Dennis Hopper – An Appreciation

A beautiful family weekend away in the mountains found me returning to the news I had been expecting for some time that actor, director and pop culture icon Dennis Hooper had succumbed to cancer. Hopper seemed to be one of those people that should have died a few times by now but managed to escape death and redefine his career time and time again. He so often found himself in a role that after you viewed it you could never imagine another actor playing that part.

Hopper’s career had many phases – his early years as a young new talent in such classics alongside James Dean in Rebel Without A Cause and Giant, the genius of his acting and direction in the timely Easy Rider and the rage and fury of Frank Booth in David Lynch’s masterful Blue Velvet. While these are some of his best known and loved roles he had many other memorable screen moments. Some highlights include:

  • An incredible sequence in Tony Scott’s True Romance when a mobster played by Christopher Walken when Hopper knew he was dead but wanted to be sure to get a dig in before he died – very tense and very funny at the same time.
  • The unforgettable loner drug dealer Feck in 1986’s River’s Edge – think of the acting skill that is required to portray a man in a serious relationship with an inflatable doll.
  • Also in 1986, his Oscar nominated Shooter in Hoosiers.
  • The unnamed photojournalist in Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now – perhaps the only man, albeit drugged out man who understood the cult of Colonel Kurtz.

Though I never got to meet Dennis Hopper I had always felt a connection to him in a few ways. One connection was through a funny story regarding Blue Velvet, another regarding his drug and alcohol and abuse and lastly through my band.

In the late ‘80s I got my first full-fledged introduction to the work of Mr. Hopper with David Lynch’s epic tale of small town America gone horribly wrong, Blue Velvet. In this piece of cinematic genius the viewer is brought directly into the furnaces of hell by way Hopper’s unforgettable portrayal of antagonist Frank Booth. To say the very least Frank had issues – drugs, booze, guns, violence, sex, and mother – I-S-S-U-E-S. So what does all of this have to do with me you ask? Well, like many twenty somethings I was aware of the buzz surrounding Lynch and Hopper’s masterpiece – I talked about this film a lot as it was the hip thing to do. What was not so hip was when I nonchalantly told my well-adjusted, middle-class parents about this mind blowing film. Never in a million years (really – by this time I had outgrown my love of shocking my parents) did I recommend the film to them or think they would watch it. Well they did – and I still hear about it from Dad on occasion.

As for Hopper’s drug and alcohol abuse it was a classic case of feeling good about oneself by comparing my actions against someone else. “Well, I may drink a lot – but not as much as …” You could insert the name of any celebrity with an addiction problem that made the papers. I drank by the jerobaum in those days and all you can really say is I was luckier than many who had full blown addiction issues.  Obviously I had not outgrown every stupid childish notion of mine.

Lastly, my resurgent hobby of playing bass guitar in original rock and roll bands finds me over the past two years playing in a band whose namesake is none other than Frank Booth – Hopper’s notorious character from Blue Velvet. Though I did not christen Frank Booth’s Car I immediately locked onto the menacing image of Hopper’s portrayal of a sociopath. As we like to say in Frank Booth’s Car we play fast, hard, loose and dangerous. We like the idea of how bad ass Frank was and the mythical qualities of his ever present Dodge Charger. Ironically, Dennis Hopper died only a couple of hours after Frank Booth’s Car left the stage last Friday evening.

From Rebel Without a Cause to Easy Rider, Apocalypse Now, Blue Velvet and True Romance Dennis Hopper’s artistic vision and legacy was for better or worse, very human and very American. He portrayed the good and evil that is within all of us with skill and artistry that made him truly unique. He was one of kind – the likes of whom will not be seen again. You will be missed.

Wanna go for a ride?

Read more about Dennis Hopper at IMDB http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000454/


[1] http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Guardian/Pix/pictures/2010/1/8/1262934875691/Actor-Dennis-Hopper-in-20-002.jpg

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3 Responses to “Dennis Hopper – An Appreciation”

  1. skyeguy Says:

    He was dead before he hit the ground.

  2. Emerita Rueb Says:

    This has been a good read whilst I waited on the flick being ready. Fantastic blog post.

  3. Mark Vice Says:

    Great post!

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