In Memoriam: Dennis Hopper – actor, artist, art collector – view video

Dennis Hopper, photo taken June 2, 2008 by Antje Verena, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License.

Dennis Hopper, photo taken June 2, 2008 by Antje Verena, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License.

VENICE, Calif. (AP) – Dennis Hopper, the high-flying Hollywood wild man whose memorable and erratic career included an early turn in Rebel Without a Cause, an improbable smash with Easy Rider and a classic character role in Blue Velvet, died on Saturday, May 29, 2010. He was 74.

Hopper died at his home in the Los Angeles beach community of Venice, surrounded by family and friends, family friend Alex Hitz said. Hopper’s manager announced in October 2009 that the actor-director had been diagnosed with prostate cancer.

The success of Easy Rider and the spectacular failure of his next film, The Last Movie, fit the pattern for the talented but sometimes uncontrollable Hopper, who also had parts in such favorites as Apocalypse Now and Hoosiers. He was a two-time Academy Award nominee and in March was honored with a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.

“We rode the highways of America and changed the way movies were made in Hollywood,” Peter Fonda, his Easy Rider costar, said in comments carried by several news outlets. “I was blessed by his passion and friendship.”

Other tributes were posted on celebrities’ Web sites and Twitter feeds.

Actress Marlee Matlin called Hopper a “maverick, a wonderful actor. You always got something unexpected from him.”

“So long Dennis,” tweeted actress Virginia Madsen, who starred in The Hot Spot, one of the films Hopper directed. “U taught me so much.”

After a promising start that included roles in two James Dean films, Hopper’s acting career languished as he developed a reputation for throwing tantrums and abusing alcohol and drugs. On the set of True Grit, Hopper so angered John Wayne that the star reportedly chased Hopper with a loaded gun.

“Much of Hollywood,” wrote critic-historian David Thomson, “found Hopper a pain in the neck.”

All was forgiven when he collaborated with Fonda on a script about two pot-smoking, drug-dealing hippies on a cross-country motorcycle trip.

On the way, Hopper and Fonda befriend a drunken young lawyer (Jack Nicholson in a breakout role) but arouse the enmity of Southern rednecks and are murdered before they can return home.

Easy Rider was never a motorcycle movie to me,” Hopper said in 2009. “A lot of it was about politically what was going on in the country.”

Fonda produced Easy Rider and Hopper directed it for a meager $380,000. It went on to gross $40 million worldwide, a substantial sum for its time. The film caught on despite tension between Hopper and Fonda, and between Hopper and the original choice for Nicholson’s part, Rip Torn, who quit after a bitter argument with the director.

It was a hit at Cannes, netted a best-screenplay Oscar nomination for Hopper, Fonda and Terry Southern, and has since been listed on the American Film Institute’s ranking of the top 100 American films. The establishment gave official blessing in 1998 when Easy Rider was included in the United States National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

Its success prompted studio heads to schedule a new kind of movie: low cost, with inventive photography and themes about a restive baby boom generation. With Hopper hailed as a brilliant filmmaker, Universal Pictures lavished $850,000 on his next project, The Last Movie.

The title was prescient. Hopper took a large cast and crew to a village in Peru to film the tale of a tribe corrupted by a movie company. Trouble on the set developed almost immediately, as Peruvian authorities pestered the company and drug-induced orgies were reported.

The film took a drug-and-drink addled Hopper nearly a year to edit, and when it was released, The Last Movie was such a crashing failure that it made Hopper unwanted in Hollywood for a decade, and forced him to find work in Europe.

He made a remarkable comeback, starting with a memorable performance as a drugged-out journalist in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1979 Vietnam War epic, Apocalypse Now. Hopper was on drugs off camera, too, and his rambling chatter was worked into the film.

He went on to appear in several films in the early 1980s, including the well regarded Rumblefish and The Osterman Weekend, as well as the campy My Science Project and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2.

But alcohol and drugs continued to interfere with his work. Treatment at a detox clinic helped him stop drinking, but he still used cocaine, and at one point he became so hallucinatory that he was committed to a psychiatric ward.

Upon his release, Hopper joined Alcoholics Anonymous, quit drugs and launched yet another comeback. It began in 1986 when he played an alcoholic ex-basketball star in “Hoosiers. He was nominated for an Oscar for best supporting actor.

His role as a wild drunk in Blue Velvet, also in 1986, won him more acclaim, and years later the character wound up No. 36 on the AFI’s list of top 50 movie villains.

He also returned to directing, with Colors, The Hot Spot and Chasers.

From that point on, Hopper maintained a frantic work pace, appearing in many forgettable movies and a few memorable ones, including 1993’s True Romance, where he played a well-meaning ex-cop trying to protect his son from a gangster played by Christopher Walken.

“No better scene in the movies than his showdown with Walken in True Romance,” actress Elizabeth Banks tweeted Saturday.

Hopper made it to the top of the box office in the 1994 hit Speed as the maniacal plotter of a freeway disaster. In the 2000s, he was featured in such films as Elegy and Hell Ride and the television series Crash. Eric Roberts, who starred opposite Hopper in Crash, said Hopper was “everything you wouldn’t expect him to be, based on what he played.”

Roberts said that on a flight from a shoot for the show, Hopper helped the plane’s crew by comforting a passenger through a panic attack.

“For a guy who was masterful in creating very disquieting characters, Dennis sure had a healing way in life,” Roberts said in a written statement.

For years he lived in Los Angeles’ bohemian beach community of Venice in a house designed by acclaimed architect Frank Gehry.

Hopper was a prolific photographer, sculptor and painter. The art is the subject of a show opening July 11 at the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Geffen Contemporary space in downtown Los Angeles. He was also a passionate – and prescient – collector of modern art who followed his own intuitive collecting path. “I think I collect things I wish I’d made,” Hopper said in a 1999 interview. Among the holdings in his collection are major works by Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollock and Jean-Michel Basquiat, an artist Hopper revered. In Julian Schabel’s 1996 biographical motion picture titled Basquiat, Hopper played the role of art dealer Bruno Bischofberger.

Dennis Lee Hopper was born in 1936, in Dodge City, Kan., and spent much of his youth on the nearby farm of his grandparents. He saw his first movie at age 5 and became enthralled.

After moving to San Diego with his family, he played Shakespeare at the Old Globe Theater.

Scouted by the studios, Hopper was under contract to Columbia until he insulted the boss, Harry Cohn. From there he went to Warner Bros., where he made Rebel Without a Cause and Giant while in his late teens.

Later, he moved to New York to study at the Actors Studio, where Dean had learned his craft.

Hopper married five times. In January 2010, he filed to end his 14-year marriage to Victoria Hopper, who said in court filings that the actor was seeking to cut her out of her inheritance, a claim Hopper denied.

His first wife was Brooke Hayward, the daughter of actress Margaret Sullavan and agent Leland Hayward, and author of the best-selling memoir Haywire. They had a daughter, Marin, before Hopper’s drug-induced violence led to divorce after eight years.

His second marriage, to singer-actress Michelle Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas, lasted only eight days.

A union with actress Daria Halprin also ended in divorce after they had a daughter, Ruthana. Hopper and his fourth wife, dancer Katherine LaNasa, had a son, Henry, before divorcing.

He married Victoria Duffy, who was 32 years his junior, in 1996, and they had a daughter, Galen Grier. On January 14, 2010, he filed for divorce from Duffy. After citing her “outrageous conduct” and stating Duffy was “insane,” “inhuman” and “volatile,” Hopper was granted a restraining order against her on Feb. 11. On March 23, Hopper filed papers in court alleging Duffy had absconded with $1.5 million of his art, refused his requests to return it, and then had “left town.”

On April 5, a court ruled that Duffy could continue living on Hopper’s property, and that he must pay $12,000 per month spousal support and child support for their daughter. Hopper did not attend the hearing.

On May 12, a hearing was held before Judge Amy Pellman in downtown Los Angeles Superior Court to decide who to designate on Hopper’s life insurance policy; it currently lists his wife as beneficiary. A very ill Hopper did not appear in court though his estranged wife did. The judge ruled that the policy should not be changed at present.

Update 6/2/2010: Dennis Hopper’s funeral is scheduled for today at a church in Rancho de Taos, an enclave of Taos, New Mexico. Hopper owned a home in Taos and was often quoted saying he wanted to be buried in the picturesque town that is home to many artists and celebrities. It is also the town where Hopper wrote, shot and edited Easy Rider. Two private planes have transported Hopper’s family members and friends to Taos from Los Angeles so they can attend the service.

Catherine Saunders-Watson, Auction Central News International, contributed to this report. Copyright 2010 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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Dennis Hopper (left) with Jack Nicholson at the 62nd Academy Awards, March 26, 1990. Photo by Alan Light appears under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License.

Dennis Hopper (left) with Jack Nicholson at the 62nd Academy Awards, March 26, 1990. Photo by Alan Light appears under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License.

Click below to view a video of Dennis Hopper in his home, discussing and showing various artworks in his collection.