safe: Urban legend has it that he was bold enough to try the line on a passing group of nuns.Hopper was married five times -- once for just seven days to the Mamas and the Papas singer Michelle Phillips. The morning after the wedding, Hopper reportedly woke up so stoned he didn't recognize his new bride.Even in a boozy haze, Hopper had moments of pure artistic greatness.In 1969, Hopper directed and co-starred in "Easy Rider," a low-budget movie about two motorcycle-riding hippies that became a counterculture landmark and represented a paradigm shift in filmmaking.
"The picture making, with the sounds that accompany, is astonishingly perfect," The Post's movie critic Archer Winsten wrote in 1969 of the film that pioneered the use of rock music in its soundtrack. "Seldom does one see a picture that can combine in such just proportions the physical beauty of this world, its conflicts of old violent prejudice with new modes of living and dressing."The film also featured Peter Fonda and a then largely unknown Jack Nicholson, who gave a star-making performance. Hopper's depiction of a manic photographer in the 1979 Vietnam War epic "Apocalypse Now" was method acting at its best -- Hopper's drugged-out chatter off-camera was worked into the movie's final cut.
He earned an Oscar nomination in 1986 for his role in "Hoosiers," in which he played an alcoholic basketball-team manager. That same year, he received critical acclaim for his chilling performance in David Lynch's "Blue Velvet."
Hopper was committed to a psychiatric ward in 1982, after he was discovered hallucinating and wandering naked in the woods in Mexico. On the flight home to LA, he reportedly tried to jump out of the plane.But in his sunset years, Hopper had cleaned up his act.Boozing and drugs had been replaced with golf, the Atkins diet and trips to Fashion Week with his wife, Victoria Duffy.In his sober second act, Hopper spoke with regret of his wasted years."I was thinking I had no life or any memory really until now," he said in an interview in the '90s. "If you've ever had a period of time where you weren't allowed to work -- maybe because you were doing drugs and alcohol, but you didn't know that was their reason -- then the fear [of not being able to work] is always with you."
Hopper became a devoted family man, especially to the youngest of his four children, daughter Galen.
He was also an outspoken, if unlikely, Republican in Hollywood -- yet, unpredictable as ever, voted for Barack Obama in 2008.Hopper had been sober for 30 years when he died of prostate cancer. He was first diagnosed with cancer in 2002, and it recurred a year ago.In his final years, Hopper often expressed frustration over his iconic yet marginalized status in Hollywood."I don't really get any of the roles that one gets nominated for," he had said. "I'm not on their A list at the studios, nor on their B list, nor their C list, nor their D list. So I have to go out and do independent films that most of the time never see a theater, go direct to video."
His résumé included flops like "My Science Project" and "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2."Film buffs wonder what his legacy might have been if Hopper hadn't lost decades to intense partying."We're talking 20 years of career as a young man when he didn't make all the right choices," said Steven Gaydos, executive editor of Variety.Hopper was also a serious art lover, with a pop-art collection that included works by Julian Schnabel, Kenny Scharf, Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol.He bought his first Warhol soup-can painting for $75.
Gaydos, who served in the LA Film Critics Association, said the group vetoed granting the actor a lifetime achievement award."They thought, 'You can't give it to him, he's done too much crap,' " said Gaydos."But who else has worked with a dozen of the most important directors in history and played some of the most incredible roles in incredible movies? Eventually the clouds disappear, and all that's left is the work."
Sunday, May 30, 2010
Posted by news update at 4:59 AM