Dennis Hopper, an unmistakable if at times barely-there Hollywood figure for more than five decades, died early today in his Venice, Calif. home following a bout with prostate cancer, MSNBC reports. He was 74.
Hopper became best known over the years for his exuberant, manic performances in movies like Apocalypse Now, Speed and especially Blue Velvet, David Lynch’s sublime nightmare vision of a suburban underground. A New York Times profile in 1994 called him “professionally weird,” his cinematic persona defined by “a particularly imaginative menace.”
But his most revered and influential work was as the co-writer, director and star of Easy Rider, the iconic new-Hollywood treatment of counterculture. The film, a haunted relic, follows a pair of drug dealers who travel from Los Angeles deep into the South, where, it becomes increasingly clear, they aren’t fated to leave.
The movie was followed by years of mainly forgettable projects and intense drug and alcohol abuse into the ’80s, when a series of incidents led Hopper into professional treatment. Blue Velvet is most credited with bringing his career back to relative stability in 1983. He had been prolific ever since, though sometimes well below the mainstream radar; his most recent star turn was in the Starz TV version of Crash.
Hopper’s personal life was always kind to tabloids, as his abrupt divorce from his fifth wife after his cancer diagnosis demonstrated. It was dubbed the “deathbed divorce.” By his death, though, his personal theatrics had bled into his celebrity, and he ultimately became the kind of enduring Hollywood icon whose myth is inseparable from the man himself.