Actor loses long-time battle with prostate cancer

(NBC) - Dennis Hopper's acting career spanned more than half a century.

Two of his earliest roles were small parts in major films starring James Dean--1955's "Rebel Without a Cause", and a year later, "Giant", which also starred Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor.

However, it was a counterculture classic in 1969 that made Hopper a star--"Easy Rider". He not only starred in and directed the story of freewheeling bikers traveling cross-country, he also shared an Oscar nomination for the screenplay with co-star Peter Fonda.

1979 brought Hopper another milestone role--a photojournalist in Frances Ford Coppola's "Apocalypse Now". Soon after that role, years of drug and alcohol addiction caught up with Hopper, nearly costing him his career and his life.

He talked about getting sober and staying that way in this 1987 interview on today.

"The only thing I worry about: will I have time to live to do the work I didn't do," said Hopper.

Ironically, it was the role of an alcoholic father and coach in the 1986 film "Hoosiers" that brought Hopper his second Oscar nomination as Best Supporting Actor.

In the years since, Hopper made a mark playing memorable villains, including psychopath Frank Booth in "Blue Velvet" and vengeful bomber Howard Payne in "Speed".

One of Hopper's most recent roles showcased a lighter touch, playing a presidential candidate in the 2008 comedy, "Swing Vote".

A long time art collector, Hopper leaves behind an acting canvas that was shaded by his hard living lifestyle, but highlighted by his work on screen.

The actor died Saturday at the age of 74.

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