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Hopper: A Journey into the American Dream — Tom Folsom

Rod Lott April 17th, 2013

When Tom Folsom terms his new nonfiction work, Hopper, as “a rebel biography,” he’s not kidding. Not only is his subject a rebel, but so is his approach. A you-are-there POV, fonts that interrupt the narrative — you’ve never read a celebrity bio quite like it, and that’s certainly befitting of its star.


Folsom traces the life of Dennis Hopper through its four distinct phrases: Kansas farm boy, Method actor/James Dean worshipper, pharmaceutical madman, comeback kid. That he had a fourth at all continues to amaze me, especially after reading all the details. The kinder, gentler Hopper was hardly one to shy away from admitting his battles with alcohol and drugs, but I had no idea just to what extent.

To put it another way: I never knew about the time he willingly sat amid dynamite as it exploded, all for the delight of his Houston raceway audience (see video below).

And that’s merely one crazed, tall-but-true tale in a bio packed with them. Hopper isn’t gossipy, however; it’s rough-and-tumble prose that simply tells it like it is.

Y’know, like when Hopper took up teenage Natalie Wood on her offer to copulate, although they had just met and she vowed only to lie there like a corpse. Or like that time he and director Henry Hathaway embarked on a three-day showdown over one line of dialogue Hopper refused to say (in Hopper’s defense, he was pretty sick of playing yet “another goddamn twitchy bad guy”). Or when his marriage to The Mamas & the Papas singer Michelle Phillips collapsed in its first week.

And certainly that whole year he spent in Peru, shooting his sophomore effort as director, The Last Movie, an arty flick “just soaked in cocaine” to the point that Hopper carved a cut to a precious 42 hours. Not minutes, hours.

Yessiree, he led a life more interesting, more dangerous, more more than yours or mine, with guest appearances that included Phil Spector, Andy Warhol, John Wayne, Salvador Dalí, Charles Manson, The Eagles and an underage girl. Hopper, who died in 2010, couldn’t have asked for a better biographer than Folsom, who wields his words in a similarly anarchic spirit. (A sample manic passage: “Ahblahblabibblielbialagh!”)

Hopper’s Easy Riders famously went looking for America and couldn’t find it anywhere. For the definitive look at the artist’s stunning 74 years on this earth, look no further. Hopper is highly recommended. —Rod Lott

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