Sad, sad news. One of the great actors of the psychedelic age, Dennis Hopper, has passed away into the great blue yonder. The star of Easy Rider, Blue Velvet and Apocalypse Now, died yesterday at the age of 74 after a battle with prostate cancer.
He had been suffering over the past few months. Not just with the health issues. Turns out he has also been having huge disputes with his wife regarding art work that may or may not have been stolen. However, he passed away surrounded by his close friends in Venice, Los Angeles.
The Times have a great obituary on the actor some of which is collected below. I love the fact it was Vincent Price who introduced him to acting. I actually have a bit of a connection with Price as my Dad was in a pub on the Kings Road, London in the Seventies. A young friend of theirs who was trying to be as sophisticated as my Dad decided to pinch Vincent Price’s Fedora. He managed to pinch said hat. He was then chased up the road by Price, Vincent Price’s entourage and my Dad and his mates. Vincent Price got his hat back and hilarity ensued. Andy Taylor in Sweden, who stole the hat, hopefully remembers the experience. Now on with the Times thing.
Hopper, who helped to launch the “counterculture” cinema in 1969 with the hippie road movie Easy Rider, co-starring with Peter Fonda, described himself as a “Californian bum with attitude”. But that, as so much about his life, was myth-making.
Hopper was born in Kansas, the son of a former US intelligence officer who retired to run a post office. The family moved to San Diego in southern California where the unruly teenager struck up an early friendship with the actor Vincent Prince, with whom he shared a passion for modern art.
Price widened Hopper’s taste, introducing him to Shakespeare and acting and encouraging him to find work in the nascent Californian television business.
He also became friends with the brooding actor James Dean, who helped him to secure his first two film jobs in Rebel without a Cause (1955), in which he played one of the high school gang members who menaced Dean’s character, and Giant (1956).
These were studio films that, nevertheless, helped Hopper establish his early image as a Hollywood outsider.
In the late 1960s, when he had fallen out of fashion, Hopper co-wrote and directed Easy Rider. His work on the screenplay earned him the first of two Oscar nominations and a reputation for being a difficult man to work with.
Along with his friend Jack Nicholson, who got his big break in Easy Rider, and Warren Beatty, Hopper created the first generation of “Hollywood wild men” known for womanising, drinking and, in Hopper’s case, copious drug use.
Hopper said of his “abusing” years: “I was doing half a gallon of rum with 28 beers and three grams of cocaine a day — and that wasn’t getting high, that was just to keep going, man.”
His performances in this period — including a 1979 role as a photojournalist in Francis Ford Coppola’s horrific vision of the Vietnam war, Apocalypse Now — were unsurprisingly marked by his extreme mania.
Ostracised by Hollywood studios, who found him so unreliable and prone to bouts of violence that they could not insure him, he turned to photography and painting.
Among other works he created the artwork for Ike and Tina Turner’s seminal album, River Deep — Mountain High.
From buying then undervalued paintings by Mark Rothko in the 1950s and Andy Warhol in the 1960s, Hopper filled his fortress-like home in Venice, then regarded as a gang-ridden danger zone in west Los Angeles, with a rare collection of modern art.
Hopper was married five times, with several former girlfriends and spouses describing him as both brilliant and brutal, prone to domestic violence when drunk.
Earlier this year, despite being in the throes of terminal cancer, he separated from his fifth wife, the actress Victoria Duffy, who was 31 years his junior, after citing her “outrageous behaviour” when he claimed she tried to move artwork valued at more than £1m from their home.
In March a judge ruled that Duffy should stay at least 10 feet away from Hopper, whose weight had fallen to seven stone and who was too ill to attend the hearing.
Nevertheless, Duffy and their daughter Galen, 7, are believed to be the main beneficiaries of most of his $60m fortune.