Dennis Hopper: 1936 — 2010
God, what a career he had. As far as I know, his first movie role was Rebel Without A Cause (1955), and he was still making films right up through 2009. (This site has a complete list of all of his films.)
Who would’ve guessed that stoned biker from Easy Rider would be a huge star for the next forty years?
He could do that certain crazed intensity that was unlike any other actor I can think of. Those characters (from Speed, River’s Edge, True Romance, The Pickup Artist, among others) always seemed like their warped gonzo craziness would explode onscreen, but they never quite did — like a pan of water that keeps on simmering at 211 degrees and doesn’t boil over.
If I had to pick a favorite — in that sick sort of way — Dennis Hopper character, it would be his role in River’s Edge (1986). It wasn’t one of his better known movies. I don’t remember if it was a big hit or not; it was probably too bleak and pessimistic to attract a lot of viewers. It was about the dead-end lives of a few white trash teenagers in a small town. Dennis Hopper was this crazed recluse that everyone was leery of.
The movie starts with a teenager (who looks like his IQ is about ten) strangling his girlfriend and hiding her body at the edge of a river. Later in the movie it turns out Dennis Hopper had killed his own girlfriend a long time ago. He was telling this same teenager about it, getting all poetic and emotional about why he’d killed her. It was actually moving, in that sick twisted Dennis Hopper sort of way.
He was saying something like “I was so overcome with love and emotion, I just lost control and I had to kill her.” Something like that. And then he said to the teenager, “What about you? Why did you kill your girlfriend?”
The kid just looks at him, deadpan, and says “she was talkin’ shit.”
So Dennis Hopper shot him.