Dennis Hopper has many ties to Las Vegas and at least two ties to Boulder City. Back in August 2016, I wrote about how Hopper helped actress and model Lauren Hutton after a motorcycle accident in 2000 near the Hoover Dam while the pair were on their way through Boulder City to the Guggenheim Museum inside The Venetian.
Hopper, who I knew and worked with for the Las Vegas film festival, CineVegas, also came through Boulder City in 1997 to film a scene for “Top of the World” at Hoover Dam. Some compare the movie’s fictitious casino “Top of the World” to that of The Stratosphere, but the comparison is completely coincidental.
“Top of the World” stars Hopper, Peter Weller and Tia Carrere. The plot is as simple as Vegas crime stories come: A quickie Las Vegas divorce lands Weller’s and Carrere’s characters in the middle of a tangled mob web after a big jackpot win and a robbery that acts as a diversion. The antics then ensue as the casino’s owner, played by Hopper, wants to do his own investigation.
Hopper was born May 17, 1936, in Dodge City, Kansas. After his family moved to San Diego , Hopper studied drama in high school and was voted most likely to succeed in his class. He then moved to New York, where he studied under Lee Strasberg and became good friends with Vincent Price. His debut movie in 1955 was with James Dean in “Rebel Without A Cause.” In 1956, the movie “Giant” came out, which also starred Dean and Hopper. Dean had already died when “Giant” premiered.
Hopper’s charmed introduction to acting only got better. He starred in hit after hit, unaware he was making cinematic history — movies that would soon become classics. But Hopper’s life only looked charmed. Like the rest of us, he had his challenges.
Many magazines, such as The Independent, and media sources like CNN, publicized Hopper’s personal life lessons. The Independent wrote “Dennis was about every Tuesday, he was consuming, on a daily basis, half a gallon of rum, 28 beers and three grams of cocaine.” He used drugs and a lot of them. He had staff meetings with loaded guns on tables. He was eccentric, refusing to change clothes for months on end and handcuffed his wife Michelle Phillips (he was married five times) after becoming convinced (with the help of LSD) that she was a witch.
“Rolling Stone” magazine named Hopper as one of its top 20 most notorious drug addicts in Hollywood. Some people in Hollywood might call this a creative’s plight; others might call the behavior irresponsible or even crazy. However you look at it, Hopper’s talent and love for every aspect of film was indisputable.
Hopper’s time in Boulder City and at Hoover Dam was brief, but he had a love for Nevada. He poured his heart and soul into CineVegas. When I met him, one would never be able to tell that he had hellfire within him. The drugs, the drinking, the rowdy behavior — it didn’t exist when I was around him. Hopper was chairman of the festival from 2004-10 and didn’t sit on his hands. Chairman wasn’t just an honorary title; it was what he did for the festival.
Many say the festival died when Hopper did (May 2010), and to an extent that thought is true. CineVegas tried to make a comeback in 2015, but the atmosphere wasn’t the same, nor were the crowds or support from the venue.
Hopper was an enormous talent who played hard and partied harder. He left his mark on our city and Las Vegas; his movies are appreciated to this day. Sadly, we never do know what is going on internally with our peers. For Hopper, he battled personal demons and addictions and at the end cancer that had metastasized in his bones.
My Throwback Thursday movie recommendation for today is “Top of the World.” If you love a good book, I also recommend “Dennis Hopper: A Madness to His Method” by Elena Rodriguez.
Tanya Vece is a ghostwriter and independent marketing specialist. She can be reached on Instagram @TanyaLVece.