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Dennis Hopper: Rennaissance Rebel

Once spurned by Hollywood and nearly destroyed by drugs, Dennis Hopper has resurrected his life and his art.
Elizabeth Snead
From the Print Edition:
Dennis Hopper, Jan/Feb 01

(continued from page 1)

Hopper has been reincarnated from a brash young actor in the '50s, to a rebel hippie filmmaker in the '60s, to a drug-addled industry pariah in the '70s. Hopper hit rock bottom in the mid-'80s, when, crazed from cocaine psychosis, he was found by police, naked and hiding in a Mexican jungle.

His love life has been equally chaotic. Hopper is now happily married to his fifth wife, Victoria Cane Duffy. One marriage to The Mamas and the Papas singer Michelle Phillips in 1970 lasted just eight days. Hopper calls those eight days "a great honeymoon."

On this clear-skied California morning, Hopper looks trim, toned and healthy. Nattily dressed in a well-cut gray suit, his swept-back silver hair and goatee giving him an air of European distinction, Hopper speaks honestly about his recovery. His blue eyes, chilling in his many villainous film roles, are friendly, intelligent and crystal clear.

"I've been sober now for 18 years," Hopper says. "With all the drugs, psychedelics and narcotics I did, I was [really] an alcoholic. Honestly, I only used to do cocaine so I could sober up and drink more. My last five years of drinking was a nightmare. I was drinking a half-gallon of rum with a fifth of rum on the side, in case I ran out, 28 beers a day, and three grams of cocaine just to keep me moving around. And I thought I was doing fine because I wasn't crawling around drunk on the floor."

Hopper has surprised everyone with the resilience of his spirit and the depth of his talent, not to mention the recuperative powers of his flesh.

Best known for writing, directing and acting in Easy Rider, the award-winning seminal '60s film, the actor has amassed an astonishing body of work (more than 120 films) in the past six decades, appearing in Rebel Without a Cause, Giant, Apocalypse Now and Blue Velvet, among others.

Since becoming sober in the '80s, Hopper has slowly carved out an impressive career playing award-winning quirky roles in small, offbeat pictures such as True Romance, River's Edge, Straight to Hell, Paris Trout, Red Rock West and Basquiat.

He's also starred in big-budget Hollywood fare, playing a mad bomber in Jan de Bont's worldwide hit Speed with Keanu Reeves and a demented one-eyed villain opposite Kevin Costner in Waterworld.

Yet, despite his hundreds of memorable roles, it's Hopper's Billy in Easy Rider, riding along life's lonely highway, his buckskin jacket flapping in the wind as he defiantly flips the bird at the establishment, that is forever etched into America's collective subconscious.

In the mid-'60s, Hopper, like many young people, was quickly swept up in the counterculture's revolution; taking part in political protests for free speech and integration. It was sex, and drugs and rock and roll. And more drugs. A lot more drugs.


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