Dennis Hopper was born on May 17, 1936, in Dodge City, Kansas. The young Hopper first appeared in a slew of 1950s television shows, including ‘Medic’ (1954) with Richard Boone and ‘Cheyanne’ (1955) with Clint Walker. His first film role was in the western ‘Johnny Guitar’ (1954), which was quickly followed by roles in ‘Rebel Without A Cause’ (1955), ‘Giant’ (1956) and ‘Gunfight At The OK Corral’ (1957). Hopper became good friends with James Dean and was devastated when Dean was killed in a car crash in September, 1955. He regularly appeared on screen throughout the 1960s, often in rather undemanding parts as a villain in westerns such as ‘True Grit’ (1969) and ‘Hang ‘Em High’ (1968). Then in early 1969, Hopper, fellow actor Peter Fonda and writer Terry Southern, wrote a counterculture road movie script and managed to scrape together $400,000 in financial backing, the film was called “Easy Rider’. Hopper directed the low-budget film which starred Fonda, Hopper and a young Jack Nicholson. The film was a phenomenal box-office success, appealing to the anti-establishment youth culture of the times. It changed the Hollywood landscape almost overnight and major studios all jumped onto the anti-establishment bandwagon, pumping out low-budget films about rebellious hippies, bikers, draft dodgers and pot smokers.
Hopper’s next directorial effort, ‘The Last Movie’ (1971), was a critical and financial failure, and he has admitted that during the 1970s he was seriously abusing various substances, both legal and illegal, which led to a downturn in the quality of his work. He appeared in a sparse collection of European-produced films over the next eight years, before cropping up in a memorable performance as a pot-smoking photographer in the Vietnam War epic ‘Apocalypse Now’ (1979). He also received acclaim for his work in both acting and direction for ‘Out of the Blue’ (1980).
With the recognition from these two movies he made a slow comeback, stealing the limelight in roles in ‘RumbleFish’ (1983) and ‘Rivers Edge’ (1986) before making headlines as the despicable Frank in David Lynch’s ‘Blue Velvet’ (1986). With the support of Sean Penn, Hopper returned to directing with the controversial L.A. gang movie ‘Colors’ (1988) which was well received. He continued to steal movies as an excellent supporting actor in ‘True Romance’ (1993), ‘Speed’ (1994) and ‘Waterworld’ (1986). He was a multi-talented and unconventional actor/director regarded by many as one of the true “enfant terribles” of Hollywood; he managed to work both within and outside the system for more than five decades. As well as his acting/directing talents, Hopper was a skilled photographer and painter, having had his works displayed in galleries in both the US and overseas. Dennis Hopper died a year ago today on May 29th 2010.