May 29, 2010

We're headliners, baby..


A little bit of that last vestige of the 60s left me this afternoon upon learning of the passing of Easy Rider's "Billy" -- Dennis Hopper -- today at the age of 74 of prostrate cancer he was first diagnosed with in 2009.

I was a young 2nd Lieutenant in the Air Force at Strategic Air Command Headquarters in 1969 and was dragged to a movie one night by my friend, Charlie Funderburke (much more later about Charlie). He tells me, "you're gonna like this film. It's an absolute rage!"

The film was Easy Rider and while everyone went nuts for Captain America -- Peter Fonda -- I thought the guy who stole the show was his sidekick, Billy. It was then that I discovered Dennis Hopper and, although subsequent viewings have proven to me that the profound things we said to each other in the midst of those 1960's and 1970's mind-altered hazes were a lot less profound than we thought they were when we uttered them. (Easy Rider's dialogue, so rich and earth-moving at first viewing is demonstrably vapid now but Billy's antics -- particularly with Jack Nicholson -- were classic.)

As I started watching other movies from the fifties, sixties, seventies, I suddenly noticed that Hopper appeared in a shocking number of them and alongside some notable stars of the industry James Dean (Rebel Without a Clause, Giant), John Wayne (True Grit), and Marlon Brando (Apocalypse Now) to name a few.

And it came as an uneasy realization that Dennis represented the liberal counter culture - hey, he was a dope-smoking hippie, right? But, like my discovery of him, my discovery of politics was equally surprising. This comment in his Wikipedia biography caricatures his enigmatic and independent life style:

Hopper supported Barack Obama in the 2008 US Presidential election.[20] Hopper confirmed this in an election day appearance on the ABC daytime show The View. He said his reason for not voting Republican was the selection of Sarah Palin as the Republican vice presidential candidate.

You owe it to yourself to read that and to read Roger Simon's obit over at Pajamas Media. He says of Dennis:

And he stayed hip — right up to his, these days, premature death at age 74 of prostate cancer. By staying hip, I mean he moved with the times, because some years ago Dennis Hopper came out as a Republican.

Say what, you might ask? Yes, you read me correctly. Unlike other Hollywood hot shots like Sean Penn, Oliver Stone, etc, who never once changed a single thought they ever had, whether on LSD or a glass of milk, Dennis Hopper was able to see that the very thing that allowed him to live the wild and crazy life he did was deeply obvious. Forget all the self-serving narcissistic left-wing baloney. It was good old fashioned American Freedom! Nowhere else could Dennis have been Dennis — and he knew it. He wanted that for everybody.

There is nothing I can write that would do justice to this man's passing; I miss him not being able to pop up in another movie or TV show and portraying -- what? -- that impish villain or a noble colonel in the Pentagon fighting terrorists?

Below is a rather lengthy viddy of Hopper's life -- arguably almost as long -- but there are some enjoyable moments.

Have a great ride, Billy!

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