Actor Dennis Hopper — star of “Easy Rider,” “Blue Velvet,” “Giant” and many other films — died Saturday of prostate cancer at his Los Angeles-area home, according to The Associated Press. He was 74.
The two-time Academy Award nominee, who announced through a manager in the fall of 2009 that he had been diagnosed with the disease, was surrounded by family and friends at the time of his death, friend Alex Hitz told the AP.
The actor directed, co-wrote and starred in directed 1969’s “Easy Rider,” perhaps the most memorable film of his wildly erratic, nearly six-decade-long career. In that classic, generation-defining film — which also established Jack Nicholson as a major star — he and Peter Fonda played motorcycle-riding hippies “in search of America.” The film was a Hollywood success story; it was produced for less than $500,000 and ultimately earned in excess of $40 million. “Easy Rider” also earned two Academy Award nominations, including a shared screenplay nod for Hopper, Fonda and Terry Southern.
Born in Kansas on May 17,1936, and raised in San Diego, Hopper made his mark in movies as a teenager, starring with James Dean, whom he idolized, in the 1950s classics “Rebel Without a Cause” and “Giant.”
His career followed a bumpy path over the decades, veering between fame and obscurity — due in equal measure to substance abuse and his legendarily rebellious personality — before being permanently revived by his memorable 1986 role as the psychotic Frank in “Blue Velvet.” He appeared in dozens of films over the years, including “Apocalypse Now,” “Hoosiers,” “Speed,” “River’s Edge,” “Rumblefish,” “True Romance,” “True Grit” and “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2,” to name just a few; he also made many television appearances, including “24” and “The Twlight Zone.” His directing credits included “Colors,” “The Hot Spot,” “Chasers” and “The Last Movie,” his disastrous 1971 follow-up to “Easy Rider,” the production of which was so erratic that it effectively blackballed him from the film industry for years.
Hopper’s personal life was no less dramatic than his work: Married five times (including an eight-day marriage to Mamas & the Papas singer Michelle Phillips in 1970), he struggled for many years with alcoholism and drug abuse before becoming sober in the 1980s. He filed for divorce from his fifth wife, Victoria Duffy, in January, after 14 years of marriage and one child (daughter Galen Grier). He was also an avid photographer and art collector.
Hopper appeared frail when he was awarded with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in March of this year.
His work will continue: In September he will be heard as one of the lead voices in “Alpha and Omega.”
Hopper seemed to be acutely aware of his own mortality, telling Time magazine in 1986: “I thought I’d be dead before I was 30. Turning 40 stunned me. Fifty is a major miracle, and I think I may even make 70.”