Very few American actors can create performances that look so completely natural viewers forget they are performing. Think Jack Nicholson. Think Marlon Brando. Think Dennis Hopper.
Hopper’s public persona was virtually identical to any performances he gave. Each character he portrayed could not be played by any other actor. This lead to some criticism – people claimed that Hopper was essentially playing himself. That is not necessarily the case. Hopper would use his personality to fit into the character to such a degree the boundary between actor and character was not merely broken – it was completely shattered.
The first film I ever saw Hopper in was Speed. I know, I know, but I was quite young when it came out and it was my first experience. Then it was Easy Rider, which helped usher in the auteur age of the 1970s. But Hopper barely survived the 70s – his follow up to Easy Rider was considered a mess and did not do nearly as well. It took David Lynch to revitalize Hopper in the performance of a lifetime. I do not know of anyone who has forgotten Frank Booth ever since the film debuted. The thing is, the actual dialogue he was saying is far from the best written. But Hopper gave such an energy that it was impossible to ignore or even deride. Even the Academy awarded it by nominating Hopper…for Hoosiers. Apparently even the Academy was far to afraid of Hopper’s performance. Such was the power he had.
This death does not come as a great surprise. We knew that Hopper was ill after diagnosed with prostate cancer last October. In his last public appearance, he was too frail to do much of anything. He he saw his star on the walk of fame be embedded for future generations to see. He left an impression that will be unequaled – just by being himself. America has lost a true treasure.