Easy Rider director had roots in East County
by Christopher Mohr
June 1, 2010 (La Mesa)-- Dennis Hopper, who won critical acclaim as director of the movie Easy Rider and as a supporting actor in Hoosiers, died Saturday (May 29) after losing a battle with prostate cancer at his home in Los Angeles. He was 74.
Born May 17, 1936 in Dodge City, Kansas, Hopper moved to Lemon Grove when he was 13. He attended Helix High School and was among the school's first class of graduates in 1954. In his youth he showed a love for acting and theater that led to a career spanning six decades.
He was extensively involved in theater in one way or another, with the La Jolla Playhouse, San Diego Junior Theatre or even in a non-acting capacity while pulling the curtain at the Old Globe Theater.
Hopper did not hang around long in East County after high school graduation. His first significant film role in came while working with James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause in 1955. Hopper was also with Dean in the movie Giant. Both movies were released after Dean's death from a car accident in September 1955.
Dean was a big influence on Hopper's early career: "Jimmy was the most talented and original actor I ever saw work. He was also a guerrilla artist who attacked all restrictions on his sensibility. Once he pulled a switchblade and threatened to murder his director. I imitated his style in art and in life. It got me in a lot of trouble," Hopper said about Dean.
Trouble became a way of life with Hopper to the point of hurting his career. He had numerous conflicts with director Henry Hathaway while filming From Hell to Texas in 1958. One scene in that film required more than 80 takes. As a result, Hathaway told Hopper he would never work in Hollywood again.
In 1959, Hopper moved to New York City to learn method acting from Lee Strasburg for about five years. His appearance in the 1965 film, The Sons of Katie Elder, marked the end of his exile from Hollywood.
Four years later Hopper directed Easy Rider, a film that might best be described his life's best work. The show stood out for its portrayal of 1960s counterculture, editing techniques and using previously released music tracks.
Many of the scenes in the film were not scripted and the scene in the coffee shop in Louisiana used local residents. The film cost about $400,000 to make, but brought in $60 million. It won a First Film Award at the 1969 Cannes Film Festival and received an Academy Award nomination.
He continued his career with as a photojournalist in Apocalypse Now, an alcoholic assitant basketball coach in Hoosiers and a cop-turned-villain in Speed. In the mid 1990s, he went corporate with his portrayal of a football official gone crazy in numerous Nike ads.
In October 2009, Hopper's manager announced that the star had advanced prostate cancer. In January 2010, the cancer had metastasized to Hopper's bones, giving him only months to live. He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in late March. He recently published a book of photography and played Ben Cendars in the television series, Crash.
Funeral services have not yet been publicly announced.