Then, in August, 1992, just when it all seems a dim memory, I travel to North Carolina to cover the location shooting of "Super Mario Bros." At the last moment, Hopper is cast to portray Koopa, the video game's lizard king. I feel as if I'm born under a bad star. On location, I warily enter a cramped makeup trailer and discover Hopper seated, a bib protecting his costume, his face caked to transform him into a reptile.
"Hello, Richard," he purrs. Inflamed by the makeup, his eyes flicker past the lizard scales covering his skin. "The American Chameleon" indeed. My original book proposal had been prophetic: somehow Hopper's unconscious absorbed the poisons of each decade, then personified the status of America's avant-garde. In the 1950s, Hopper had been a Beat; in the 1960s, a hippie; in the 1970s, a paranoid dropout like the counterculture itself; in the Me Decade of the 1980s, he became "the rebel with applause." Now, during the Celebrity Decade, Hopper is our radical jester, a mockery of rebellion. Now the outsider is an insider. He loves golf and is a closet Republican who voted for Ronald Reagan "because he's an actor."
By the end of the week, I've interviewed everyone except Hopper. Although he continually invites me into his motor-home, it's for hours of gossipy chitchat about his divorce, sports, everything except the movie he is working on.
Finally, two hours before my flight back to L.A., Hopper calls me again. After venting his anger at the directors, he returns to the subject of his divorce. "I've never been so badly treated by a woman in my life," he says about his soon-to-be fourth ex-wife and the mother of his only son.
"See you in Venice," Hopper says by way of goodby. I think: Not if I can help it.
But I can't help \o7 but \f7 see Dennis Hopper. He's in movie after movie. Artistically brilliant in "Paris Trout" and "True Romance"; mugging through a summer movie like "Speed." At Christmas, Hopper crouches under my sister's tree, a maniacal jack-in-the-box lurking in my nephew's CD-ROM game, "Hell: A Cyberpunk Thriller." Even in movie trailers, there he is, in "Waterworld."
And now at the bookstore, here he is again: Dennis Hopper, in person, shaking my hand, peering into my eyes\o7 .\f7 What does he want from me this time?
And then I excitedly think: He's about to ask me to write his book!
Instead, he is asking me about a stalker. A fanatic has been writing Hopper bizarre letters claiming to be the reincarnation of James Dean. Somehow this stalker had climbed onto Hopper's roof and was trying to sneak in through a skylight.
"How did he get up there?" Hopper asks me, stunned that his fortress had been breached. "There's no way. The police had to do it with helicopters, man, it was like--weird. Not totally wrapped. Know what I mean?"
I knew all about the stalker. I had heard the helicopters and sirens after midnight, had walked into my street and looked downhill toward his home.
"You live that close?" Hopper interrupts, amazed.
"Yes, Dennis, I live that close."
"Oh, that's right," he says. "We're neighbors. Well, stay off my roof, OK, dude?"
Hopper laughs that marvelously hypnotic, trademark chuckle that has accompanied him through many movies and many lives. But I think I could so easily be the outsider on Hopper's roof, peering down at the Hollywood parties, begging to be let in.
Instead, I'm the guy who's begging to get out.