Dennis Hopper died today at age 74 after a lengthy and public illness. He was an icon of mid-century rebellion and an always fresh and fascinating character actor throughout a career that spanned the classic era, the American New Wave of the late sixties and early seventies, and his often astonishing later career work in numerous films and television shows after he was finally able to conquer his longstanding issues with substance abuse during the mid-eighties. He didn’t have a lot of starring roles, but that’s show business. (The still above is from one of the very few, Curtis Harrington’s 1961 “Night Tide.” He’s very good in it.)
He was also a photographer, the director of one of the most influential (i.e., copied and later spoofed) single films ever made, “Easy Rider,” as well as a major figure on the Los Angeles art landscape. It’s not often mentioned, but he was also probably the most proudly counter-cultural celebrity to ever openly associate himself with the Republican party, though, as recounted by Edward Copeland in his extremely detailed look at Hopper’s career, he was a true maverick to the end and voted for Obama in 2008.
Mr. Hopper was most certainly the real deal and there’s no way one post can do justice to his legacy. For now, we’ll keep things simple and just offer a few of the most iconic moments from Dennis Hopper’s amazing care, after the flip.
It’s good to celebrate people while they’re still here, and that certainly applies to Dennis Hopper, a man who has made his mark upon the movies like very few people in film history. From his start as a young ensemble player on innumerable television shows and some very fifties era big Hollywood productions like “Rebel without a Cause,” “Giant,” and “Gunfight at the O.K. Corral” (he’s at 199 credits on IMDb), to his emergence as a controversial counterculture star and filmmaker in the the late sixties, to becoming one of Hollywood’s best character actors with his beyond memorable roles in films like “Apocalypse Now,” “Blue Velvet,” “Hoosiers,” “True Romance” and numerous other films, he’s without a doubt a man to whom attention must be paid. As the director of “Easy Rider,” and the troubled but legendary “The Last Movie,” his influence on the American films of the early seventies, for both better and worse, is probably impossible to measure.
In that spirit, cinephile superstar writer and blogger turned filmmaker Matt Zoeller Seitz, formerly of The New York Times and the great group blog he founded, The House Next Door (now Slant Magazine’s official blog), has crafted the un-narrated cinema essay below for his present gig with the Museum of the Moving Image. It’s fairly long as these things go, but it is definitely worth your time.
Oh, and one thing that has been, and always will be, true about Dennis Hopper — he is most definitely not safe for work, unless, of course, you work somewhere extremely cool or extremely dangerous.