Actor, painter, director, producer, humanitarian, counterculture icon, thorn in the side of the predictable…we lost a great one this week when cancer claimed the life of Dennis Hopper. Like Keith Richards, most felt he wouldn’t make it out of the 60s alive, let alone the 70s, but both proved resourceful and resilient and capable of creating great work… albeit not quite as frequently. We were blessed to share this mortal coil with him for so long.
Still, Hopper had a long and varied career in television and films, and a definitive best-of is impossibly subjective. But since he was such a character in real life, here are ten Dennis Hopper characters I will always remember:
01) Billy in Easy Rider. The movie that started it all, or at least launched Hopper and Peter Fonda into the heart of the counterculture film movement that would change the face of Hollywood. “What the hell is wrong with freedom? That’s what it’s all about!”
02) Lyle From Dallas in Red Rock West. It’s really Nicolas Cage’s picture, and one could argue that J.T. Walsh stole the picture (as he often did as one of the best character actors of all time) in the role Hopper was initially cast in. But Hopper lights up the second half and raises the ante in this great John Dahl film.
03) The Photojournalist in Apocalypse Now. In a world of madness, both real and scripted, Hopper’s acid casualty character might have been as insane as anyone else…or perhaps totally lucid but incapable of expressing himself.
04) Clifford Worley in True Romance. A highly enjoyable Quentin Tarantino scripted movie that already spiked the oddball meter by casting Gary Oldman and Val Kilmer, among others. But the scene between Christopher Walken and Hopper is worth the price of admission.
05) Frank Booth in Blue Velvet. An over-the-top performance that would normally have been too scenery-chewing, but how can you be over the top in a David Lynch film? Oh, a few f-bombs, as well.
06) Billy Clanton in Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Sharing the screen with heavyweights Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas in John Sturges‘ classic western. A small role, but Hopper shone as the kid gunfighter way out of his league.
07) Jordan Benedict III in Giant. One of two pictures he made with James Dean; Giant had him playing against type as the mild-mannered son of macho Rock Hudson (who knew?) alongside Dean and Sal Mineo. An underrated soapy western from George Stevens featuring a tremendous cast.
08) Victor Drazen on 24. Sure, it was a bit of a hammy accent, but how cool was it to have Hopper show up as the criminal mastermind to close out the first season?
09) Shooter in Hoosiers. Yes, it was a part written to tug the heartstrings, and many actors would have cheesed it up beyond belief. But maybe seeing a man who had battled so many personal demons in real life made it more powerful. “Now boys…don’t get caught watchin’ the paint dry!”
10) Feck in The River’s Edge. Things don’t get much stranger than when Crispin Glover is onscreen, but add Dennis Hopper and an inflatable girlfriend, and there you are. (“Look, I’m not psycho. I know she’s a doll. Right, Elly?”) The movie that might have ruined Keanu Reeves forever.