June 7, 2010

How I'll Always Remember Dennis Hopper

A little over a week ago, Dennis Hopper finally succumbed to his battle with cancer. I hadn't really seen the man in any movies or shows for years, so when I saw news footage of his Hollywood Walk of Fame acceptance speech from earlier this year: My. Jaw. Dropped.

Seeing how cancer can ravage the vitality from a person, it was a damned humbling sight. I commiserated Patrick Swayze's death back in September (How I'll Always Remember Patrick Swayze) and saw pictures of his final year or two and was awestruck at how his physique had deteriorated. It's a cruel reality to see with terminal illnesses, and I can hardly fathom how a person feels emotionally compared to physically.

On the other hand, Dennis Hopper--like Patrick Swayze--still showed that spark during his public appearances. Whatever adversity and agony he experienced in his own time didn't show through his face or his words while accepting that spot on the Walk of Fame. It seemed like pure defiance to the cards he'd been dealt, a symbolic fuck-you to cancer, and I gotta admire the heck out of the guy for it.

His death, however, offers that stark reminder that we're not going to see anymore performances from one of the most iconic faces in film. There's a film called Alpha and Omega coming out in the next year or so, in which he is cast, but that's it--and I've no idea about the plot or potential quality of that film. It might not be the kind of film you want to remember him for.

And that's the thing going on right now: People are remembering Dennis Hopper for some of their favorite films in which he starred. There were his first appearances in motion pictures with Rebel Without a Cause (1955) and Giant (1956), alongside James Dean. Then there was his break-out performance with Peter Fonda in Easy Rider (1969). He appeared in Apocalypse Now (1979), Blue Velvet (1986), and played the lead villain in Kevin Costner's debacle, Waterworld (1995).

The guy's resume is absolutely stacked when you look back at what he's done, and he was one of those actors who--either because he wasn't too proud of himself or too hungry for a paying gig--was not opposed to work on an independent film or a proposed blockbuster, or a very campy B-movie. The guy found a way to put his fingerprint on just about every role he played. Whether he worked such a diverse array of movies because he wanted to or because the bills weren't going to pay themselves.

Personally, I'm always going to remember Dennis Hopper for a couple of his roles. First and foremost is the time he played Howard Payne, the maniacal disgruntled ex-cop, against Keanu Reeves in Speed (1994). I loved--LOVED--that movie when it came out. And that is due greatly to how well Hopper played an arrogant and malevolent madman. I mean, hell, that role gave him one of the most iconic one-liners in action movie history: "Pop quiz, hotshot."

And, more dubiously, I'm gonna remember Mr. Hopper for his role in the who-green-lit-this-abortion adaptation of Super Mario Bros.(1993), as none other than King Koopa. I have not seen that movie since it came out, aside from flipping past it when it appeared on cable. To look back at stills of movie now, it is simply surreal to see a movie star of such caliber parading around in a poorly conceived children's movie about a video-game. I don't know how heavily he smoked weed, or if he did at all, but I am convinced he was smoking something when he signed on for that role.

I dunno ... maybe I'll watch Speed or Land of the Dead again this summer. He appeared in a "Twilight Zone" episode called "He's Alive" back in the '60s--never saw it but that'd be fun to watch if it ever aired. How will you remember the legendary Dennis Hopper?


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