Richard Stayton, now the editor-in-chief of Written By, was working at the Los Angeles Herald Examiner in 1985 when he met and first wrote about Dennis Hopper. He "attended a minimum of three Alcoholics Anonymous or Cocaine Anonymous meetings a day, and narrowly escaped being institutionalized while straitjacketed in a psychiatric ward. And he was broke — at that time, Hollywood considered him unemployable," Stayton says. They began a "tortured" decade-long collaboration on a possible biography. In an appreciation of Hopper on the LAT website tonight, Stayton discusses why the book could never actually happen — and what he came to know about the complex actor. Excerpt:
The artist I came to know was a serious careerist calculating his return from illegality and literal madness, tenaciously managing his sobriety....
"Sex is something that has to be in the book," he insisted. "I used women all my life, just as I used alcohol and drugs. The idea was to break through inhibitions in order to become a better artist."
Over the last decade, I've realized that he'd always felt a specific fear about going into the true roots of his personal myth. It's not that he wouldn't; it's that he couldn't sign any book contract. He deathly feared opening a Pandora's past that might include deeds he'd literally forgotten. Was he holding on to his sobriety? Or afraid of facts I'd dug up?
For example, was it true he was a close friend of James Dean's? As far as I could discover, that was a great deal of fiction based on a fragment of fact. Hopper repeatedly mentioned a knife fight with Rip Torn on the "Easy Rider" location, but that never happened either. Years later, Hopper told Jay Leno on "The Tonight Show" that he'd fired Torn from "Easy Rider" after the actor pulled a knife. Torn won a defamation suit against Hopper when a judge ruled Hopper lied.
Previously on LA Observed:
Dennis Hopper, actor, director and artist was 74