Maverick actor, filmmaker and artist Dennis Hopper died today at age 74 of complications from prostate cancer. Born in Kansas on May 17, 1936, Hopper passed away at his home in Venice, CA, according to media reports within the past hour.
Long associated with the renegade spirit of American independent film for his work on such movies as “Easy Rider” and “Blue Velvet,” among others, Hopper worked as an actor in ’50s classics “Rebel Without a Cause” and “Giant.” He gained iconic status for directing and co-starring in “Easy Rider” with Jack Nicholson and Peter Fonda. He also appeared in many studio and specialty releases from “Speed” to “Blue Velvet.”
“Easy Rider” debuted at the 1969 Cannes Film Festival and earned iconic status as one of the most important American films of the latter half of the 20th century. Made for $380,000, it grossed more than $40 million worldwide, according to an Associated Press report today. It was nominated for an Oscar for best screenplay and was added to the United States National Film Registry in 1998.
“‘Easy Rider’ was never a motorcycle movie to me,” Hopper said in 2009, according to the AP. “A lot of it was about politically what was going on in the country.”
With some 200 acting credits listed on IMDb, Hopper also worked behind the camera a number of times after “Easy Rider,” directing films including “Colors” in 1998 and “The Last Movie” in 1971.
Dennis Hopper was also a patron of the successful, eleven year old CineVegas Film Festival, a June event which is on a hiatus this year. The secret weapon, or at least ongoing inspiration of CineVegas, Hopper, spoke with indieWIRE at the festival in June of last year.
“Isn’t this the best festival you’ve ever been to?” Hopper enthused emphatically over that weekend, chatting inside the bustling CVHQ, CineVegas’ nerve center at the Palms casino in Las Vegas.
Dapper in a tan sportcoat, CineVegas’ self-proclaimed celebrity mascot — and chair of its board of advisors — got involved with the festival after being honored by the event some seven years ago. Sitting next to fest artistic director Trevor Groth he praised the organizer as the reason he stays involved year after year. “Vegas is an entertainment center,” Hopper boasted, adding that by getting involved he hoped to bridge the gap between Sin City and Hollywood.
Hardly a Vegas regular, though, Dennis Hopper noted that CineVegas is his only standing trip to the city. “I love coming here every year,” he noted, boosting the region by adding that the city has plenty to offer even non gamblers. When in Vegas, Hopper was a fixture during the festival and continuously accessible to festival filmmakers and attendees.
“I have a really great time here,” he said last June. “If gambling is not your thing, there is so much to do here,” Hopper said, gesticulating with his hands and smiling, adding, “Get with the bing bing bing bing bing…”
During the conversation, Dennis Hopper praised Trevor Groth and his team for taking an alternative approach to their festival, singling out this weekend’s “Distribution Roulette” event — covered in indieWIRE last June — that combined a lunch for filmmakers with a game show and panel discussion concept.
“The idea of doing a party, and doing it that way,” Hopper said, excitedely, “I thought that was the beginning of something important.” He reiterated that it was crucial to explore how the industry is changing today and the way that new distribution opportunities are being created to incorporate digital technology and the Internet.
“People like to see other people, to be in the audience with other people,” Hopper reflected about the event, underscoring the importance of real world festivals that draw audiences together. He added that the CineVegas focus on emerging, independent work, in particular, is crucial. In Hopper’s words, “these are the people who are going to make it or break it.”
He spoke passionately about building and nurturing interest in challenging, independent work.
“You are educating an audience,” Hopper concluded. “A dry martini is an acquired taste, but once you’ve acquired it, forget it, you have to go to AA.”
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