The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous Roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.

(Jack Kerouac, On the Road )

Dennis Hopper, whose portrayals of drug-addled, often deranged misfits in the landmark films “Easy Rider,” “Apocalypse Now” and “Blue Velvet” drew on his early out-of-control experiences as part of a new generation of Hollywood rebels, died Saturday at his home in Venice, California. He was 74. The cause was complications from metastasized prostate cancer, according to a statement issued by Alex Hitz, a family friend. Mr. Hopper, who said he stopped drinking and using drugs in the mid-1980s, followed that change with a tireless phase of his career in which he claimed to have turned down no parts.

His was the best line in Speed:

“I’m not crazy. Poor people are crazy. I’m eccentric.”

Most recently he was Jack Bauer’s first and ultimately best opponent, in the first series of 24, which Hopper did as a favour (Kiefer Sutherland earned his Executive Producer credit on later shows by bringing in a lot of his friends in the first series, including Hopper – friend of Donald Sutherland – and Lou Diamond Phillips).

Funnily enough, Easy Rider wasn’t my favourite of his performances. After a good start, it goes off on a few tangents throughout the movie, and there are better films that get what I would call the “culture of the time” across. OK, I’ll be really pretentious and say “zeitgeist”.

Hopper was in a similar state, i.e. ripped to the tits, but gave a better performance, in Apocalypse Now, the greatest movie ever, whichever version you see.

Although his death doesn’t come as a surprise, he’s yet another “last link” to classic Hollywood that has now gone (remember he was in Rebel Without a Cause over half a century ago now), a screen presence who continued to show up in varied places until recently and who will be genuinely missed.

R.I.P. Dennis Lee Hopper, actor, photographer and painter, born 17 May 1936; died 29 May 2010

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