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A Biography of Conservative Hollywood Actor Dennis Hopper

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A Biography of Conservative Hollywood Actor Dennis Hopper

Dennis Hopper

Michael Caulfield/Getty Images

Conservative Credentials:

Dennis Lee Hopper started voting for conservatives with Ronald Reagan, saying that the idea of less government and more individual freedom appealed to him and that he's "voted the straight Republican ticket ever since." Hopper also voted for George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, and was a very early supporter of GOP candidate John McCain for president in 2005. Ultimately, however, he ended up voting for Barack Obama saying Sarah Palin swung him away from McCain. Still, Hopper put his career where his politics were, starring in two conservative films in 2008, An American Carol and Swing Vote. He died on May 29, 2010.

Early Life:

Hopper was born May 17, 1936 in Dodge City, Kansas, the son of Democrats Marjorie Mae and Jay Millard Hopper. He and his family moved to San Diego when he was 13 and Hopper developed a love for acting in high school, where he was voted "most likely to succeed." Hopper began acting in TV shows in the 1950s, including "Medic" in 1954 and "Cheyenne" in 1955. His first film role was in Johnny Guitar, which was followed by a small part in Rebel Without a Cause, which starred James Dean. Hopper looked up to Dean as an idol and was crushed at his tragic death in a car accident in 1955.

Early Career:

Shortly after Dean's death, Hopper became embroiled in an on-set dispute with director Henry Hathaway and was blacklisted from films for a short time. He focused on photography and was moderately successful, but the acting bug never fully left him. Hopper went to New York in the late 1950s, and while continuing to earn respect for his photography attended the Lee Strasberg acting school. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, he appeared in a variety of TV shows, honed his painting skills and wrote poetry -- all while continuing to take pictures. He also became involved in the New York pop art scene.

Rise To Prominence:

Throughout the 1960s, Hopper returned to the big screen sporadically, including a supporting role in the 1967 film, Cool Hand Luke. Usually, however, he portrayed villains in westerns such as The Sons of Katie Elder in 1965, Hang 'Em High in 1968 and True Grit in 1969. John Wayne would often kid Hopper about his liberalism. During this period, he met actor Peter Fonda and writer Terry Southern and, in 1967, the trio co-wrote the counter-culture film, Easy Rider. In 1968, they cobbled together $400,000 in independent backing, and Hopper starred in and directed the film, which went on to be an enormous success.

Struggles with Success:

Over the next 10 years, several events contributed to Hopper's spiral into addiction and drug abuse. Between his failing marriage to actress Brooke Hayward and a public squabble with Fonda over the residual income from Easy Rider, Hopper turned to drugs. He married singer/songwriter Michelle Phillips in 1970, and less than a week later, she filed for divorce. In 1971, after the disastrous release of his next directorial effort, The Last Movie, he was scorned and dismissed by the Hollywood film community as a burned-out one-hit wonder.

Return to Prominence:

In 1979, Hopper won critical acclaim when he was cast alongside Marlon Brando and Martin Sheen as a pot-smoking photographer in Francis Ford Coppola's classic Vietnam film, Apocalypse Now. A year later, he earned more accolades for his return to directing with Out of the Blue. It was around this time, that Hopper hit rock bottom with his drugs and alcohol. After enrolling in rehab, Hopper revived his career with one excellent performance after another.

Switch to Conservatism:

After emerging from rehab in 1980, Hopper became interested in politics. He has said that he was fed up with the direction the country was going under the Democrats and decided that Republicans needed to return to power. He began to espouse feelings of less government and more individual freedom, and joined the Republican party, since he believed they best embodied that philosophy. He voted for Reagan in 1984 and for George H.W. Bush in 1988 and 1992. In 2000, he supported George W. Bush for president and in 2004, he not only voted to re-elect Bush, he donated money to the campaign.

Conservatism in Hollywood:

"The controversy about me," Hopper said in this 2005 interview. "I don't think it's going to stop me. However, a lot of people treat me differently, and they do bring it up. I'll be at a dinner party, and somebody will say, 'Well, you couldn't be thinking that ...' And then you realize that everybody at the table is looking at you, and they're like, 'You're kidding! You're not really for Bush.' And it goes around the table. It can only stop me from eating, not working."

Battle with Cancer & Death:

In September 2009, the 73-year-old Hopper was rushed to a Manhattan hospital after suffering a reported episode of dehydration. A month later, his publicist announced that he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. By January 2010, it was reported that it had metastasized into bone cancer and was considered terminal. In March 2010, Hopper was honored with Hollywood Star No. 2,403 on Hollywood Boulevard's historic Walk of Fame. Hopper was clearly emaciated, and died two months later on May 29, 2010. He was buried on June 3, 2010 following his funeral at San Francisco de Asis Church in Ranchos de Taos, NM.

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