Dennis Hopper

June 1, 2010

All Posts, Obituaries

Dennis Hopper, without whom there would never have been an Easy Rider, died May 29th in Venice, California. Hopper co-wrote, co-starred in and directed the film.

Easy Rider is, all at once, one of the worst films ever made and one of the most iconic movies ever. It gave a name to the first, real biker magazine. And, it is very fondly remembered by a whole generation of aging bikers – at least until the day each of them sits down to watch the DVD with his fifteen-year-old son.

Easy Rider

When it was written, Easy Rider was meant to be just another biker film. Hopper and Peter Fonda took their script to American International Pictures which was the low-budget production company that made more biker movies than anybody in the 60s. American International turned them down. So they took the script to Columbia. Columbia let them make the film but with such a limited budget that the shooting schedule was rushed and they had no money for a musical score.

The happy result of that was many scenes, as Vincent Canby described them, of men on motorcycles, moving in “isolation, against the magnificent Southwestern landscapes of beige and green and pale blue. They roll down macadam highways that look like black velvet ribbons, under skies of incredible purity, and the soundtrack rocks with oddly counterpointed emotions of Steppenwolf, the Byrds, the Electric Prunes – dark and smoky cries for liberation.”

Easy Rider was a very important movie the summer it was new. Hopper won an award for directing it at the Cannes Film Festival. Jack Nicholson won an award for best supporting actor from the New York Film Critics Circle. It was advertised as: “A man went looking for America. And couldn’t find it anywhere.”

Good And Bad Hippies

The film is the culmination of two decades, the 1950s and the 1960s, when the worst thing to be in America was a “conformist.” It is an artifact from a moment when the most admirable and morally superior subculture was called “Hippie.” And, in July 1969, when the film debuted, bikers were widely considered to be a kind of hippie.

It was still playing in theaters a month later as both the Manson murders and Woodstock unfolded. It was no longer in distribution four months after that when the free concert at the Altamont Speedway became something other than a total love fest. By the end of 1970 two kinds of hippies had cytokinesed in the American imagination. There were good hippies and bad hippies and the Manson family and bikers were how bad hippies looked.

What The Hell Is Easy Rider About

The film tells the unlikely story of two bikers named Wyatt and Billy who score two kilos of cocaine in the Andes, sell it to Phil Spector at the end of a runway in Los Angeles and then, for some reason, decide to smuggle the money in their gas tanks to New Orleans. Maybe they just don’t trust banks. Along the way they meet an interesting hippie who takes them to his commune, gets them laid and gives them a tab of acid that is so potent that they must promise to consume it only if they first split it four ways.

After practically begging to get arrested by disrupting a patriotic parade they meet a stupid and drunken lawyer named George Hanson who tags along with them. In the finished film Hanson is played by Jack Nicholson but he was not the first actor in that role. The part originally went to Rip Torn but according to Hopper, Torn was fired after he and Hopper got into a knife fight on the set. Torn later stated that he never had a knife.

Eventually Wyatt and Billy make it to New Orleans, go to a whorehouse and split the tab of acid with two whores in a cemetery. It sounds like it could be fun but the acid trip is portrayed in such a way as to suggest that maybe Wyatt and Billy should have split that tab of acid eight ways.

Then Wyatt and Billy are murdered by Rednecks, not because they are bikers but because they are hippies with long hair.

And So On

In 1998 the prestigious American Film Institute named Easy Rider one of the one hundred greatest American movies ever. And, that may say more about the American Film Institute than it does about American film.

Dennis Hopper was a bright, artistic and interesting man who lived an interesting life. (See photo above.)

His friends included Vincent Price, James Dean, Elvis Presley, John Wayne, Jack Nicholson and Peter Fonda. His romantic conquests included Nathalie Wood and Michelle Phillips. He once described one of his days as “A half gallon of rum washed down with a quart of rum, 28 beers and three grams of cocaine.” He once tried to blow himself up by climbing into a coffin with 17 lit sticks of dynamite. He survived all that.

He died of cancer. He was 74. It was his time.

Requiescat In Pace

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15 Responses to “Dennis Hopper”

  1. Alias Says:

    I ran around with Dennis some in Taos. He was what he was

  2. grd22 Says:

    he was around for a very long time on bonanza and so many 60’s westerns,john wayne movies etc; thanks to dennis for years of enjoying him as a actor,they broke the mold when they made him,rest in peace dennis hopper.

  3. Midknight Says:

    I can’t help but wonder how many cross country motorcycle trips were inspired by the movie Easy Rider. That seemed to be the perfect role for Dennis Hopper.I never knew him personally but from what I have read from his friends experiences with him he was definitely one of a kind. If I’m not mistaken the mug shot was from a jail in New Mexico where he, after winning numerous hits of LSD in a poker game went on a bad [apparently] trip and pulled his pistol from his boot and started firing away at whatever creatures were after him. Willie Nelson happened to be on his way to Las Vegas[car not tour bus] and heard of the incident and bailed him out of jail and took him to Vegas with him. Interesting character !

  4. EL Jefe Says:

    I loved him as Johnny Zero in Hell Ride…. “Nobody said nuthin ’bout pissin on my boots!”
    >>LOL best scene in the movie..

    Dennis Hopper as the basketball-loving town drunkard, a performance that brought Hopper an Oscar nomination.

    RIP DH

  5. Possible Fucktard Says:

    Dennis Hopper was fortunate to fall into Hollywood culture where his creative weirdness and huge habits were accepted and rewarded. Society punishes most for such behavior. Only the highest and lowest ends of the bell shaped curve get away with it for long. As for the movie – has anybody ever been pleased with the media portrayal of their own kind? Easy Rider came out at a time when the societal pendulum was swinging away from the conformist paradigm of the 1950’s and an emergent counterculture was still defining itself. It never quite did and it didn’t get very far but the seeds were planted that we see today from environmentalism, feminism, civil rights for previously excluded groups, widespread drug use, relaxed sexual standards, and mainstream awareness – and imitation – of hardcore biker culture. You can see any of this as good or bad. At the same time certain governmental, corporate, and religous and cultural interests that feel threatened by all this have made a major push to get that pendelum moving back the other way but the genie is out of the bottle. A little freedom is a dangerous thing. While flower power withered on the stalk it did leave behind those seeds I mentioned. The bikers had a more clearly defined and durable subculture and are still around in a modern version but – from following the legal battles on this forum – have become a high value target for govenment repression. What we used to call “the establishment” feels entitled to weed out those it considers undesirable. Easy Rider was a low budget flick to make money but the talented individuals involved managed to create a powerful portrayal of what certain bikers, hippies, and violent rednecks were up to at the time. I was in school and we discussed the movie in class. The teacher remimded us that it wasn’t realistic. Several hands went up – my brother rides in a club, mine lives in a commune, I’m chopping an old Harley and hitting the road this summer. After class we nipped off to puff a joint. It seemed pretty real to us. Thanks for letting me barge into your forum even though I may be a fucktard.

  6. SKREEECH Says:

    I liked most of the stuff I saw him in. I loved him as Johnny Zero in Hell Ride…. “Nobody said nuthin ’bout pissin on my boots!”


  7. PoorBoy 1%er Says:

    Dennis Hopper was an entertaining individual, even if the entertainment value was just to see what he would do next. As for “Easy Rider” the movie, I always kind of saw that as the beginning of the end. Before that movie came out when you saw a chopper rolling down the street it said something. There wern’t any big companies making custom parts for motorcycles back then. If you saw a beautiful chopper it was because the man riding it made it that way. After that movie came out every lame on a honda had high handlebars, the baffles taken out of his mufflers and the sleves hacked off his Levi jacket. Oh well I guess times change. You can either roll with it or stay pissed off. But there was a time…………

    RIP Dennis

  8. Grumbler Says:

    Saw Easy Rider in San Francisco when it first debuted. Recall reading a newspaper article in which the manager of that cinema, after selling out show after show, proclaimed that it’d be playing until the turn of the century.

    To me, the movie was more about the flashy choppers, majestic scenery, and rock music as opposed to the characters and the plot. Hopper annoyed the hell out of me as Billy. Nonetheless, it’s an iconic film. Hopper was absolutely terrific in Blue Velvet. RIP Dennis.

  9. Gringo 1%er Says:

    RIP Dennis you pushed the envelope in this world god speed in the next man.

  10. Rebel Says:

    Dear Troyez,

    I don’t see bikers as hippies either, but I am talking about a particular set of popular perceptions. I did not just make it up. If you have time to kill sometime, see “The Hippie Mystique,” New York Times, December 15, 1969. I think a lot of preconceptions about and prejudices against bikers today are a carryover from hippie stereotypes in the late 60s.

    Or, maybe I am just flat out wrong.

    your pal,

  11. RVN69 Says:

    Don’t care much for most celebrities, too many get famous just for being, but at least Dennis Hopper lived his life on his terms. You either took him as he was or not but he wouldn’t change to be liked. Gotta respect that. RIP Dennis.

    Respect to all that have earned it.
    Si vis Pacem, Para Bellum.

  12. troyez Says:

    I’ll never see bikers as hippies (more like Vikings or Huns); remember what Sonny Barger and friends did to the hippies at that anti-war protest in Berkeley (late 60s)? Afterward, they even sent a letter to the president, offering their services in Vietnam! Never heard of a hippie doing that.
    Just my 2 cents.

  13. Damon Says:


    Thank you. Here’s to old D.H.Lawrence.


  14. C8652 Says:

    DH was a different breed. RIP.


  15. sled tramp Says:

    The King is dead. Long live the Patron Saint of the Deranged.Usually I couldn’t care less about celebrities but THIS was a loss….

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