Hollywood hellraiser Dennis Hopper dead at 74

Sat May 29, 2010 3:59pm EDT
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By Dean Goodman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Hollywood actor Dennis Hopper, best known for directing and starring in the 1969 cult classic "Easy Rider," died on Saturday from complications of prostate cancer, a friend of the actor said. Hopper was 74.

The hard-living screen star died at his home in the coastal Los Angeles suburb of Venice at 8:15 a.m. PDT (1515 GMT), surrounded by family and friends, the friend, Alex Hitz, told Reuters.

In a wildly varied career spanning more than 50 years, Hopper appeared alongside his mentor James Dean in "Rebel Without a Cause" and "Giant" in the 1950s and played maniacs in such films as "Apocalypse Now," "Blue Velvet" and "Speed."

He received two Oscar nominations -- for writing "Easy Rider" (with co-star Peter Fonda and Terry Southern), and for a rare heartwarming turn as an alcoholic high-school basketball coach in the 1986 drama "Hoosiers."

But his prodigious drug abuse, temper tantrums, propensity for domestic violence and poor choice of movie roles often made him a Hollywood pariah.

Hopper felt over-indulgence was a requirement for great artists. He once claimed he snorted lines of cocaine "as long as your arm every five minutes, just so I could carry on drinking ... gallons" of alcohol.

Still, his legacy rests securely on "Easy Rider." Regarded as one of the greatest films of American cinema, it helped usher in a new era in which the old Hollywood guard was forced to cede power to young filmmakers such as Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese.

The low-budget blockbuster, originally conceived by Fonda, introduced mainstream moviegoers to pot-smoking, cocaine-dealing, long-haired bikers.   Continued...

<p>Actor Dennis Hopper watches the Breeders' Cup World Championship thoroughbred horse racing at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia, California November 7, 2009. REUTERS/Mike Blake</p>