The Many Faces of Dennis Hopper

Posted by: Brock Cooper

Pop quiz, hot shot. Iconic American character actor, Dennis Hopper, has just died and left a void in the ephemeral ether of Hollywood, what do you do? What do you do? I know the one thing I will not do is mourn the passing of a legend. Hopper always had a weird sense of humor, and what better way to remember his life and characters then to take a look at some of the craziest bastards (and some of the not-so-memorable characters) that he portrayed.

What the hell is wrong with freedom? That's what it's all about,” said by Hopper in Easy Rider.

Howard Payne in Speed (1994): Thank God, Hopper was there to offset Keanu’s attempt at acting in this high-paced bus adventure. Yeah, I know. High-paced and bus don’t really go hand in hand, but whatever. Hopper portrayed a crazy son-of-a-bitch that had been wronged by society. In his middle-aged angst, he decided to blow crap up, which was both entertaining and heart-wrenching. You actually felt bad for the guy, and any movie that has a chance of Keanu being blown up gets four stars from me. Payne’s trademark “Pop quiz, hot shot” was annoyingly quoted for years by impressionable youth, such as me.  This movie helped rejuvenate his career after his tremendous success in the 80’s.

See, I'm in charge here! I drop this stick, and they pick your friend here up with a sponge! Are you ready to die, friend? (Howard Payne)

King Koopa in Super Maria Brothers (1993): The only bright point in this box office bomb was Hopper’s whacked out hairdo as King Koopa. It looked like a bleached-blond surfer-boy mated with the gecko from the Geico insurance commercials to create this lizardman with a penchant for Pterodactyl tail pizza. This movie died long before Hopper did and his King Koopa character should have been buried right along with him.

Do you know what I love about mud? It's clean and it's dirty at the same time. (King Koopa)

Huey Walker in Flashback (1990): The movie may not have been a hit, but Hopper’s portrayal of hippie fugitive, Huey Walker, brought back a lot of Easy Rider memories. Walker was a 1960’s fugitive being brought to justice by Kiefer Sutherland’s straight laced FBI, Jack Bauer … er … John Buckner. Needless to say, Walker ends up bringing Buckner to the see his hippie point of view. This is one of the few hippie movies that Hopper wasn’t high on, but I can’t guarantee there weren’t flashbacks.

Honestly, how many of you are here for the free sex? (Huey Walker)

Shooter Flatch from Hoosiers (1986): The mid-80’s were a glorious time for Hopper. He played the alcoholic father of a high school basketball player, who would later clean himself up and become a respected member of the coaching staff. This mirrored his own recovery from drugs and alcohol, which culminated in him being found naked wandering the woods in Mexico. In all fairness, it is hot in Mexico. In my humble opinion, this was his finest character and every time I watch this movie I shed a tear for old Shooter.

I know everything there is to know about the greatest game ever invented. (Shooter Flatch)

Frank Booth in Blue Velvet (1986): If there’s a role outside of Easy Rider that will forever be owned by Dennis Hopper, it’s the nitrogen sniffing psychopath, Frank Booth. This David Lynch film brought out the dark and deviant side of Hopper that he used to create the sexually abusive and violent Booth. One minute, he’s sad and depressed. Moments later, he’d break out into a rage, spewing curse words every few seconds.  Lynch melded sex and violence into something both disturbing and arousing. Booth is a character that’ll keep you up at night praying a well dressed man doesn’t walk through the door.

Heineken? Fuck that shit! Pabst Blue Ribbon! (Frank Booth)

Billy in Easy Rider (1969): Hopper, and co-star, Peter Fonda, wrote this script that defined the hippie culture and reintroduced the road movie to a new generation. Billy and Fonda’s, Wyatt, explore the meaning of freedom and clash with everyone from the conservative townsfolk and law enforcement to the liberals experimenting with drugs and alternative lifestyles. This movie awarded Hopper the opportunity to write his own ticket in Hollywood for a few years, but it also signaled a descent into drugs and alcohol that would eventually cause him to be labeled as difficult to work with. It was a moniker that took decades of sobriety for him to shed.

No, man, like hey, man. Wow. I was watching this object man, li-like the satellite that we saw the other night, right? And, like, it was going right across the sky, man, and then... I mean it just suddenly, uh, it just changed direction and went whizzin right off, man. It flashed... (Billy)


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