Dennis Hopper, RIP
This one is a real loss, as many more than I have said. What I loved best about Hopper’s work is what most people did, I think: the combination of deeply realized characters and the strain of pure crazy Hopper could maintain through even the most seemingly straight persona. He could seriously act.
The only momentary oddity I can add to the general remembrance is that I actually met Hopper once, in a truly weird concatenation of worlds. In 1988 (sic! we did in fact have television back then, folks) I was working as associate producer on a NOVA documentary about the then hot topic of chaos (as in the mathematical and physical concept, and not that which pertains in, say, Afghanistan right now).
I and my boss, the BBC Horizon producer Jeremy Toye (I hope I recall his name correctly after this span of years) were in LA to interview a mathematician who had been doing some work with a bunch of cardiologists on chaos in heart rhythms (I have no recollection if the idea worked out or not). Our guy was at UCLA, but he was much too cool to live in Westwood, so we met him at his apartment in the beach block of one of the roads that dead ends into Venice Beach. (Yes, I’m still covetous.) He lived opposite one of the canonical dives of the day — it might have been the Beach Cafe, and he was one of its regulars, and he paraded us across the street to take our meeting (we were in LA, after all), in his haunt.
As we walked in, around eleven in the morning, there were just a few folks in the place. One was at the very end of the bar, back to the door. Our guy, Alan, said something like “Hey, Dennis!” and started striding over to one of the other Venice regulars of the day, none other than Dennis Hopper. Alan entrained Jeremy and me in tow behind him, telling us he wanted us to meet his bud, and we dutifully followed. Hopper looked up, saw three men coming at him, backlit against the door, and coiled up. His face, just for a moment, had the full Hopper feral threat written across it, a kind of fight or flight statement written in the cast of his eyes and the tensing of his muscles.
Then he saw it was his cafe friend Alan, and two kind of dweeby PBS guys and he relaxed, said hello, shook hands, and turned back to his meal.
At the time, I just thought how extraordinary it was that Dennis Hopper in person could project that sudden and frankly terrifying shift of feeling so precisely similar to what came through on the screen. Over time, my reaction shifted. This was the moment that I first got a visceral feel of how f***ing hard it is to be someone on whom masses of strangers paint emotional connections. Hopper was just having a late breakfast in his usual spot, and he could not, it seemed, fully relax even there. Lots of good things come to the fortunate, the talented and the famous. But we do put a bite on those thus blessed.
All that aside: I’ll miss what he could put on screen.