The text came over the CNN newswire to my blackberry today: “Actor Dennis Hopper has died, his family confirms.” Idol Chatter’s Kris Rasmussen has posted two great videos from his life here.
I believe the day will come when actors dying will not be considered “Breaking News.” But for the generation of Baby Boomers who grew up along with the career of actors like Mr. Hopper, his passing is certainly news. His movies somehow were relevant in the lives of my peers far beyond the screen.
Before I was really old enough to be watching movies, Dennis Hopper made Westerns as a supporting role character or TV shows as a fairly clean jean character. Then came “Easy Rider,” which he co-wrote, directed and starred in with Peter Fonda and Jack Nicholson. The counter-cultural film unleashed a wave of new voices in Hollywood and a flood of new fans in the theaters.
Mr. Hopper’s real life story included rebelliousness, drugs, alcohol and an amazingly short eight-day marriage to Michelle Phillips of The Mamas and the Papas. He was known for a memorable role in “Apocalypse Now” but otherwise was insignificant as an actor before he had a breakdown somewhere in Latin America and entered rehab.
Then came what I believe was not only one of the more redemptive roles of his life–but a role that probably brought redemption to many dads who’d strayed–through his protrayal of the character Shooter in 1986’s “Hoosiers.” The triumph of the team at the end is foreshadowed by the triumph of his character to overcome his alcohol addiction, the shame he’d brought upon his son and his son’s unconditional love in return.
Dennis Hopper’s later successes, including “Speed” and the TV shows “Crash” and “24,” reached wide audiences but were never as dramatically relevant as his Oscar-nominated turn in “Hoosiers.”
In the end, a man who’d been a drunk and a drug addict, married five times and the father of four children probably brought redemption to more people through his one role in “Hoosiers” than the rest of them put together. I think his decision to do Shooter was as autobiographical as it was strategic for his career. But that’s just my view. I trust he’s with the Lord now, and hope to ask him about it someday. In the meantime, I think I’ll put in my copy of “Hoosiers” in my DVD player and be inspired to live a better life tomorrow.