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Thursday, July 29, 2004

Dennis Hopper, solved

It was all about the letter A. And in the case of one controversial subject, the A stood for "appreciation."

"The home of the abolitionist, John Brown, who fought against slavery; the home of Amelia Earhart, the aviator, who braved the skies; and the home of the actor, Dennis Hopper, who’s brave enough to, well, brave enough to be Dennis Hopper."

With those words, Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius cast the state’s 41 delegate votes Wednesday night for Sen. John Kerry at the Democratic National Convention. States traditionally give some "home of" speech about their state when they cast their ballots.

It’s a fun way to identify a state to a nation, but like everything else at a convention, it serves a political purpose. Constituencies are pleased, tea leaves are read, etc.

The Kansas intro played it pretty safe. Yeah, John Brown was in his day considered by many to be America’s foremost terrorist, and after he left Kansas he was executed by the federal government, but hey – he’s on the right side of history, and most folks have mellowed out over the Civil War by now. Earhart’s a slam-dunk – aviatrix, well-known, Kansan through-and-through.

Then you have Hopper. Respected actor and director, born in Dodge City, Kan.? You bet. Noted unemployable psycho of the ‘70s, known for weeks-long drug bungers and uncontrollable rage? Yup. Sebelius said the Hopper choice did raise a couple eyebrows, but in all good fun, the choice was appropriate.

"We wanted A’s – you know, abolitionist, actor, aviator," she said. "But I have to tell you the followup.
"After the convention, I was with (Gov.) Bill Richardson and some of the folks from New Mexico," where Hopper now lives, she said. "One of them said, ‘You know Dennis will think what you said is great. I’ll get him on the phone.’

"Suddenly, I’m handed a phone, and here’s Dennis Hopper. And I said hello and it was him. He thought it was delightful he was being mentioned by Kansas."

Sebelius added that Hopper’s current wife, Victoria Duffy, is a delegate to this year’s convention. That would be Hopper’s fifth wife – his most famous ex-wife being Mama and Papa Michelle Phillips, who  divorced him after eight days in part because he was, oh, keeping her in handcuffs so she couldn't run away. (Hopper said it was her idea.)

That was then, this is now, Sebelius said.

"Dennis Hopper is a totally new man," she said. "There’s a lot of people who make mistakes early on and figure out a mistake," she said. And it’s undeniable that Hopper’s mellowed quite a bit since the ‘70s, mounting a lauded film comeback while cleaning up his act.

"He’s definitely a well known Kansan," she said. "We thought it would be a lot of fun to recognize him."