Dennis Hopper: A Supporting Actor Who Stole The Show

By | January 19, 2019

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Dennis Hopper in "Apocalypse Now," 1979. Source: (

He played Billy in Easy Rider, the Photojournalist in Apocalypse Now, Frank Booth in Blue Velvet, and Shooter in Hoosiers -- where do you rank the late Dennis Hopper among the great supporting actors in Hollywood history? 

Of course, Hopper was many things in his life: an actor, a director, a photographer, an artist, a screenwriter, and an activist. He was also an addict, a loose cannon, a bad boy, and a troublemaker. Hopper wasn't fated to be a leading man, but at his best, he was one of the great supporting actors ever seen on film. Perhaps because of the tumultuous life he led, Dennis Hopper was a supporting actor who brought needed electricity to his scenes. And if he sometimes stole those scenes -- well, the guy was just that good. What are you gonna do about it? 

Dennis Hopper was born in Dodge City, Kansas on May 17, 1936. His mother, Marjorie Hopper, managed the local swimming pool while his father, Jay Hopper, worked for the Railway Mail Service. Hopper went to live on his grandparent's farm after his father joined the military during World War II. When his father returned, the family moved to Kansas City, Missouri. It was there that Hopper developed an interest in art and drama after enrolling in an art class at Nelson Art Gallery. The family moved yet again in 1949, this time to San Diego, California, due to his brother David’s asthma.

Dennis Hopper And James Dean Were Pals

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Corey Allen, Dennis Hopper, Frank Mazzola, and James Dean in "Rebel Without A Cause," 1955. Source: (

Hopper’s acting career began in 1954 when Ruth Birch gave him a small role in a television series called Cavalcade of America. This was followed by a featured role in the episode entitled “Boy in a Storm” of the television series, The Medic. Hopper received offers from several major studios after this role and ended up signing a seven-year contract with Warner Brothers. He received a small role in the 1955 film, Rebel Without A Cause, and developed a friendship with fellow actor, James Dean. In addition to being a mentor in the acting industry, Dean also supported Hopper’s other artistic endeavors which included photography and directing. The two remained friends and worked together once again in Dean’s final film, Giant (1956), which concluded filming just days before Dean’s death in a fatal car crash.