Dennis Hopper: A Portrait of the Essence of Cool

Posted by Michael Pinto on Jan 18, 2010 in Cinema |

Dennis Hopper 1971 by Andy Warhol

Above: The painting Dennis Hopper 1971 by Andy Warhol.

hopper-iconIt’s with great sadness that I was just reading that Dennis Hopper is struggling with cancer and may be on the brink of death. Sadly the gossip hounds are focused on his announced divorce — but instead of doing that I’d rather pay tribute to an iconic actor who has dominated so many films with his larger-than-life personality. Although I should add that in addition to be an actor that Hopper is also a gifted photographer — here’s an amazing shot he took in the 60s of Andy Warhol and crew hanging out at the Factory :

Dennis Hopper photograph of Andy Warhol and crew hanging out at the Factory (top left), Jane Fonda fooling around on the beach in Malibu (bottom left), Peggy Moffitt sharing a moment with the art dealer Irving Blum (center) and Rudi Gernreich posing with his models.

Hopper’s interest in art was influenced by his friendship with the actor Vincent Price, and during most of the 60s he was a professional photographer. Here’s an amazing self portrait he took in 1962 of himself standing in front of a porno stand:

self portrait of dennis hopper standing in front of a porno stand circa 1962

Hopper wasn’t just churning out commercial shots during this era, here’s a beautiful cover he created for the 1966 Ike & Tina Turner single River Deep – Mountain High:

River Deep - Mountain High: cover art by  Dennis Hopper

Of course most folks will always see Hopper as a film star, and rightfully so. His first film role was in 1955 in the film Rebel Without a Cause — in this still he’s the second on the left:

Dennis Hopper in Rebel Without a Cause

During most of the 60s Hopper had supporting roles. This is a photo of him while he was working on the film Cool Hand Luke in 1967:

Dennis Hopper on the set of the film Cool Hand Luke from 1967

Of course his big break came in 1969 with the classic film Easy Rider which he shared the screen with Peter Fonda:

Dennis Hopper and Peter Fonda

One of my favorite Hopper roles is the 1979 film Apocalypse Now. I love the fact hat he’s playing a mad photographer caught up in a crazy jungle in this film which mirrors his real life in Hollywood if you think about it:

Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now

Even though he was based out of Hollywood I always liked the fact that before it was fashionable to do indie film that Hopper would be out there taking chances. Here he is one the left in the David Lynch 1986 film Blue Velvet which was shot on a budget $6 million:

Blue Velvet: Dennis Hopper, Isabella Rossellini and Kyle Maclachlan

What I love about Hopper is that even in a bad film he can own the screen. Waterworld from 1995 was a complete disaster of a film (think a bad Mad Max but in the water) yet Hopper’s performance is worth watching as you’ll find yourself glued to his character:


In fact not only could Hopper dominate a bad high budget film — but he could even make a sell out commercial for retirement savings accounts seem to be cooler than anything else in the universe. Here’s a shot of him from a recent Ameriprise advertisement:

Dennis Hopper in an Ameriprise ad

Think about it: This man is over 70 years old — yet he embodies a wandering youthful spirit after all of these years.

Dennis Hopper

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