“Live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse.”
That was legendary Hollywood star James Dean’s favourite quote, and sure enough, it became a self-fulfilling prophecy Sept. 30, 1955, when he died in a head-on crash while driving a snappy little Porsche.
Then there’s Dennis Hopper.
Hopper admired James Dean, who taught him how to act: “Don’t act as if you’re smoking the cigarette, just smoke the cigarette.”
Like his hero, Dennis Hopper was also in Rebel Without A Cause and Giant, and went on to star as the icon of a later generation, Billy in Easy Rider.
And he starred in some of the most powerful movies ever made, including Apocalypse Now and Blue Velvet.
But if James Dean haunted the nightmares of a generation who could not find their way after the Second World War, Hopper remains the bad dream of the baby boom.
When he died Saturday, he was the ghost of Woodstock Nation, wasted by cancer, a grim sacrifice to sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll.
This is a guy who started his career hanging out with Elvis and, 55 years later, Jack Nicholson joined him to celebrate earning his star (finally) on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.
And in the middle, he had a 15-year blackout. At one point, he drank half a gallon of rum, followed by a fifth of rum, chased with 28 beers, three grams of cocaine, not to mention a bushel of bud — every day.
He was married five times. In 1970, Michelle Phillips, one of The Mamas & The Papas, was his wife for eight days.
Dennis Hopper is what happens to Peter Pan when he needs to grow up and can’t. It took him so long that by the time he was finished, he was really finished. There was nothing pretty about the final act. At the end, he weighed 45 kilos and was in the middle of a nasty divorce with wife No. 5.
Dennis Hopper is why your mom and dad drag themselves onto the treadmill like superannuated hamsters and eat lettuce and tofu instead of steak and fries. When you look into the mirror and see Dennis Hopper looking back at you, how scary is that?
So let’s say it’s your birthday. You just turned 29. And you’re feeling old. That’s not old. Dennis Hopper was 74. But that’s not even old these days. Average life expectancy is now 80.7. Chances are you’ll outlive Dennis Hopper.
Let’s hope it’s a happier ending.
Paul Sullivan is a Vancouver-based journalist and owner of Sullivan Media Consulting;