Dennis Hopper had a life almost unlike any other. He's was a cowboy, an outlaw biker, a drug fiend, a madman, a criminal, a gun nut, a hippie, a Republican, and an Obama supporter. He played the sympathetic father, the social outcast, and did villains just about better than anyone. If there was something to take, Hopper took it. If there was something to do, Hopper did it. He worked non-stop in Hollywood for nearly 60 years. There was never a moment in Dennis Hopper's adult life where he wasn't in a movie or on television doing something. Yet he still found time to live, to do the things we all wish we'd done, to bang the starlets we all wish we could have been with, to hang out with the people we all wish we could have known. I've always thought of Dennis Hopper as what James Dean might have become if he'd lived to adulthood, a grizzled icon reviled and reverenced all at once, a man who most of all never stopped being original.
Today, with his passing still sinking in, and with nearly sixty years of work behind him it's nearly impossible to pick out his best roles, there's too much to choose from, and I'm not going to try and do that. Instead what you'll see below are a few of my favorite Dennis Hopper roles. Maybe some of them are yours too. Take a moment to remember the passing of one of Hollywood's most original legends by considering these movies or, drop down in the comments section to share your own Dennis Hopper remembrances by listing a few of your own.
I discovered Hoosiers early, it got a lot of play in my house during the 80s after it became one of those movies my Dad rented and subsequently copied using dual VCRs, back before anyone really paid all that much attention to FBI warnings. Gene Hackman gets most of the credit for it, and maybe deservedly so, but it's Dennis Hopper's portrayal of an alcoholic father struggling to pull himself together that gives the movie another dimension. As Shooter he's the antithesis of the usual Dennis Hopper character we're used to thinking of. He's not a villain, but a wreck, a broken man with little to nothing left to live for, until he rediscovers his love for basketball and in the process his son. Shooter's story isn't one of total redemption, he never really fixes himself to become the father his son wants, but in Hopper's hands it rips your heart out to watch him try and wonder at what this man might have been if he hadn't lost himself long ago inside a glass bottle.
David Lynch and Dennis Hopper were a perfect match. Two madmen came together in 1986 to create one of the most memorable movie villains of all time, in Hopper's portrayal of sociopath gangster Frank Booth. If we're honest here, on its own Blue Velvet isn't much of a movie, but Hopper's portrayal of Booth singlehandedly lifts it to an entirely different level. It's a study in sheer, evil, madness as Booth inflicts his sick sadomasochistic sexual proclivities on Isabella Rossellini's Dorothy and pushes everyone he encounters right to the edge. His insane, profanity-laced tirades are impossible to turn away from and his love of Pabst Blue Ribbon is perhaps to blame for the beer's modern day popularity among annoying hipsters. Goddamn, Frank Booth was one suave fucker.
Keanu Reeves gets all the credit for Speed but it's Dennis Hopper's turn as an ex-cop and former bomb squad tech gone bad that makes the movie go. He's the man behind the film's ticket-selling plot device, a bus rigged to explode if it drops below 50 miles per hour. Pop quiz hot shot. There's a bomb on a bus and here's the video:
In True Romance Dennis Hopper nailed a supporting role as Clifford, and ex-cop and father enlisted to help his son's cause. He gets in over his head and it results in an epic face off between Hopper and an at the peak of his powers Chris Walken. It's one of the best death scenes of all time and it takes a full ten minutes to unfold. When it starts, Walken is in complete control and Hopper is back on his heels. But halfway through Walken's interrogation of him, Clifford realizes he can't get out of this alive, and from the moment forward there's a shift in which Hoppper takes complete control of the scene. It's a brilliant moment, an epic performance from Hopper, and to me the defining scene of True Romance. Watch it:
In a movie full of completely mad, manic performances Dennis Hopper manages to stand out as one of the craziest. He's played by a freelance photographer turned lunatic supporter of of Marlon Brando's even more insane Kurtz, and his attempts to justify Kurtz's genius are the stuff of sheer crazy. Watch:
Looking back on it now, it's hard for anyone my age or younger to really understand what a cultural revolution Easy Rider was. It was more than a movie, it was a touchstone for an entire generation, and Dennis Hopper was both behind and in front of the camera. Easy Rider was kind of life-changing, moviegoing event which in a world of multimedia deluge we're unlikely ever to see again. Peter Fonda plays the movie's lead as Captain America, but for me it's always been Dennis Hopper as his sidekick Billy that's the heart of the movie. More than enough's been said over the years about the message of the film, so for a moment must forget about that and reflect on Hopper's performance as a slacker hippy making his way across the great American landscape on his way to a place where he hopes to find something better.
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