Saturday, May 29, 2010

Dennis Hopper dead at 74

By Steve Evans

Two-time Oscar nominee and legendary hellraiser Dennis Hopper died today of complications stemming from prostate cancer. The 74-year-old Hollywood iconoclast partied with James Dean, bedded Natalie Wood, smoked grass with Jack Nicholson and was once married to Michelle Phillips of Mamas and Papas fame for an entire seven days. Those aren't even the highlights of the man's life; just the side notes.

I shall miss Dennis Hopper and rue that his amazing career has reached a coda, probably much later than even he would have expected.

Perhaps best known for directing and starring in Easy Rider, Hopper was likewise renowned for his hard-partying ways and evidently gleeful embrace of madness, tempered only slightly by his advancing years and the illness that would ultimately take his life.

I could dwell on tales of Hopper's wild life of excess, his consumption of vodka, beer, and narcotics in quantities that could easily have killed seven strong men, his five turbulent marriages and chaotic career, all of which would be too easy, too obvious and ultimately pointless.

Dennis Hopper was an artist of uncompromising vision who let nothing and no one get in his way. His thirst for living was exceeded only by his dedication to cinematic craft, of which he was a master. No actor could have embodied Frank Booth in Blue Velvet with such total, chilling effectiveness as Hopper, whose performance in that seminal David Lynch film will lease permanent space in your mind and haunt you forever. You cannot avoid it. I dare you to even try.

It is said Hopper's cameo in Apocalypse Now is autobiographical, as he was allegedly so hopped up on cocaine that Francis Ford Coppolla merely had to point a camera at the actor and let him rip. Apocryphal though the tale may be, the performance lingers in the mind's eye as a near-effortless example of the ramped up mania and exuberance for which Hopper was justly famous, just as his brooding eccentricties could make audiences (and his many lovers) quake in fear.

Here was a man who stomped the earth on terms of his own choosing, reputation be damned. I could care less for the man's reputation, as that is merely the collective assessment of other people's opinions, which I don't care for, either. But I will always hold up Hopper's legacy and life in my admiration of the man's dedication to his principals, no matter who agrees with those principals.

Cue: Sid Vicious' cover of the old Sinatra chestnut, "My Way."

RIP, Dennis. We may not see your kind again. This rotten, boring culture seeks out and destroys men like you, if you don't destroy yourself first. And we are all the more diminished for your absence.