Dennis Hopper was born in Dodge City on 17 May 1936. He spent his childhood initially on a farm in rural Kansas before moving to San Diego with his parents, near Los Angeles and Hollywood. His acquaintance with the actress Dorothy McGuire reinforced Hopper’s wish to become an actor. After a few engagements for television, Hopper received a contract from Warner Brothers and played two of his early film roles alongside James Dean in two great classics of film history: Revel Without a Cause and Giant, before the premier of which, Dean, sharing a love for fast cars and motorbikes with Hopper, died in a car crash. Hopper attended the famous American acting workshop The Actors Studio in the Lee-Strasberg School, but had to settle largely for supporting roles because he was considered difficult and stubborn by directors and agents.
Dennis Hopper met the actor and director Peter Fonda through the B-movie director Roger Corman and together they filmed the highly successful road movie Easy Rider, with a budget of only 400,000 dollars. The film went on to become a cult of the hippie movement and marked the turn to New Hollywood for the American film scene. Hopper’s eccentric behaviour nonetheless got him blacklisted and role offers were few and far between in the 1970s and 1908s. His difficult standing in the USA led to increased engagement in Europe where Hopper worked with directors such as Roland Klick and Wim Wenders and starred alongside German-speaking acting greats such as Bruno Ganz and Lisa Kreuzer. In 1971, Hopper won the Critics’ Prize for The Last Movie at the Venice Film Festival, but the film was not well received in the USA. Only after extended therapy for his alcohol and drug addiction was Dennis Hopper able to get a foothold in Hollywood again and play his way back into the public’s consciousness, mostly with supporting roles.
From the 1960s, Dennis Hopper moved in the artist circles of Andy Warhol, Paul Newman, Phil Spector, Jane Fonda and Tina Turner, also finding in them the motifs for his early photographic works. Hopper was fascinated by photography and painting, who, because of his personal connection to many icons of contemporary American history, was able create photographic documents of great intimacy and intensity. Some of his pictures appeared in magazines such as Vogue and Artforum, whilst as a painter, Hopper oriented himself primarily to Pop Art. In 2010, Julian Schnabel curated the exhibition Dennis Hopper Double Standard in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. Hopper also collected art and acquired numerous screenprints and pictures, mostly from Pop Art friends. A large part of his comprehensive collection was auctioned at Christie’s after his death.
Dennis Hopper died in Los Angeles on 29 May 2010.
© Kunsthaus Lempertz