Dennis Hopper, an iconic movie figure thanks to the biker movie Easy Rider and David Lynch’s psycological drama Blue Velvet, died at age 74 on May 29 at his home in Venice, in the Los Angeles area.
The revelation that Hopper (born on May 17, 1936, in Dodge City, Kansas) had been terminally ill was made public about two months ago, when his attorney declared that the actor-director could not be questioned by his wife’s attorneys in a deposition.
Dennis and Victoria Hopper had been in litigation since the former filed for divorce in January after 14 years of marriage. In court filings, Victoria claimed that her husband wanted the divorce so as to cut her out of her inheritance. Hopper denied that has been his reason.
During a show business career that spanned more than five decades, Hopper appeared in nearly 200 movies – most of them B (oftentimes Z-grade) fare – and television productions.
In addition to Easy Rider, which he directed, starred in, and co-wrote with co-star Peter Fonda, Hopper’s other notable film efforts are George Stevens’ Giant (1956), in which he’s surprisingly effective in an unusual role as Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor’s “weak” son; the ill-fated The Last Movie (1971), a production ruined by a mix of self-indulgence and drug abuse; and Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam War drama Apocalypse Now (1979), in which Hopper has a supporting role as a photojournalist.
Hopper’s film career suffered a precipitous downfall following The Last Movie. His brief appearance in Apocalypse Now wasn’t enough to restore his post-Easy Rider prestige and box office pull, but as a result of two well-received performances in 1986 films critics and the public began paying attention to him once again.
For his redeemable drunk in David Anspaugh’s feel-good small-town drama Hoosiers, Hopper received a best supporting actor Academy Award nomination. For his violent psycho in David Lynch’s dark, small-town drama Blue Velvet Hopper earned what were in all probability the best notices of his career.
When his Oscar nomination was announced, Hopper himself was flabbergasted that Academy members chose to cite him for Hoosiers, not Blue Velvet. (One of the best-received films of the year – perhaps the decade – Blue Velvet earned one single Oscar nod for director David Lynch.)