Dennis Hopper’s Fascinating But Ultimately Tragic Life

Guest Blog: In "Dennis Hopper: The Wild Ride of a Hollywood Rebel," author Peter Winkler paints a portrait of a unique actor and arts lover who tragically died with anger in his heart 

In his new book, "Dennis Hopper: The Wild Ride of a Hollywood Rebel," author Peter Winkler writes that during his childhood Dennis Hopper's love of the arts stemmed from staring at the flat horizon in Kansas.

Hopper's first wife, Brooke Hayward. recalls, "His mother was a nightmare. She talked endlessly. You couldn't stop her." In 2004 CBS reported, "Dennis' mother was wild, very emotional, a screamer and a yeller."

“I had total sexual fantasies about my mother," Hopper said. These fantasies remained fantasies.

"Hopper viewed anything less than unconditional love and total compliance with part of his wishes as a continuous pattern of betrayal by women that began with his conflict with his mother," Winkler writes. "He tended to view women as servile sex objects."

Reporter Brad Darrach said, "To Dennis a woman is either a whore or a madonna or both. He wants you to be a fantasy creature and he leaves you if you try to become real."

In Winkler's book, we have gobs of gossip fresh for the media and it will keep you turning those pages. Such as the time a 16-year-old Natalie Wood, who was playing a juvenile delinquent along with Hopper in "Rebel Without a Cause," wanted to experience an orgy. Wood was a consummate researcher of the sex lives of the stars of Hollywood in its Golden Age.

Winkler writes, “Wood wanted to take a bath in champagne and then move on to the orgy.” Instead she moved on to the emergency room of the closest hospital as the champagne burned her insides. The orgy never happened.

Terry Southern, John Wayne, Karen Black, George Stevens, Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Jack Nicholson and James Dean are a few of those whose lives intersected with Hopper, and with each notable there is a story.

Among the most interesting observations by Winkler are Hopper's first studies of Shakespeare at the Old Vic in San Diego and how a director told him to forget Shakespeare for acting in movies. it was Dean, however, who taught Hopper how to act for film.

To a degree. Winkler glorifies alcoholism by not pointing out how Hopper's being so driven by ego is standard for an alcoholic. In the early '80s Hopper became sober. It took him some time to give up pot, and as he lay dying from prostate cancer, he found comfort in medicinal marijuana.

Before he died he had grown into being a patron of the arts. He had been a collector of Pop art before it had become fashionable. Ed Ruscha, Julian Schnabel, Rauschenberg and, of course, Warhol were some of the artists he collected.

Warhol did Dennis Hopper's portrait, and when Hopper shot bullets holes in his Mao painting, Warhol endorsed it, giving it greater value. A show of Hopper's art work was shown only months after his death on May 29, 2010, at L.A's Geffen Contemporary gallery.

Becoming an artist himself was one way he was able to sublimate his need to write or to direct movies. Hopper's ego sought endless recognition and even as he was dying of cancer, he managed to accept a star from the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce on the Walk of Fame.

Marriages to Brooke Hayward (daughter Marin), to Michelle Phillips for only eight days, to Daria Halprin of "Zabriskie Point" fame (daughter Ruthanna), Katherine La Nasa (son Henry), and  finally Victoria Duffy (daughter Galen) were his romances. He showed violence to several of these women.

Hopper courted and worked the press until his end. Winkler writes, “On Jan. 15, 2010, he told the Huffington Post that he had filed for divorce from his wife of 14 years the previous day. Then Hopper said (in doublespeak) that he wished his wife Victoria the best.”

Some of his films, including "Easy Rider," "Blue Velvet" and "Speed," brought him notoriety and wealth. His awards — from the Cannes Film Festival and Boston Society of Film, among others — brought him respect and fame.

But Dennis Hopper chose to die with anger in his heart battling his fifth wife, Victoria, for material possessions.

Winkler writes, ‘Sadly the bitterness between Dennis and Victoria Hopper didn’t end with his death. A letter from his attorney disinviting her from his funeral reached her just hours before the ceremony commenced.”

How tragic, Dennis Hopper.