Dennis Hopper, actor and CineVegas chairman, dead at 74

Dennis Hopper.
Photo: Scott Doctor/www.greatscottstudios.com

Dennis Hopper, the Hollywood bad boy who turned in memorable roles and turned his life around, died today in Venice, Calif., at 74.

Hopper suffered from advanced prostate cancer, which had metastasized to his bones earlier this year. He died among family and friends at his home.

Best known for his roles in Rebel Without a Cause, Easy Rider - which he also directed and co-wrote - Apocalypse Now, Hoosiers and Speed, Hopper was a controversial figure in Hollywood who never received the American film industry’s top honor, an Academy Award. He was nominated twice, in 1970 for Best Writing along with Peter Fonda and Terry Southern for Easy Rider and again in 1987 for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for Hoosiers.

However, Hopper saw plenty of success in his career. Easy Rider, which he directed, starred in and co-wrote, was made for $340,000 and grossed more than $50 million, also earning him the Best New Director award at the Cannes Film Festival.

A Hollywood icon for more than five decades, Hopper was a Vegas icon, too. The actor and director served as the chairman of the CineVegas Film Festival and was an important figure at the annual festival, which has been on hiatus since last year. He attended events, walked red carpets and greeted fans and fellow actors enthusiastically.

CineVegas was founded by members of the Greenspun family, which also owns Las Vegas Weekly.

Dennis Hopper (1936-2010)

Dennis Hopper @CineVegas

From Hollywood to Vegas

"Dennis was the heart of CineVegas. When he agreed to chair our advisory committee, it literally changed the face of the festival," said CineVegas President Robin Greenspun, remembering Hopper. "Not only did he bring us 'street cred' with the Hollywood crowd, he brought us his amazing creative insight, his filmmaker sensitivity and his infectious enthusiasm. He wasn’t our chair in name only. He was a working part of our CineVegas family."

Hopper took on the role of chairman in 2004 after he was given the festival’s coveted Marquee Award in 2003 for his long and distinguished career.

"After serving as chair for two years, he agreed to be “Chair for Life.” He lived up to his promise," added Greenspun.

At CineVegas 2009, the festival’s final year, Hopper said CineVegas was unique because it was “primarily about the independent filmmakers. It’s really about the independent filmmakers and it’s really about them being able to come together and feel like they’re a family.”

Hopper saw his own role at CineVegas as a liaison between Hollywood and Las Vegas, bringing in some of the bigger names and bigger films and helping the festival grow during his time as chair. With Hopper in that role, CineVegas honored such legendary actors as Jon Voight, Willem Dafoe, Anjelica Huston, Jack Nicholson and Sean Penn.

"Las Vegas has lost one of its staunchest supporters," Greenspun said. "He loved Las Vegas and he loved CineVegas. It didn’t matter what he was working on, where in the world he needed to be right before or right after, nothing interfered with him being at the festival. As much as he loved seeing all his celebrity friends who came to hang out or to be honored by the fest, he felt his most important role was to see as many of the films in competition as possible and to meet, talk and hang out with the filmmakers."

“They’re the hope of our industry,” he told Las Vegas Weekly in 2009. “They’re on the cutting edge and they will be the ones that break through and make new cinema and tell new stories at a time when they really need to be told.”

Even as he struggled with cancer, Hopper himself wasn’t finished telling stories. Through 2009, Hopper acted in the STARZ spin-off television show of the Oscar-winning film Crash about racial tensions in contemporary America. According to IMDB, Hopper also worked on two film projects yet to be released - The Last Film Festival, a comedy about a sinking producer, played by Hopper, suffering rejection from all but one film festival and Alpha and Omega, an animated film about two young wolves. Both are slated for release this year.

"I had the good fortune to spend a little time with him in the past few weeks," added Greenspun. "He was as sharp as ever, with his signature sense of humor, in spite of his obvious physical frailty. They are moments I will treasure always. He was an inspiration to us all and I know my life has been changed by him. He was a dear, dear friend and we loved every moment we had the privilege to spend with him."

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