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What stands out most is that incredible scene in Apocalypse Now: a sweat-drenched, darkened Martin Sheen turning the Mekong’s corner to find  his deepest jungle nightmares quietly awaiting him. Boats of war-painted natives part ways to reveal a tumble-down palace ruin, watched over by the empty eyes of AWOL Marines. An eery silence abounds at this hell’s mouth, a silence broken only by the shrieks and loud mumbles of one Dennis Hopper, neck strapped by innumerable cameras, desperately in need of a cigarette, the court jester, majordomo, and whipping boy for Marlon Brando’s bloated Kurtz. The crazy eyes, the proselytizing and pleading, the long drug rambles; they are classics in a classic film, and they heralded the comeback of one of Hollywood’s most stereotypically outlandish denizens.

Dennis Hopper got his start as part of the old Hollywood star system: he was a contract player with Warner Bros, earning early praise for his work in the James Dean films Rebel Without A Cause and Giant. He was unwilling to follow by the strictures of the era, though, and soon found himself blacklisted for fights over artistic integrity (he refused to follow Henry Hathaway’s directions); exiled to New York, he studied under Strasberg and nurtured dreams of directing.

He got his shot with Easy Rider, a film that thoroughly overdetermined the 60s zeitgeist, and again with The Last Movie, his Herzog-like film about making a film in the jungles of Peru. His increasing drug use and unhinged behavior got him pariahed once again, but he ultimately channeled his craze into his Apocalypse Now character. After kicking drugs and alcohol, he switched to villains, most memorably in Lynch’s Blue Velvet and the Keanu Reeves vehicle Speed, to which he brought the only real performance.

Dennis Hopper was also an art world player, a photographer who took iconic images of the Pop landscape of 60s LA and a collector of the art it inspired. He bought one of Warhol’s first Soup Cans, and was a very early champion of Lichtenstein and Oldenburg. He had enduring relationships with Ed Ruscha, Irving Blum, Julian Schnabel, and many others.

His artwork will be the subject of Jeffrey Deitch’s first show as director the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art. Consisting of 200 works made over 60 years, Double Standard will demonstrate how, in Deitch’s words, ‘Dennis Hopper’s work has been a springboard for the work of many artists and filmmakers of a younger generation.’

Dennis Hopper died of prostate cancer this past Saturday, in Venice Beach, California. He was 74, and still unpredictable; on his death-bed, he filed for divorce from his fifth wife.

Photography by Dennis Hopper