Having built a career out of playing unconventional characters, probably because he was one himself, Dennis Hopper passed away Saturday at the age of 74. Having fought prostate cancer for a number of years, Hopper succumbed to the disease at his home in Venice, Calif. His acting career, which included a few stints into directing (most notably "Easy Rider" and "Colors"), spanned six decades, with extensive work in both film and television. Although quite ill at the time, Hopper finally was recognized with his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in March.
It was a career marked with some memorable highs and forgettable lows, and one glance at his body of work shows an actor who clearly was never lacking for employment. It might also show somebody who would have been better served to have said 'No' a little more often to job offers, as his resume is littered with, well, let's just say material that's below his skill level.
That said, there's a lot of memorable roles mixed in there, with villainous performances leaving a particularly indelible mark in cinematic history. Whether it's the Pabst Blue Ribbon-loving psycho Frank Booth from "Blue Velvet" or the devious bomb expert Howard Payne in the action hit "Speed," Hopper knew his way around bad guys.
But for my money, his performance as "Shooter" in the great 1986 sports flick "Hoosiers" was Hopper at his best. As the father of a student at a small town Indiana high school, his character has a brilliant basketball mind, but one that struggles with alcoholism. His battle to redeem himself in the eyes of his son, and for the coach (GeneHackman ) that entrusts him with some responsibility with the team, brings a poignancy to the film that goes beyond any of the accomplishments taking place on the court. It's a great performance, and the only acting Oscar for which he would ever be nominated. The fact that Hopper himself had just recently emerged from drug rehab prior to taking on the role shows a man able to tap into a little of his own personal demons for positive gain.
Regardless of what one thinks of his assorted film choices, Hopper crafted an indelible footprint on Hollywood. Thankfully, he was able to have it permanently left on the streets of the town before passing away. Now that site serves as a shrine for fans to leave flowers and mementos marking the death of a true Hollywood maverick.