May 29, 2010

Actor Dennis Hopper dies at 74

Associated Press
 
Lionel Cironneau photo

FILE - In a Wednesday, May 14, 2008 photo, Dennis Hopper, son Henry Hopper and wife Victoria Duffy-Hopper arrive to the opening night ceremony and premiere of the film “Blindness” during the 61st International film festival in Cannes. Dennis Hopper, the high-flying Hollywood actor-director whose memorable career included the 1969 smash “Easy Rider,” died Saturday, May 29, 2010 at his Venice, Calif. home, surrounded by family and friends. He was 74.
(Full-size photo)

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Dennis Hopper, the high-flying Hollywood wild man whose memorable and erratic career included an early turn in “Rebel Without a Cause,” an improbable smash with “Easy Rider” and a classic character role in “Blue Velvet,” has died. He was 74.

Hopper died Saturday at his Venice home, surrounded by family and friends, family friend Alex Hitz said. Hopper’s manager announced in October 2009 that he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer.

The success of “Easy Rider,” and the spectacular failure of his next film, “The Last Movie,” fit the pattern for the talented but sometimes uncontrollable actor-director, who also had parts in such favorites as “Apocalypse Now” and “Hoosiers.” He was a two-time Academy Award nominee, and in March 2010, was honored with a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.

After a promising start that included roles in two James Dean films, Hopper’s acting career had languished as he developed a reputation for throwing tantrums and abusing alcohol and drugs. On the set of “True Grit,” Hopper so angered John Wayne that the star reportedly chased Hopper with a loaded gun.

He also married five times and led a dramatic life right to the end. In January 2010, Hopper filed to end his 14-year marriage to Victoria Hopper, who stated in court filings that the actor was seeking to cut her out of her inheritance, a claim Hopper denied.

“Much of Hollywood,” wrote critic-historian David Thomson, “found Hopper a pain in the neck.”

All was forgiven, at least for a moment, when he collaborated with another struggling actor, Peter Fonda, on a script about two pot-smoking, drug-dealing hippies on a motorcycle trip through the Southwest and South to take in the New Orleans Mardi Gras.

On the way, Hopper and Fonda befriend a drunken young lawyer (Jack Nicholson, whom Hopper had resisted casting, in a breakout role), but arouse the enmity of Southern rednecks and are murdered before they can return home.

“‘Easy Rider’ was never a motorcycle movie to me,” Hopper said in 2009. “A lot of it was about politically what was going on in the country.”

Fonda produced “Easy Rider” and Hopper directed it for a meager $380,000. It went on to gross $40 million worldwide, a substantial sum for its time. The film caught on despite tension between Hopper and Fonda and between Hopper and the original choice for Nicholson’s part, Rip Torn, who quit after a bitter argument with the director.

Hopper was married and divorced several times.

His first wife was Brooke Hayward, the daughter of actress Margaret Sullavan and agent Leland Hayward, and author of the best-selling memoir “Haywire.” They had a daughter, Marin, before Hopper’s drug-induced violence led to divorce after eight years.

His second marriage, to singer-actress Michelle Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas, lasted only eight days.

A union with actress Daria Halprin also ended in divorce after they had a daughter, Ruthana. Hopper and his fourth wife, dancer Katherine LaNasa, had a son, Henry, before divorcing.

He married his fifth wife, Victoria Duffy, who was 32 years his junior, in 1996, and they had a daughter, Galen Grier.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.

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