The legendary actor/director died Saturday, May 29, at the age of 74. MJ was lucky enough to catch up with him to ask a few pertinent questions in August 2008.
The Easy Rider on complicated women, miracle cures, and the perils of smoking cigars
Interview by Steven Russell
Men’s Journal: What skill should every man have?
Dennis Hopper: I guess, after conversation, a good sexual appetite. Sex is a very important drive for all of us in our work, especially mine. But conversation first, because it leads to sex most of the time.
MJ: What’s the worst physical pain you’ve ever experienced?
DH: I had a piece of bone in my back that dislodged and was hitting a nerve that ran down to my legs.
It was so bad I could walk only five feet without sitting down. I was going to get an operation. But then I visited Venice and toured a church run by Franciscan friars. The head friar, who had a beard like Santa Claus, gave me a big hug, and when I was walking back to the hotel I realized the pain was completely gone.
MJ: What’s your favorite vice?
DH: I gave up cigarettes but still enjoy cigars. I’m smoking one right now because I’m in Europe. It’s hard to do these days in California. I was walking down the beach in Santa Monica and the police said, “You can’t smoke that here.” I said, “You’ve got to be kidding.” They said, “No, this is a no-smoking beach.”
MJ: What song do you have to hear once a week?
DH: When we were kids, Miles Davis and I used to spar together. I was in my early 20s; he was a little older. We’d box, and he’d say profound things, and I’d say, “Oh, so what? So what?” One night I came into the club he was playing in Los Angeles — we’d all gotten kicked out of New York for the drug problems — and he said [raspy voice], “I’ve written a song for you, Dennis. I want you to hear it now. It’s called ‘So What.’ ” So that one sticks.
MJ: What one thing should every man know about women?
DH: They’re complicated. How have I dealt with that? Not well, obviously. I’m on my fifth wife.
MJ: What’s the most cherished possession you ever lost?
DH: When I directed The Last Movie in Peru in 1969, I found a little Incan brain surgery tool in a store. I put it over the fireplace back home, and I’d always go by and look at it. I love the Incan civilization and
found it really bizarre that they performed brain surgery. One day a few years later it was just gone. I think somebody pocketed it.
MJ: What would you do with a time machine?
DH: Patent it.
MJ: Who’s the toughest guy you know?
DH: My friend Eddy Donno, a stunt coordinator who was involved in every movie I made after Easy Rider. He had been playing football for the marines when John Wayne hired him. He was once in a liquor store that got robbed, and the two robbers forced the clerk and customers into a back room. Eddy figured they were going to kill everybody, so he grabbed one robber’s arm and got his gun and shot the other robber. The police commended him.
MJ: What’s the best cure for a hangover?
DH: Back when I was drinking, I’d just have another beer.
MJ: What was your first car?
DH: A 1930 Chevrolet coupe that my father fixed up for me when I was a high school sophomore. The first day I had it I drove to school with a bunch of people stuffed in it, and the brakes went out. I tried to scrape it against a wall but still hit the back of a truck going about 20 mph. That was the only day in high school I had a car.
MJ: What modern convenience could you do without?
DH: I don’t e-mail at all. I had a conversation with Jack Nicholson, and he said, “You know the problem with e-mail? We don’t type.”
MJ: What’s the strangest bet you ever made?
DH: Dean Stockwell and I were in Cannes and had only $500 left between us. I was into numerology, so I figured we’d go to the casino and play these five numbers on roulette, but they wouldn’t let me in without a tux. So Dean played the numbers and came back an hour later with $10,000.
MJ: Where is your favorite place on Earth?
DH: Taos, New Mexico. It’s a remote village, 7,000 feet up in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. When the Spanish came there, that’s where they thought the City of Gold would be. We did the commune scenes in Easy Rider there, and after we finished, I said, “If I ever have any money I’m going to come back here and live.” And I did for 15 years. It was not helpful to my career, but it was a good life experience.
This article originally appeared in the August 2008 issue of Men’s Journal.