Without a doubt, one of the greatest American actors and artists of all time was Dennis Hopper. But not only was he famous for his talent but also his antics, his attitude, and his daily routine – which were often a detriment to his health.
While he was famous for his film Easy Rider, Dennis Hopper had a wild ride through life and wasn’t afraid to take risks and live on the edge. He was one of the bad boys of the counterculture movement and he remains an icon of the New Hollywood and American independent cinema even today.
Without question, the Life and Times of Dennis Hopper is a great biopic that we’ve been waiting to explore. Buckle up, ‘cause you’re in for a wild ride…
Join FactsVerse to learn about Dennis Hopper’s life and career, and how his daily routine was dangerous to his health…
DENNIS HOPPER’S EARLY LIFE AND CAREER
Dennis Lee Hopper was born on the 17th of May, 1936, in Dodge City, Kansas. He was one of three sons born to Marjorie and James. He was of Scottish descent but was an all-American kid who would represent the wildness that America is known for.
Following the end of the Second World War, the Hopper family got out of Dodge and moved to Kansas City, Missouri. As a young boy, Dennis took an interest in the arts and in addition to his schooling, he attended art classes at the Kansas City Art Institute over the weekends.
He eventually studied at Helix High School and was active in the drama club. He excelled at acting and knew that he wanted to pursue an acting career. His classmates voted him to be the most likely to succeed in life and it seemed that they predicted the future.
Upon graduating from high school, he decided to study acting at a variety of prestigious schools including The Actor’s Studio. He began performing in plays and was particularly moved by Shakespeare. Despite the fact that he gained a reputation for playing counterculture characters he actually was trained in classic theatre.
It wasn’t long until he decided to pursue a career in cinema.
His debut roles were in two James Dean films – which was a great start to his career as he was a huge fan of the young star. He had a role in Rebel Without A Cause and Giant. A couple years later, he was deeply saddened and traumatized by James Dean’s death.
Dennis Hopper acted in the film From Hell to Texas and was having a hard time on set. The director, Henry Hathaway, asked him to try out a scene several times again and again and again and again!
Dennis Hopper ended up doing 80 takes of a single scene and lost his temper at the director.
It was then when Henry Hathaway told the still novice Dennis Hopper that his career was finished…
LOOKING FOR ADVENTURE
It seemed that Henry Hathaway was right. Because of his attitude on the set of From Hell to Texas, Dennis Hopper didn’t make another Hollywood film for almost a decade.
In fact, he even earned the nickname “Dennis the Menace” because of his bad boy reputation.
It seemed that he was truly finished.
He simply didn’t have the diplomacy that was demanded of an actor working during the Golden Age of Hollywood.
But he also entered the industry at the right time and this would make all the difference.
While the 50s got off to a great start before going downhill for Dennis, the 60s was offering something new. The 1960s was a decade of profound social, political, and cultural changes throughout America and the entire Western World.
American cinema was also changing. It wasn’t afraid to show the darker sides of life. It wasn’t afraid to be counterculture and not always classy and subdued. And while studios still ruled, there was a new generation of independent artists who were coming into the fray.
John Wayne had recommended that Dennis Hopper appear alongside him in a new Western film called The Sons of Katie Elder. This was also directed by Henry Hathaway yet The Duke had spoken and Dennis Hopper’s career had been revived.
But Dennis Hopper also knew that he couldn’t solely depend on major actors offering him a helping hand. He needed to create his own work. He was back to work but he was trailing along. He wanted more.
After all, he was looking for adventure…
BORN TO BE WILD
The summer of ’69 is a theme often discussed in retrospectives of that unique decade. Among the many great things that came out from the summer of 69 was the release of a film called Easy Rider.
Easy Rider was written by Peter Fonda, Terry Southern, and Dennis Hopper. Dennis Hopper also directed the film and was one of the main cast members of the film alongside Peter Fonda and a then, undiscovered Jack Nicholson.
The film follows three friends as they ride motorcycles across America. The film remains one of the quintessential American road movies and is still considered a cult classic today.
This film solidified Dennis Hopper’s career as a counterculture actor but also a writer and director. He also had another major film being released that same year – True Grit and only two years prior, he appeared alongside Paul Newman in the hit film Cool Hand Luke.
Dennis Hopper would, from then on, always have one foot in Hollywood and another foot out. He was part of the mainstream and also walked on the edge with his rebellious films that went against what the establishment wanted.
Whether you’re a fan of mainstream films like Speed or independent films like Blue Velvet, you’ve likely witnessed the genius of Dennis Hopper.
After that, he never struggled to work again…
DENNIS HOPPER’S CAREER
A mention should be made of some of Dennis Hopper’s other great career achievements.
One of his most well-known roles in the 70s was a small but unforgettable role. This was as a photojournalist in Apocalypse Now. He interacts with Martin Sheen’s character and discusses the wildness of Colonel Kurz played by Marlon Brando. This remains one of his best-known performances.
In 1980, he acted and directed a Canadian film called Out of the Blue which is lauded as one of his greatest achievements. Toward the end of the decade he was once again praised for directing the police drama film Colors which starred Robert Duvall and Sean Penn.
Two other great performances that he gave in the 1980s were in the films Rumble Fish directed by Francis Ford Coppola and The Osterman Weekend directed by Sam Peckinpah. But perhaps the masterpiece that allowed Dennis Hopper to showcase his full acting ability was when he played the evil Frank Booth in David Lynch’s film Blue Velvet.
In this film, his character was menacing and even the simplest sentences could cause the audience to shudder. It’s in this film where he says one of the most vulgar, haunting, yet oft-repeated lines in American film history – we’ll let you watch the film to figure out what we’re talking about!
His acting career continued till his death and perhaps his other best-known role was as the villain in the Keanu Reeves thriller film, Speed. He also had an extensive career on television and appeared in shows such as Gunsmoke, Bonanza, The Barbara Stanwyck Show, The Legend of Jesse James, The Big Valley, Combat!, and Fishing with John Lurie.
He also had an prominent career as a photographer and as an artist. Most notably he took portraits of famous artists from Andy Warhol to The Byrds. He also designed the cover art for an album by Ike and Tina Turner.
DENNIS HOPPER’S DAILY ROUTINE WAS DANGEROUS TO HIS HEALTH
Dennis Hopper lived well into his 70s yet looking back one wonders how he managed to make it that far.
He was someone who liked to live life to the fullest – which often meant living life on the edge. He often took drugs such as cocaine and speedballs and wasn’t afraid to indulge in a drink or two or several.
There were even times when he seemed to be out of his senses and acted out of character.
Nevertheless, perhaps his zest for life and his incredible work ethic is what helped him live so long. He sadly succumbed to prostate cancer and died due to complications from the illness in 2010.
Upon his death, he had broken up with his wife and had a bad falling out with her. She tried to declare that he was mentally incompetent when it came to dividing his assets. Dennis Hopper’s son Gallen got around 40% of his estate.
His antics often made him famous and notorious. But Dennis Hopper, thankfully, was also remembered for being a great artist. He was a renaissance man and was arguably one of the most talented artists of his generation.
He will truly be missed…
So, now let’s hear from you:
Are you a fan of Dennis Hopper’s? Did you know about his daily routine and how this affected his health?
In fact, here’s what we want to know from you:
Do you think that there is a contemporary actor who has the same bad-boy image as Dennis Hopper?
Or was he truly an “easy rider” who absolutely can’t be replaced?