Remembering the troubled actor Dennis Hopper, 10 years after his death

Dennis Hopper was probably one of the most underrated actors of his time. Hopper’s career was littered with an equal amount of failures and successes, all which kept him relevant for nearly 60 years. He died 10 years ago Friday at age 74.
Dennis Hopper was probably one of the most underrated actors of his time. Hopper’s career was littered with an equal amount of failures and successes, all which kept him relevant for nearly 60 years. He died 10 years ago Friday at age 74.

In real life, Dennis Hopper could be very much the bad guy he portrayed on camera.

As a younger man, he was a notorious drug addict, according to Rolling Stone magazine.

Explore» PHOTOS: Dennis Hopper, 1936–2010

He had a long history of failed relationships and was married five times throughout his life.

He started showing up in movies in the mid-1950s. Early in his acting career, there was bad blood between him and the Hollywood front office, which forced Hopper to take a break for awhile, being labeled difficult to work with.

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Hopper once reportedly pulled a knife on late actor Rip Torn and then was ordered to pay $475,000 in damages for initially accusing Torn of committing the act.

Maybe it was because of all the real-life drama that Hopper was so appreciated as a bad-ass on screen.

In the 1970s, he was known for playing the troubled, disaffected man, which typecast him, but also played to his strengths as an actor.

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Once called everybody’s favorite villain, Hopper still has fans today who will ask if you’ve seen him in a particular favorite or another.

Plus, Hopper started out his career hanging out with the Hollywood icon James Dean, who died young — which imparted to Hopper some kind of cult-legendary status of his own.

The actor always seemed to seamlessly follow up any professional or personal setback with a celebrated and unexpected revival.

He never really had that one breakaway hit, and except for one or two films he was never really known as a leading man; but if Dennis Hopper’s name was on the marquee, moviegoers knew they were in for a treat.

Underrated actor

Probably one of the most underrated actors of his generation, Hopper had an equal amount of failures and successes in his career, all which kept him relevant for nearly 60 years.

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He died 10 years ago Friday at age 74.

Hopper won numerous awards for his roles but never an Oscar.

He also directed films and was an acclaimed photographer.

Early career

One of Hopper’s earliest credits is an episode of the “Twilight Zone” titled “He’s Alive.” His character was described by the episode’s narrator as “a sparse little man who feeds off his own self delusions.”

He made his first screen appearance alongside Dean “Rebel Without a Cause” in 1955 and then became a bigger star in the 1956 movie “Giant.”

By the early to mid-1960s, Hopper gained a reputation in the Hollywood for his abrasive personality. A confrontation with veteran director Henry Hathaway on the film From Hell to Texas led to him not being able to find work in Hollywood for more than seven years. It was during this period that Hopper turned to photography.

He was good friends with John Wayne, who helped pave the way for Hopper’s return to the big screen.

His big comeback came in 1969 with the release of the hugely popular counterculture classic “Easy Rider,” which he co-wrote and directed, and starred in with Peter Fonda and Jack Nicholson.

The film stands out amid dozens of other easily forgotten, low-budget movie titles with his name attached.

Everybody’s favorite villain

Later in his career, Hopper saw a resurgence as a good villain.

One role that stands out is the 1994 film “Speed,” in which he plays the extortionist bomber Howard Payne, who makes life miserable for co-stars Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock.

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Other must-see titles in the actor’s filmography include “Blue Velvet,” “Apocalypse Now,” “Waterworld” and “Hoosiers,” in which he was nominated for an Academy Award for best supporting actor.

He even had an extensive television career and can be found on YouTube in old episodes of “Gunsmoke,” “Bonanza,” “Petticoat Junction” and “The Twilight Zone,” plus numerous other more modern titles, including “24.”

Staying relevant

Forty years into his career, Hopper found new ways to remain relevant. In the early 1990s, he teamed up with Nike for a series of hilarious television commercials in which he appeared as a deranged NFL referee who stalks his favorite players.

Early life and death

He was born May 17, 1936, in Dodge City, Kansas. He had two brothers, Marvin and David. He was voted most likely to succeed at Helix High School, where he was a member of the drama club.

He attended the Actors Studio in the Hell's Kitchen neighborhood of Manhattan in New York City, where he studied for five years.

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At the time, the drama school was known for its developments in the teaching of method acting.

Hopper died May 29, 2010, in Los Angeles, 12 days after his 74th birthday. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2009. A couple months before his death, he was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

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