WAITING FOR DENNIS : He Thought He had It All Wrapped Up as Ghostwriter for Dennis Hopper’s Autobiography. But It All Ended in a Very Familar Place: Another Busted Hollywood Deal.

<i> Richard Stayton's last article for the magazine was about playwright David Mamet. </i>

It happens to all of us. At a party, across a crowded room, stands your former life. The woman who betrayed you. The man who broke every promise he ever made. You, the co-dependent in recovery, see the Significant Other who tormented and manipulated and consigned you to hell. In a single glance, countless therapy sessions vanish--nothing since has approached that relationship’s intensity or promise.

It happened to me today. Only my self-destructive object of desire is Dennis Hopper. Yes, the actor notorious for playing psychopaths. That deranged fan in the Nike commercials who inexplicably stalks athletes and who unknowingly stalks me.

If it was simply just another self-destructive love affair, maybe it would be over. Certainly I believed it was. Until this afternoon. At the corner bookstore. There he is and he walks straight to me. “Hello, Richard. What have you been up to, man?”


I shake Hopper’s hand, warning myself to beware the killer smile. Don’t get hooked. Do look back. Do remember . . . It is May 15, 1985.

“Dennis Hopper? The guy from ‘Easy Rider’? Is he still alive?”

Yes, I assure the Los Angeles Herald Examiner newspaper’s incredulous entertainment editor, Dennis Hopper is alive and not so well, a ghostly figure at Westside art openings.

“Stayton loves losers,” he sighs by way of answering my story pitch. “Go on, get it out of your system.” Then he imagines the headline. “Dennis Hopper: Dead or Alive?”

The next day I’m in a graffiti-scarred, weed-lined alley, shouting to a second-story window.

A sallow face squints down.

“You from the newspaper?” he asks.

I nod.

Hopper glances warily down the alley. This part of Venice is gang territory.

“Where’s your car?”

“I walked.”

“You walked?

“We’re neighbors.”

“You live in Venice ? We’re neighbors ?”

The head vanishes. A rattle of chains accompanies the slow raising of a corrugated door. Hopper materializes in the narrow cave of a garage, looking like Hip Van Winkle emerging from a drugged sleep.

“Uh, like, man, sorry, you gotta come in through the garage,” he apologizes. His grip is limp, his flesh clammy. He’s only 5 feet 8 1/2 inches, and seems to shrink even more in daylight.

A washer and dryer stand at the foot of the stairs. He pokes a finger into a mound of clothes stuffed in the dryer. “Know anything about these things?”

“Not much.”

“Me neither.” Hopper ponders the dryer.

I crouch beside it and touch his clothes--wet as rain. “Check the lint trap?”

“Lint trap?” Hopper stares at me with fugitive eyes. “What’s a lint trap?”

“It allows hot air to circulate.”

I try to remove it but the lint trap won’t budge. I pry at its edge with my keys. I push, tug, dig until the trap cracks loose. I scrape the encrusted lint out in chunks.

“Wow, man,” Hopper observes, amazed, as if my keys are magic wands. “Thanks so much, man,” he mumbles, so grateful it breaks my heart.

Hopper guides me up the stairs into his cramped studio. I look out over Venice. From his kitchen window, I can see my apartment.

“A lot of windows for a paranoiac,” he jokes anxiously.

Everything about him is anxious. Every word appears to make him flinch. He picks up a hat with a logo: Alcoholism Renewal Unit. “This is where I was when the year began,” he says, referring to a detox ward, and bravely laughs again.

This isn’t just a has-been movie star, I realize, this is a man who has been institutionalized.

I vow to give this interview all day if necessary.

“Dennis Hopper in Conversation With Richard Stayton.”

Above the newspaper’s photograph of a suspicious-looking Hopper floats this quote: “It wasn’t my liver, my kidneys and all that stuff that went. It was my mind.” On the jump page is another: “I didn’t consider myself an alcoholic, I just drank all day long.”

The interview is reprinted globally.

My phone rings incessantly. Hollywood has rediscovered an improved, rehabilitated and provocative Dennis Hopper. Then 48, he was the rebellious contemporary of James Dean, Jack Kerouac, Jim Morrison. But there is a difference. “I survived. Most didn’t.”

“Great piece,” say television execs, who then ask: “How can we contact Dennis?” Hopper appears on news broadcasts, confessing his mental breakdowns, his straitjacket tours of psychiatric institutions, his drug addictions, his alcoholism and sobriety’s salvation. He is back from the dead to testify. He’s a born-again madman for the 1980s.

One week later, Hopper phones me at the Herald. “Hey, man, I can’t tell you how happy I am with your article. Would you be interested in doing my book?”

Hopper claims that a writer from Rolling Stone has been selected to help him write his story. “But I don’t trust this writer,” he confides. “He doesn’t know, you know? You caught my voice. You know art and artists. You’re out of the ‘60s.”

I tell Hopper the truth: I’ve always wanted to write books.

“Cool, man,” he gushes, “I’ll have my manager call you.”

A week later, Hopper and I are sitting in a booth at Cafe 50’s in Venice. Behind Hopper is a poster of 1955’s “Rebel Without a Cause,” his Hollywood debut. For this meeting, he’s not alone: a South American woman accompanies us. She’s heavyset, speaks broken English and adores Hopper.

He only has eyes for me.

The actor’s audition skills run full throttle. He sells himself by dramatizing scenes from his wild and crazy Hollywood youth. The book’s opening chapter, he says, should be the time he told off Columbia Pictures studio head Harry Cohn, who mocked Hopper’s Shakespeare background. “Get him a coach to wipe out that Shakespeare crap,” Cohn commanded. The teen-ager responded: “‘F--- you.” Cohn threw Hopper off the lot.

Under contract to Warner Bros. in 1955, Hopper tells me, he had been James Dean’s stand-in for the “Rebel” auditions. One night the 18-year-old’s phone rang: “This is Natalie Wood,” the voice on the other end said. “I tested with you the other night on ‘Rebel.’ Remember? It was raining?”

Hopper “sort of remembered” this “skinny little girl.”

It took a while to realize that “this skinny little girl” was propositioning him. He asked for her address. “But I’ve got to tell you another thing,” she added. “I don’t do anything but that and I just lay there and I’m very passive.”

Hopper crowns his Cafe 50’s performance by standing and re-enacting an afternoon when Wood rushed into his apartment shouting about a famous actor who had gotten drunk, “called me a whore and raped me.” She gripped a bullwhip of Hopper’s and commanded, “Let me whip you.” Hopper abruptly plops down in the booth, brings his face conspiratorially close to mine and whispers over my hamburger: “That scene with Natalie Wood should be in the book. Don’t you think?”


I’d been seduced by a master.

A month later, Jim Fitzgerald, a tough but gracious editor for Doubleday book publishers, phones me from Manhattan. Hopper has praised this man, not for his editing skills, but for his having looked up Hopper in Taos years ago when he was a forgotten maniac strung out on sex, tequila and cocaine.

A contract arrives from Doubleday. My newly acquired literary agents advise me to sign it. The book is due in 15 months, at 125,000 words. For my collaborative efforts, I’m to receive $30,000. Hopper has a separate agent, a separate contract, and we’re told he’ll get something in the neighborhood of $150,000.

“Don’t think of this as your first book,” my agents suggest. “Think of this as the first of many.”

July 13, 1985: Armed with a tape recorder, note pads and my signed book contract, I march the three blocks from my apartment into Dennis Hopper’s loft.

There, the South American woman is in tears. Hopper apologizes to me: “I’ve gotta take her to the airport.”

“No, you don’t,” she says, swallowing hard. “I don’t want to leave.”

“Hey!” Hopper snarls. She shuts up.

Thus begins months of fragmented interviews. Like all love affairs, it starts passionately. Hopper’s obsessive focus is exhilarating. He doesn’t simply recount his many escapades: he acts out scenes from his past. The process emerges from the “sense memory” method that Hopper learned under acting teacher Lee Strasberg. Each time I turn on my tape recorder and open my notebook, Hopper entertains me with a solo performance that’s utterly bewitching.

There is often someone else present, usually a woman and always a new one. They grow in beauty as his career accelerates. Most appear to be putting their clothes on when I arrive.

“Sex is something that has to be in the book,” he says to me one afternoon. “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.”

He shares his obsession for his mother when he was growing up in Dodge City, Kan. “She was wild, very emotional, a screamer and a yeller. My mother had an incredible body and I had a sexual fascination for her. I never had sex with my mother, but I had total sexual fantasies about her.”

Hopper describes how he juggled actresses attracted to his legendary sexual appetite. “Try Dennis” became party gossip on the starlet trek.

“I consider my sexuality to be a tremendous creative source,” he tells me, “but at a certain point in my life I dealt with sex like I was drinking beer. There wasn’t a starlet who couldn’t be had that I didn’t have. One night I was at a party and somehow everybody started talking about how many times a day they had sex. My turn came and I said, ‘About eight times a day.’ And they asked how was this possible. And I said, ‘Well, like, they come by and I’m there and I have sex with them,’ not adding that several of these women were guests at this party with their husbands and boyfriends.”

I scribble feverishly on note pads and change tape cassette after tape cassette. I become the ghostwriter to Easy Rider, Hopper’s Boswell, willingly possessed by an actor the trades call “the patron saint of the deranged.”

I understand where he’s coming from. I tell him about LSD love-ins in the communes of the Haight-Ashbury; he tells me stories about sexual adventures in Hollywood while acting in “The Trip.” Hopper describes his drug of choice, Methedrine; I shudder at my downer experiences with speed, then tell him about beginning each morning with a pipeful of marijuana. He drank tequila; I drink Scotch.

Together, we make sense for ourselves of the ‘60s and ‘70s.

But his creative “derangement of the senses” ultimately led to alcoholism and addiction. Eventually, sex by itself was never satisfactory. By the early 1980s, Hopper required massive quantities of cocaine and several women simultaneously.

“To shoot cocaine is a totally suicidal trip,” he remembers. “You have to shoot it every 10 minutes to keep high.” His high ended with Hopper walking naked down a Mexican highway at dawn in 1982. “The Third World War was actually happening and I was being guided by a spaceship that was controlling my mind and so I wasn’t sure whether I was to walk to the United States naked or all the way down to the tip of South America.”

Instead, he was arrested and eventually institutionalized.

Hopper the survivor can walk the tightrope of pathology and it’s a breathtaking act to watch--and to write about. In September, Doubleday editor Fitzgerald phones. “What do you know about this contract thing?”

“Didn’t you get it? We mailed it back!”

“Not your contract,” Fitzgerald growls. “Hopper’s contract. He hasn’t signed it. What’s with the delay?”

The delay is Hopper’s resurgent career. Every acting job offered, he accepts. It starts small, with a D+ role as an acid-minded professor in “My Science Project.” But then more ambitious projects materialize. He hands me a screenplay, complaining that his managers call it “irredeemable.” I scan a script by David Lynch titled “Blue Velvet.”

He asks my opinion of another role that his managers warn will be “a career killer.” I read the script to “River’s Edge” and encourage him to portray its one-legged ex-biker obsessed with a sex doll.

I also encourage him to sign the book contract. His manager, Michael McLean, phones to explain the problem: “With Dennis’ film work, we’ll be looking at delays, and I want to build those delays into our contract.”

By the end of the year, Hopper has yet to sign. I talk to his manager, his agent, his “people.” Everyone wants him to sign the contract so that everyone can be paid. I have transcribed the tapes and they’ve come to several hundred pages. My pay so far has been a few lunches on Hopper.

I decide to confront him and march the three blocks separating us.

He’s prowling the loft, holding a portable phone, making tiny yelps of glee. At the huge dining room table once owned by famed art patroness Mabel Dodge Luhan sits a blonde, drying her hair.

Hopper hangs up and mutters in amazement: “Imagine, Warren Beatty on a car phone in the Cahuenga pass talking to Dennis Hopper in Venice. Wow.”

He apologizes, but there’s a film deal going down with Beatty and they’re going to lunch. I press about the book contract.

“I don’t know, man,” Hopper says, still pacing. “You know, Warren says I shouldn’t do it.”

“Warren Beatty?” I’m stunned. “You’re asking him for advice on your life story?”

“Who else?” he says, irritated. “He’s the only actor in Hollywood who’s had as many women as me. He says people in this town never forget. Warren’s smart about these things. And if I lie, and don’t tell the truth, what? What about my sobriety?”

I acknowledge it’s a dilemma. Honest confessions are the foundation of Alcoholics Anonymous. To lie would be more than dishonest; it could endanger Hopper’s sobriety. I am ushered out before Beatty arrives.

By February of 1986, Doubleday’s legal affairs department has grown increasingly impatient. Fitzgerald flies to Los Angeles. After two dinner meetings at Hopper’s favorite Venice hangout, the West Beach Cafe, Fitzgerald has not persuaded Hopper to talk about the book, let alone sign the contract. I promise Fitzgerald that I’ll get an answer from Hopper.

The next day, Hopper tells me: “I appreciate what you’re trying to do, man. I really do. But I’ll pass on it for now.” There’s anxious regret in his voice. “If we do it, I hope we can do it together. I feel on the one hand we could do it. But in my spare time I gotta concentrate on directing a film. There’s a chance if I play things right that I’ll finally direct a studio picture. That’s gotta be my focus. Keep the faith. We will do it.”

I believe him. I understand his desperate artistic focus. He believes this is his last chance. A copy of Fitzgerald’s letter to Hopper arrives. Dated Feb. 14, 1986, it reads: “I would like to formally withdraw the offer that Doubleday has made on the Dennis Hopper autobiography. Please return the unsigned contract at your earliest convenience.”

A sense of relief unburdens me. It’s over and I learned a great deal about Hollywood and publishing. Hopper often speaks of his unfathomable luck, of how he has survived while those around him perish. Fate has not blessed me with Hopper’s luck. I admire the artist but am uneasy with my fascination for the personality.

A year goes by. I’m interviewing Hopper, but now it’s just another of his many media encounters. He is the talk of Hollywood, this year’s “Hardest Working Man in Show Business,” having acted in “Blue Velvet,” “Straight to Hell,” “Black Widow” and “River’s Edge.” Now he has an Oscar nomination for “Hoosiers"--his first since “Easy Rider.”

My sole advantage over other journalists is that we meet in his home, not in a hotel under the gaze of a studio publicist. “I’ve always felt bad about that book,” Hopper says to me, interrupting our interview. “About how you got treated. You really cared about my book. I brought you in and . . . “

We discuss my disappointment, how I had put so much work into the book. Then I propose that I write another version of the original book, this one focusing on counterculture art, with him as the centerpiece of each decade since the 1940s. I could use my research material. Hopper wouldn’t need to be directly involved and could continue working toward his ultimate goal: directing a feature. Meanwhile, I’d be an author, not a ghostwriter.

Hopper ponders. He nods to himself, then says the magic words. “Cool. I like it. You’re my man. I’ll stand behind you. Do it.”

I dance home and immediately call my literary agents, then spend two weeks consumed by work on the book proposal. My agents mail the 46-page book proposal to 10 editors, inviting their publishing houses to submit bids at the literary auction to be held in New York. A pre-auction bid of $85,000 is offered over the phone for my book, tentatively titled “The American Chameleon.” But my agents predict a minimal advance of $185,000. “Don’t get your hopes up,” they counsel. “But anything’s possible.”

“Anything” turns out to be Hopper’s “people” phoning my agents to ask, “If it’s about Dennis, don’t you think we should get a piece of this action?”

Out of the blue, Hopper phones about the original book, the bio.

“Richard, man, do you think you could do my book,” he asks, “mostly on your own, without me? I’ve gotta focus on acting and getting a chance to direct a feature. But you’d get total access, you know, all my friends, family, shit like that but, like, these New York publishers are calling us and, like, the sums are astronomical!”

One agent now promises Hopper a $1.2-million advance for his authorized autobiography. What can I say?

“Sure, man, you want me, I’m there,” I say, masking a marrow-deep disappointment. Once again, I’ll be dependent on Hopper’s schedule to write. “We’ll find a way to work it out.”

I cannot write two books on Hopper. Days before the auction is to be conducted in Manhattan for the book about him and American outlaw culture, my literary agents cancel it. The minimum pre-auction bid had risen to $125,000.

Doubleday re-acquires the rights to a Hopper bio. Once again the editor is Fitzgerald. But this time he has another writer lined up. I am too small for this book.

Hopper stands by me. Contract negotiations finally resume. My new literary agent asks for $80,000. “I feel good about the negotiations,” he says. “But Dennis’ changing mood is a problem.”

Once again, Hopper is reluctant to sign.

I tell Fitzgerald not to worry: during the Christmas holidays, Hopper’s taking a break in his former hometown, Taos, N.M. I’ll be there, too, researching the book at his invitation. This contract, I promise Fitzgerald, Hopper intends to honor.

And so on Christmas Eve in 1987, Hopper is behind the wheel of his big Cadillac, pointing out locations of his former drug exploits during the 1970s. I sit in the back seat, furiously taking notes. In the front seat sits his fiancee, a strikingly beautiful New York dancer. He only has eyes for her.

“Taos, man,” Hopper mutters. “Taos, New Mexico.” He’s impressed that I’m staying in his former home, the Luhan hacienda that is now an inn but was used as a western retreat by Georgia O’Keeffe, Alfred Stieglitz, D.H. Lawrence and Aldous Huxley. After the success of “Easy Rider,” Hopper fled Hollywood and bought the Luhan estate in 1970, transforming it into an editing studio for “The Last Movie.”

“It had 13 bedrooms with separate entrances,” he remembers, “and so it was easy for me to edit in. But I only slept there the first night.”

“Why?” asks his fiancee.

“It was too big,” he answers, but I recalled that in one of our first interviews, Hopper said he never slept there because the mansion was “haunted.” He had seen “ghosts,” he said. Of whom? He wouldn’t say.

Taos inspires Hopper. Excited, he steers down muddy lanes and points out remote cabins on mesas where drug busts had narrowly missed him. At the high school, he once aimed a machine gun at the football coach and team as a warning to leave his hippie friends alone.

He describes his eight-day marriage to Michelle Phillips of the Mamas and Papas. The ceremony was held in the Luhan mansion and resulted in what John Phillips characterized as the “the Six-Day war,” during which Hopper kept Phillips in handcuffs. “Handcuffs?” Hopper mutters, shaking his head at the absurdity. “I asked Jack (Nicholson), ‘I didn’t have any handcuffs, did I?’ And he said, ‘No--she had the handcuffs.’ ”

Hopper laughs. “I was gonna do a book then, too. And call it ‘Seven Drugs and How to Use Them in Acting.’ ”

He drives into the Taos Pueblo, reservation of the Taos-Tiwa Indians, to visit his friends and relatives. There we stumble upon an Indian skinning an elk. “Hey, Dennis,” he says, his arm deep in the dangling carcass. “Look, I shot this elk on the mountain.” He grins, withdraws a bloody arm and points a knife toward an adobe hut. “Everybody’s inside.”

As we crouch to enter the adobe structure, the hunter shouts, “Hey, Dennis, man, I saw you in a movie. You were far out.”

Just before New Year’s Eve, I phone Hopper’s manager to report on my progress.

McLean responds: “Last thing Dennis said was he didn’t know if he’d have the time to do the book. When Fitzgerald comes out in January, I was going to have the four of us sit down and talk about this together.”

Once again, Fitzgerald flies to Los Angeles to finalize the book deal. It’s now 1988, and I’ve been on this trek for three years. We meet Hopper and many of his “people” at the West Beach. During the first two book contracts, I never drank in front of Hopper, afraid that I might somehow lose his trust. Tonight, I flagrantly order Scotch.

Hopper etiquette for the first hour of the so-called “business dinner” means we never bring up the book. At last his manager broaches the taboo subject.

Hopper acts as if he’s deaf. Suddenly, Fitzgerald slumps. After years of pursuit, Doubleday’s loyal book scout accepts defeat. A silent signal zips around the West Beach booth: It’s over. To hell with Hopper’s bio. The book is dead--long live booze!

But the moment Hopper notices that we’re not hanging on his every gesture, he appears frightened. Suddenly, he listens to every word. He interrupts our talk about the Super Bowl. “But what about the book? Aren’t we here to talk about the book?”

An actor’s vanity? A star’s desperate craving for worship? How to explain it? I don’t. It was a little boy who gazed in horror around that West Beach table when we were ignoring him. Panic was in his eyes. Hopper very much needed us to care about his life story.

For the next year, I’ve somehow become a frequent guest, a confidant and a sidekick. I’m often at Hopper’s, but not for the book. We watch the Super Bowl, the college basketball playoffs, his friend Mike Tyson’s championship fights. Sean Penn hosts a private screening of Hopper’s “The Last Movie,” and two generations of rebels share tips on fighting the Hollywood Establishment. Meanwhile, I write numerous magazine pieces on Dennis Hopper. And Doubleday continues to revise Hopper’s unsigned book contract to meet his continuing objections.

Then one afternoon, Hopper mentions another book, the recently published unauthorized biography “Dennis Hopper: A Madness to His Method.” While I’ve been devotedly recording his every comment, a stranger has culled through articles about Hopper, many of them mine, and published a celebrity book I could have written a year ago.

“It seems pretty accurate to me,” Hopper says. “There’s no room for another now. Maybe later.”

In the summer of 1989, Doubleday withdraws its second contract offer to Hopper. The book is dead.

For five years I had transcribed dozens of interview tapes. Each transcription became a transfusion of Hopper’s distinctive voice, whispering from the recorder through the headset into my brain. I had screened every scene of every available Hopper movie, memorizing his gestures. Although Hopper no longer needs me, he remains, his personality like a disease infecting my blood.

Worse, we remain neighbors. I no longer visit him, but his new Venice fortress-studio looms just down the street. I avoid art openings Hopper will attend. But there’s no escape.

An HBO executive urges me to write for a proposed cable series about the 1960s. “You’d be perfect for it,” she tells me. “You were there!” I discover that this MGM/UA Television Production Group has bought the title rights to Hopper’s coffee-table book of photographs, “Out of the Sixties.” The project is cursed. It’s never made.

I write new book proposals. Editors ask, “Aren’t you the writer for that Dennis Hopper book?” I have Dennis Hopper nightmares.

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 but 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 . 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.