The Essential Dennis Hopper
June 18, 2010
By Chris Nashawaty
Photographs by Mary Ellen Mark

Dennis Hopper was always a fighter. During the first half of his long, strange trip of a career, he was an angry young man in the mold of his idol, James Dean, defiantly warring against old-guard studios and onscreen artifice. In the second half, he clawed his way back into Hollywood's good graces after burning bridges with his substance abuse and mad Method intensity. But neither of those battles compared to the actor's final, valiant fight against prostate cancer‑a fight he lost on May 29 at age 74.


“There are moments that I’[ve had some real brilliance, you know.  But I think they are moments.  And sometimes, in a career, moments are enough.” –Dennis Hopper

Hopper will be remembered as a wild man and a merry prankster, an intense presence in front of the camera and a revolutionary figure behind it. After all, it was his directorial debut, 1969's Easy Rider, that single-handedly ushered in a new generation of hip rebel filmmakers. As with all great highs, though, Hopper's triumph led to a fall. Despite his flashes of brilliance in films like Apocalypse Now, the '70s were a whirlwind of drugs and alcohol. But in the mid-'80s came recovery, repentance, and ultimately respectability, as the actor discovered sobriety and, with Blue Velvet and Hoosiers, turned in two of the best performances of his‑or anyone's‑career.

Back on top, Hopper seemed to enjoy acting in a way that only a man who took it for granted the first time around could. He remained a welcome sight‑never boring, always honest. He was a true American original. A fighter until the last flickering frame.