Movie and motorcycle fans from all over the U.S. and Canada made their way to New Mexico in honor of Dennis Hopper’s cult classic Easy Rider. Fans assembled Saturday in the sandy, encircled plaza of the Ranchos de Taos community, to help start what officials of the town hope will be a yearly event; ‘Dennis Hopper Day’.
Saturday marked the Oscar nominated actors 78th birthday, and fans came out to remember and celebrate Dennis Hopper in the place where he once lived and was now buried. Rick Bellis, the town manager stated the day was designed to recognize and appreciate Hopper’s contributions as a resident of the town, an actor and director, an arts supporter and for simply being a vibrant member of the community.
The day began with an invitation to all motorcyclist to ride in the first-ever “Easy Rider Ride,” for fans to honor Dennis Hopper. The motorcyclist left the plaza just before 1p.m. with a police escort and started their easy ride on the two-lane road heading out of Taos for a 49-mile ride. The Damn Band, a local band kicked off the Dennis Hopper Commemoration Reception, with songs from the Easy Rider soundtrack, while some restaurants served Hopper-inspired dishes. After the festivities the town mayor, Dan Barrone proclaimed the day an official holiday for the town and county.
Marking the first year of the event honoring the great Dennis Hopper, organizers are hoping to add more music and film venues in the coming years. Hopper was also able to get some of the area’s traditional Native American and Hispanic families to open up to outsiders when he first arrived back in the 60’s. Actually, he was the only person to get permission to film at the American Indian community of Taos Pueblo.
Hopper first went to New Mexico in the late 1960’s to scout for a location for Easy Rider. Shot on a small budget, the independent film summed up the hopes and anxieties of the 60’s, glamorize the open road and ended up transforming Hollywood by driving the studio gates open to a new breed of film graduates.
Born in Dodge City, Kansas in 1963, and at a young age Hopper expressed interest in acting and first appeared in a slew of 1950s television series. These included Medic (1954), Cheyenne (1955), and Sugarfoot (1957). He became good friends with James Dean and was crushed when he was killed in a car crash September 30, 1955. However, in the early 1969, Hopper, Peter Fonda and writer Terry Southern, wrote and financed the low-budget film Easy Rider, which also starred Peter Fonda, Hopper, and a young Jack Nicholson.
Easy Rider ended up being a box-office success, unfortunately Hopper’s next directorial effort, The Last Movie (1971), was a financial and critical failure. Throughout his career he played in a number of other films as well as flexed his directors muscles. He was nominated for two Academy Awards and one Golden Globe and over twenty others, including winning Best First Work in 1969 from the Cannes Film Festival.
By Virginia Snowden