After a long bout with prostate cancer, iconic American actor Dennis Hopper passed away on Saturday, May 29, 2010 at the age of 74 at his home in Venice Beach, California surrounded by friends and family. Hopper, best known for his roles in Apocalypse Now and the counter-culture classic Easy Rider, had a career that spanned more than 50 years in film and television dating back to such classics as 1955’s Rebel Without a Cause, 1956’s Giant and one of my personal favorites, 1967’s Cool Hand Luke. What made Hopper so unique in my opinion was the incredible amount of diversity in his roles and his ability consume each character as if the roles were written for him. Whether playing the drug-dealing outlaw biker Billy in Easy Rider (the landmark film that Hopper directed, starred and wrote which earned him a Best Writer Oscar nomination in 1970) or the basketball-loving town drunk Shooter in Hoosiers, (the role that earned him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination in 1987 and his only Oscar nomination for acting) or the psychopathic Balkan warlord, Victor Drazen on the first season of 24 or Colonel Eli McNulty on the short-lived Jerry Bruckheimer Special Ops Thriller series E-Ring on NBC from 2005 – 2006, there simply wasn’t a role that Hopper could not play.
Hopper was perhaps the world’s greatest character actor who just happened to be a superstar. I’m reminded of just how good Hopper was when I think of his performance in my favorite role of his, that of retired cop Clifford Worley, father to perpetual loser with-a-heart-of-gold, Clarence Worley (Christian Slater) in True Romance. In this 1993 cult-classic directed by Tony Scott and written by Quentin Tarantino, Hopper took what was in essence a cameo role and made it into the most memorable role in the film and single-handedly manufactured the most brilliant scene of the film. Every time I see this film I have to ask myself if Tarantino wrote this scene specifically with Hopper in mind because no one could have handled the scene between Clifford Worley and Vincenzo Coccotti (Christopher Walken) as masterfully as Hopper and I wonder if Tarantino knew that this little ten-minute scene was going upstage every other performance in what was one of the best films of the decade. Honestly, you almost forget how good this movie is overall because of the famous “interrogation” scene with Walken and Hopper.
Dennis Hopper was a legend who indelibly left his mark on film and screen and I feel blessed that I had the pleasure of experiencing his genius within my lifetime. Hopper left behind four children, including a seven year-old daughter named Galen, and two grandchildren, Violet Goldstone and Ella Brill.
For more information about the life and career of Dennis Hopper, visit IMDb.