a stoned Forrest Gump, Dennis Hopper always managed to
be where the action was in American pop culture history.
James Dean was inventing the Angry Young Man in
"Rebel Without a Cause," Hopper was on the set
(and in the movie).
Andy Warhol was turning the art world on its ear, Hopper
was buying one of his early soup cans (and went on to
scoop up Rauschenbergs and Ruschas). When the old movie
studio system was dying, Hopper used the success of
"Easy Rider" to help drive a nail in the
of this he accomplished before 1970. Bedeviled by drugs
and self-destruction, Hopper failed to live out a second
act as fascinating as his first. Despite a few iconic
roles in the ’70s and ’80s, Hopper accepted work in
mediocre films (he was a long-tongued lizard king in
"Super Mario Bros."), starred in some
memorably bad ad campaigns and tried to cheat his
colleagues from "Easy Rider" out of their
shares of the proceeds.
is this checkered persona that Cumming, Ga., native Tom
Folsom illuminates in his biography, "Hopper: A
Journey Into the American Dream." Folsom chooses a
Kris Kristofferson epigram for his theme: "He’s a
walkin’ contradiction, partly truth and partly
fiction." Because Folsom, 38, cites no sources and
opens with a fancifully constructed scene of Hopper
riding a Harley to the promised land, it’s not always
easy to tell the fiction from the truth.
caught up with the University of Georgia graduate in his
Manhattan home, as he prepared for a book launch party
at the SoHo House in the city’s trendy Meatpacking
District. Molly Ringwald was scheduled to appear, along
with some "token Hell’s Angels."
What made you want to write about Dennis Hopper?
The first time he ever got on my radar at all, I was a
freshman at UGA, watching "Apocalypse Now,"
and he seemed so sort of dangerous in that role, it
really stuck with me. It was the first time I remember
seeing something that seemed more than acting, he was so
intense on screen.
This was a guy who broke his wife’s nose and tried to
cheat his friends out of credit for his movie. Wasn’t
he a pathological narcissist?
It was back and forth for me. As frustrating as he could
be, he’d pull something off, that, wow, you’d fall
in love with the guy.
Why would he shill for Nike?
When he had an art collection that was worth millions?
These were his friends; his art was his friends. He knew
these guys too, he knew these artists. For him to pawn
off one of his Warhols for some bucks, it wasn’t going
to happen. It would be like cutting off a finger.
He spent enormous effort on "The Last Movie,"
his follow-up to "Easy Rider," written by the
author of "Rebel Without a Cause," and it
People thought of him as this countercultural icon. But
there’s a big difference between making a film when
you’re young and hungry and when you’re this iconic,
almost prophet. He got caught up with that and his
obsession. ... When you try and live your life as a
movie, you’re going to get in that space between
fantasy and reality and it is not a comfortable place to
be in. There are going to be some extraordinary things
in there and some despicable things, too. He had it both