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Dennis Hopper 1936-2010

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Anthony Hopkins' approximately 16 minutes of screen time in The Silence of the Lambs won him the 1991 Academy Award for Best Actor. As far as film villains go, you'd be hard pressed to top Hannibal Lecter, but the portrayal of the sadistic and twisted Frank Booth by Dennis Hopper in David Lynch's Blue Velvet easily gets my vote for cinema's most memorable villain.

Lynch's first choice for the role of Frank Booth was Steven Berkoff, who declined and said there was "nothing in that part except destruction."   Robert Loggia wanted the part badly but it went to Hopper, who told Lynch "I've got to play Frank. Because I am Frank!" Loggia did not take the news very well.  The profane verbal tirade that followed stuck with Lynch and 11 years later served as the basis for Mr. Eddy's road rage scene in Lost Highway.  Mr. Eddy was played by none other than Robert Loggia.

Hopper definitely made the Frank Booth character his own.  In the original script Lynch had Booth inhaling helium throughout the film.  The idea was that the helium would effect his voice, adding a dark quality to the character.  It was Hopper's idea to have Booth use nitrous oxide instead, the effects of which Hopper apparently had some recreational experience with.  The end result is one of cinema's most memorable and disturbing characters.  For more on Blue Velvet, click here. Incidentally, in the American Film Institute list of top 50 film villains of all time, Frank Booth ranked #36. Lecter came in at #1.

Dennis Hopper was born in Dodge City, Kansas on May 17, 1936. He saw his first film when he was 5 and made his film debut 14 years later in 1955 opposite James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause and Giant in 1956. The rebel roles became more of a reality and Hopper's reputation made it hard to find work.  He was eventually cast in The Sons of Katie Elder and True Grit alongside John Wayne, who Hopper credited with saving his career.  Wayne reportedly once told him (in a line right out of Lawrence Peter Berra's playbook of literal witticisms) that if he'd hesitate more when speaking his lines he'd get more screen time.

Dennis Hopper died May 29, 2010 after a long battle with prostate cancer. He was an accomplished artist and photographer.  His Dynamite Coffin and Russian Dynamite Death Chair stunts (performance art/daredevil acts/suicide attempts) are the stuff of legend.  He was also a renowned art collector and an early champion of the works of Andy Warhol and Jean Michel Basquiat.

John Wayne's screen time advice seemed to have worked:  Dennis Hopper's film and television career lasted 55 years. 

From the heart of darkness in Apocalypse Now, to the darkly comic True Romance, from the blockbuster action of Speed to the critical acclaim of Hoosiers, from the questionable Super Mario Bros. and Waterworld, to the unquestionable Easy Rider and Blue Velvet, Dennis Hopper has left an undeniable mark on cinema.

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