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Birth:
17 May 1936 1
Death:
29 May 2010 1
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Full Name:
Dennis Lee Hopper 1
Birth:
17 May 1936 1
Death:
29 May 2010 1
Residence:
Last Residence: Beverly Hills, CA 1
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Card Issued: California 1

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Dennis Hopper, 74, Hollywood Rebel, Dies

Dennis Hopper, whose portrayals of drug-addled, often deranged misfits in the landmark films “Easy Rider,” “Apocalypse Now” and “Blue Velvet” drew on his early out-of-control experiences as part of a new generation of Hollywood rebel, died Saturday at his home in Venice, Calif. He was 74.

The cause was complications from metastasized prostate cancer, according to a statement issued by Alex Hitz, a family friend.

Mr. Hopper, who said he stopped drinking and using drugs in the mid-1980s, followed that change with a tireless phase of his career in which he claimed to have turned down no parts. His credits include no fewer than six films released in 2008 and at least 25 over the past 10 years.

Most recently, Mr. Hopper starred in the television series “Crash,” an adaptation of the Oscar-winning film of the same title. Produced for the Starz cable channel, the show had Mr. Hopper portraying a music producer unhinged by years of drug use.

During a promotional tour last fall for that series, he fell ill; shortly thereafter, he began a new round of treatments for prostate cancer, which he said had been first diagnosed a decade ago.

Mr. Hopper was hospitalized in Los Angeles in January, at which time he also filed for divorce from his fifth wife, Victoria Duffy, with whom he had a young daughter. Mr. Hopper issued a news release citing “irreconcilable differences” for the filing.

“I wish Victoria the best but only want to spend these difficult days surrounded by my children and close friends,” he said in the release.

Mr. Hopper first won praise in Hollywood as a teenager in 1955 for his portrayal of an epileptic on the NBC series “Medic” and for a small part in the James Dean film “Rebel Without a Cause.”

He confirmed his status as a rising star the next year, as the son of a wealthy rancher played by Rock Hudson in “Giant,” the epic western also starring Elizabeth Taylor and Dean.

Soon he was traveling in social circles with Dean and was linked romantically with Natalie Wood and Joanne Woodward.

But success as a Hollywood star brought with it a growing hubris, and in 1958 Mr. Hopper found himself in a battle of wills with the director Henry Hathaway on the set of “From Hell to Texas.”

The story has several versions; the most common is that his refusal to play a scene in the manner that the director requested resulted in Mr. Hopper’s stubbornly performing more than 80 takes before he finally followed orders.

Upon wrapping the scene, Mr. Hopper later recalled, Mr. Hathaway told him that his career in Hollywood was finished.

He soon left for New York, where he studied with Lee Strasberg for several years, performed on stage and acted in more than 100 episodes of television shows.

It was not until after his marriage in 1961 to Brooke Hayward — who, as the daughter of Leland Hayward, a producer and agent, and Margaret Sullavan, the actress, was part of Hollywood royalty — that Mr. Hopper was regularly offered film roles again.

He wrangled small parts in big studio films like “The Sons of Katie Elder” (1965) — directed by his former nemesis Henry Hathaway — as well as “Cool Hand Luke” (1967) and “Hang ’Em High” (1968).

And he grew close to his wife’s childhood friend Peter Fonda, who, with Mr. Hopper and a few others, began mulling over a film whose story line followed traditional western themes but substituted motorcycles for horses.

That film, “Easy Rider,” which Mr. Hopper wrote with Mr. Fonda and Terry Southern and directed, followed a pair of truth-seeking bikers (Mr. Fonda and Mr. Hopper) on a cross-country journey to New Orleans.

It won the prize for best first film at the 1969 Cannes Film Festival (though it faced only one competitor, as the critic Vincent Canby pointed out in a tepid 1969 review in The New York Times).

Mr. Hopper also shared an Oscar nomination for writing the film, while a nomination for best supporting actor went to a little-known Jack Nicholson.

“Easy Rider” introduced much of its audience, if not Mr. Hopper, to cocaine, and the film’s success accelerated a period of intense drug and alcohol use that Mr. Hopper later said nearly killed him and turned him into a professional pariah.

Given nearly $1 million by Universal for a follow-up project, he retreated with a cadre of hippies to Peru to shoot “The Last Movie,” a hallucinogenic film about the making of a movie. It won a top prize at the 1971 Venice Film Festival, but it failed with critics and at the box office.

Mr. Hopper edited the film while living at Los Gallos, a 22-room adobe house in Taos, N.M., that he rechristened the Mud Palace and envisioned as a counterculture Hollywood.

It was there that his drug-induced paranoia took full flower, including a period in which he posted armed guards on the roof.

“I was terribly naïve in those days,” he told The New York Times in 2002. “I thought the crazier you behaved, the better artist you would be. And there was a time when I had a lot of energy to display how crazy that was.”

Mr. Hopper was seen mostly in small film parts until he returned to prominence with his performance in “Apocalypse Now” (1979).

In a 1993 interview with the British newspaper The Guardian, Mr. Hopper credited Marlon Brando, a star of the film, with the idea of having him portray a freewheeling photojournalist, rather than the smaller role of a C.I.A. officer, in which he was originally cast.

But Mr. Hopper’s after-hours style continued to affect his work; in “Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse,” a documentary about the making of that film, the director, Francis Ford Coppola, is seen lamenting that Mr. Hopper cannot seem to learn his lines.

After becoming sober in the 1980s, Mr. Hopper began taking on roles in several films a year, becoming one of the most recognizable character actors of the day.

He earned a second Oscar nomination for best supporting actor for his role as the alcoholic father of a troubled high school basketball star in “Hoosiers” (1986), and he honed his portrayal of unhinged villains in films like “Blue Velvet” (also in 1986), “Speed” (1994) and “Waterworld” (1995), as well as in the first season of the television series “24” (2002).

Mr. Hopper had several artistic pursuits beyond film. Early in his career, he painted and wrote poetry, though many of his works were destroyed in a 1961 fire that burned scores of homes, including his, in the Los Angeles enclave Bel Air.

Around that time, Ms. Hayward gave him a camera as a gift, and Mr. Hopper took up photography.

His intimate and unguarded images of celebrities like Ike and Tina Turner, Andy Warhol and Jane Fonda were the subject of gallery shows and were collected in a book, “1712 North Crescent Heights.” The book, whose title was his address in the Hollywood Hills in the 1960s, was edited by Marin Hopper, his daughter by Ms. Hayward.

He also built an extensive collection of works by artists he knew, including Warhol, Ed Ruscha and Julian Schnabel.

Born on May 17, 1936, in Dodge City, Kan., and raised on a nearby farm, Dennis Lee Hopper moved with his family to San Diego in the late 1940s.

He studied at the Old Globe Theater there while in high school, then signed a contract with Warner Brothers and moved to Los Angeles.

Mr. Hopper’s five marriages included one of eight days in 1970 to the singer Michelle Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas. He is survived by four children, all of the Los Angeles area: Marin Hopper; Ruthanna Hopper, his daughter by Daria Halprin, his third wife; a son, Henry Lee Hopper, whose mother is Katherine LaNasa; and Galen, his daughter by Ms. Duffy.

On March 26, surrounded by friends like Mr. Nicholson and David Lynch, the director of “Blue Velvet,” Mr. Hopper received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Looking frail, he began his brief acceptance speech by sardonically thanking the paparazzi for supposedly distracting him and causing him to lose his balance and fall the day before. He continued, “Everyone here today that I’ve invited — and obviously some that I haven’t invited — have enriched my life tremendously.”

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A version of this article appeared in print on May 30, 2010, on page A20 

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