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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 4)

When Hopper returned to Los Angeles, he had 37 hours of footage, which he took home to Taos, New Mexico, to edit, much to the studio's dismay. After 16 months, the gray suits from the studio arrived and demanded to see the film. Horrified by what they saw, the studio demanded a recut. Hopper refused. Movie won best film at the Venice Film Festival that year but was only briefly released in the United States and critically reviled. The once-lauded Hopper was now lambasted, unable to get phone calls returned much less get new work.

Hopper freely admits he's had difficulty with the Hollywood power structure but says he only bumped heads over artistic vision, not trailer size or corporate jets.

"I've had a lot of problems through the years on a creative level with people in positions that used their power to stop me from working for many years," he says.

After being run out of Hollywood, the already angry actor returned to Taos and dove into booze and cocaine with a renewed fury. He worked sporadically over the next few years until director and friend Henry Jaglom hired him to star in Tracks in 1976. Hopper gave an inspired performance as a venomous Vietnam vet.

"The only thing Hollywood wanted less than a Vietnam War movie was one with Dennis Hopper in it," Jaglom said in a recent E! Entertainment Television "True Hollywood Story" on Hopper.

A few years later, director Francis Ford Coppola hired him to star opposite Martin Sheen and Marlon Brando in his Vietnam War epic, Apocalypse Now. Pounds of cocaine and gallons of booze fueled Hopper's performance as the crazed manic photojournalist. After the film wrapped, Hopper, a mental and physical wreck, exhausted, with open infected wounds, showed up in Germany to shoot An American Friend under Wim Wenders. "He was lethal, suicidal," Wenders later told the press.

Hopper's behavior went from bad to bizarre. In 1983, a delusional Hopper crouched under a folding chair rigged with dynamite at a Houston racetrack and tried to blow himself up to promote his one-man art show. He was unhurt.

"I was convinced there was a hit out on me," Hopper says. "If they were going to kill me, they would have to do it out in the open."

Months later, during the shooting of a small film called Jungle Fever, Hopper was found crazed, naked and babbling, hiding in a Mexican jungle. He was sent back to Los Angeles and put in a hospital.

After a few visits to psychiatric wards and rehabilitation centers, Hopper finally started to sober up. Steely determination and pure white fear got him through detoxes, shakes and tremors that lasted for many months.

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