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Dennis Hopper, R.I.P.

By admin Published: June 1, 2010

The actor/director/art collector, who passed away recently, certainly has a place in pop culture for his involvement in "Easy Rider." And he gave some fine performances here and there, with "Hoosiers" leaping first to mind. But let's not oversentimentalize him ...

While the recent Hopper has appeared to be a sober and somber sort, don't forget his wild, earlier years, so well described in Peter Biskind's "Easy Riders, Raging Bulls." For a long time he was caught up in drugs and booze, and damaging others besides himself. He tried to hog all the credit for "Easy Rider." He feuded with Peter Fonda while making the movie. He reportedly hit more than one woman, including his then-wife, Brooke Hayward, who was skeptical about "Easy Rider's" chances. As Fonda says in Biskind's book, "My wife put the movie down, too, but I didn't break her nose."

And if you want to talk about cultural influence, here's a chilling, if highly exaggerated, comment from Hopper: "The cocaine problem in the United States is really because of me. There was no cocaine before 'Easy Rider' on the street. After 'Easy Rider' it was everywhere."

Besides all that, "Easy Rider" is not a good movie, separated from its biker-flick roots by some self-consciously arty direction and an attitude which was certain to appeal to young people envisioning themselvres as victims of cultural oppression. (And I saw this having watched it in a theater when it was new, and more recently on Blu-ray.) Even then, as Buck Henry says in Biskind, "it looks like a couple of hundred outtakes frm several other films all strung together with the soundtrack of the best of the '60s."

Now, plenty of actors and other celebrities have had their dark sides, and how much we forgive that depends on how well we separate the artist from the art.
And even that depends on how much we value the art. If nothing else, I value Hopper's performance in "Hoosiers."


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