From his lonely childhood in Kansas to his drug-fueled days and nights in Hollywood, Dennis Hopper's amazing life was a roller-coaster series of triumphs and failures. Here are five revelations about Hopper that provide a glimpse into his turbulent life and character.
Excerpted from Dennis Hopper: The Wild Ride of a Hollywood Rebel by Peter L. Winkler, published by Barricade Books.
1. Dennis Hopper hated his parents.
After crashing a Hollywood party one evening, Hopper told writer Gwen Davis, "I come from Kansas, which is nowhere. And I hate my parents, who are no one." "When I moved to San Diego, I told my parents I wanted to take acting lessons, and they were horrified at the idea," he later said. "I didn't love either one of them, very honestly. They weren't bad -- like, this isn't a monster story -- but I just felt out of place. They thought I should be a doctor or a lawyer or an engineer, and that being an actor was a life of becoming a bum -- and this was not an acceptable occupation." On the set of Rebel Without a Cause, Hopper told James Dean why he became a actor. "I told him how much I hated my home life, the rules, the regimentation. I told him what a nightmare my home life had been, everybody neurotic because they weren't doing what they wanted to do, and yelling at me when I wanted to be creative, because creative people 'end up in bars.' "
2. Hopper's ménage à trois with jailbait Natalie Wood and 43-year-old Nicholas Ray.
Dennis Hopper received a call from Natalie Wood the day after he made screen tests with her and the other actresses director Nicholas Ray was considering for the role of Judy in Rebel Without a Cause (including Jayne Mansfield, one of Ray's lovers). Though Hopper was a wild child who lost his virginity while in high school, he was unprepared for 16-year-old Natalie Wood. By his own admission, he arrived in Hollywood "with no worldly experience. I was a good actor, but that's about it." "She was really funny," Hopper recalled. "She told me I was great looking, and she really liked me, and she wanted to have sex with me -- which never happened before or since. Natalie said, 'I'd like to fuck you, but I don't do anything. I just lay there.' In the '50s to be aggressive like that as a woman was really amazing. It was an amazing turn-on to me, for one thing." Hopper picked Wood up at the Chateau Marmont hotel, where she spent the afternoon with the 43-year-old Ray, and drove up to a lover's lane to make out. He was about to go down on Natalie when she exclaimed, "Oh, you can't do that." "Why?" Hopper asked. "Because Nick just fucked me," she said.
3. "I didn't handcuff her. I just punched her out!"
When interviewer Ginny Dougary mentioned Michelle Phillips' claim that Hopper used handcuffs to restrain her during their infamous eight-day marriage, he said, "Yeah, first of all, what handcuffs? This is Michelle . . . where did the handcuffs come from? I didn't handcuff her. I just punched her out! [Laughs raucously.] I didn't beat any women up. I mean, I've done nothing beyond anything that they did to me. The point is that no one was ever truly hurt by me. And if there's any physical abuse by me, believe me it was after days of abuse by them [rueful laugh] so it doesn't really . . . I have no . . . kind of feeling of any kind of guilt about that. I wasn't handcuffing them and beating them to death or anything."
4. The co-star of Easy Rider hated motorcycles.
Though Hopper did his own motorcycle riding for Easy Rider, he actually hated motorcycles. He rode them in imitation of James Dean until 1960, when his bike skidded out on an oil patch on Sunset Boulevard, sending him to the hospital for ten days. Convinced that he was an artistic genius, Hopper was eager to court the fine art establishment's acceptance of his painting and photography. He drew a standing-room-only audience at the Guggenheim Museum in July 1998 for "An Evening With Dennis Hopper," where he discussed the making of Easy Rider, part of "The Art of the Motorcycle," the Guggenheim's exhibition of 114 motorcycles that BMW sponsored.
He overcame his aversion to motorcycles and accepted Guggenheim director Thomas Krens' invitation to join the Guggenheim Motorcycle Club, a group of celebrity bikers that included Krens, Lauren Hutton, Jeremy Irons, and Laurence Fishburne, who participated in cross-country rides to publicize openings of "The Art of the Motorcycle" at the Guggenheim museums in Bilbao, Spain and Las Vegas. In the summer of 2008, the 72-year-old Hopper even rode from the Hermitage in St. Petersburg to the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow, a trip that took five days to complete.
5. The "Clean and Sober" Hopper still smoked marijuana.
By the early 80s, Hopper's consumption of alcohol and drugs had reached frightening proportions. "I was doing half a gallon of rum with a fifth of rum on the side, twenty-eight beers and three grams of cocaine a day -- and that wasn't getting high, that was just to keep going, man," he said. After two psychotic episodes and psychiatric hospitalization, he gave up alcohol and cocaine. Celebrating his sobriety, he told interviewers his only vices were coffee and cigars, but he continued secretly smoking marijuana. In 1999, Hopper was arrested at the airport in Calgary, Alberta, Canada for possession of 12 grams of marijuana, but the Canadian judge imposed no penalties on him. In 2005, the British magazine Uncut ran the following tidbit: "Our favourite Hopper story went something like this: when asked whether he still took drugs by a friend of Uncut, the Easy Rider star admitted he still smokes weed 'because it keeps the bowels regular.' "
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