I didn't like Easy Rider. Only within the context of the Hollywood studio system could it be seen as in any way revolutionary. We Europeans had been making movies like that- on the hoof, with small crews, with molto improvisation- for ages- mainly because we didn't have any money. Its importance is that it opened Hollywood up to a new generation- and a new- more European- style of film making.
It's not a particularly good movie- but its a brave one- and you couldn't write the history of the American cinema without nodding in its direction.
I haven't seen any of his other movies as director. I gather they're OK.
As an actor he appeared in a very large number of very good movies- almost always in supporting roles. You'll be watching an old John Wayne movie of the kind that gets shown on weekend afternoons and a very young, scruffy, wild eyed dude will shuffle on screen and give the Duke some lip- and it'll suddenly hit you, "Oh my God, that's Dennis Hopper!" He was always an egomaniac- known for defying directors and displaying artistic temperament even though he was only playing third bad man from the left- in spite of which he kept getting hired- because- even though they only wanted him as third bad man from the left- he could be counted on to bring bags of moody charisma to the role. He was in Rebel Without a Cause, he was in Giant, he was in True Grit, he was in Apocalypse Now. By the end of his life he'd notched up a number of indelible performances- most notably as Frank Booth in Blue Velvet. He wasn't a great actor, but in the right role under the right director he could be sensational.
He was also an artist, a photographer and an art collector.
Finally there's the legend. The drugs, the booze, the tantrums, the stunts. I don't know how much of it just happened, how much of it was carefully constructed or even how much of it is true, but it's the legend- even more than the work- that makes him the towering cultural figure that he is. He was insanely ambitious, single-minded, self-destructive and strong-willed- an awful warning and a shining light- and against all the odds he died- at a respectable age- in his bed.
It was a helluva life- and I think we'll be talking about it- trying to make some sense of it- for a very long time to come.