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My Time with the Original “Easy Rider”

I was watching the news last Saturday and I learned that Dennis Hopper finally succumbed to prostate cancer and died.

I was so upset that I immediately had to turn away from the television to write down my thoughts to you guys in honor of Dennis.

I watched his iconic 1969 classic “Easy Rider” in memory of his life and death, although it took me two sessions. (Thanks to Roy Fuller for the loan of the tape.)

Although it’s not really my kind of movie, I certainly can understand what it represents for that day and as a counterculture movie of an era. It was a time of both doing and dealing drugs for both America and apparently Dennis as well. In Dennis’s words in an interview with CBS Sunday back in 2008, he was drinking a half-gallon of rum and 18 beers a day along with snorting 3 grams of cocaine “just to maintain” at one point. But he said he’d been clean and sober the last 24 years.

I knew him as a regular guy at the restaurant where I worked, the West BeachCafé’ on Venice Boulevard in Venice Beach where he lived until the day he died.

As I told you before he was one of the regular guys who on more than one occasion “had my back” with the owners of the restaurant and stood up for me. He ate often at the bar, liked Eggs Benedict and often started his Sunday morning in those days with a mimosa.

He would switch back and forth between the bar and a table as I specifically remember at the celebrity table “5A,” a big round table in the corner of the restaurant.

He was never one to show off with fanfare or bravado. He just kind of slunk in on his own and later he would join his friends at the celebrity table.

I just knew him as Dennis, my bar buddy, who would have a laugh over a margarita.

In memory of Dennis, I should share with you a recipe he loved. It was 2 oz. Patron Silver Tequila, 1 oz. Cointreau Liquor (way better than Triple Sec as used in most bar-restaurants) and 1 oz. fresh lime juice.

I’m told he was in more than 100 movies during his career in spite of an 8-year hiatus after a difficult time with the director of “From Hell to Texas” in 1958. He later said, that director Henry Hathaway told him when he came back to movies in “The Sons of Katy Elder” he wasn’t a better actor, just smarter.

But we didn’t talk that much about movies. His focus was on life in the now.

He would ask me how I was doing and I’d start to talk about my difficulties with my agent and auditions.

He’d say, “No, no, Kathryn. That’s not what I’m talking about. I don’t mean the ‘business.’ I mean, What makes you happy?”

Because he talked business with everyone in his life. But with me he focused on what mattered the most.

Then when I said, “Going out that door on the beach with the wind and surf and sun,” and he’d say “I’m right there with you, Kathryn.”

He said that’s why he still lived in Venice Beach. And that’s where he died.

In fact, he made such an impression on me that after living in a rental, I bought my first house in Venice Beach on Crestmore Ave.

He was one of those who was looking out for my well being, and warned me, “This town is full of sharks.”

I have nothing but fond memories of my time with Dennis.

About Kathryn Spira

Kathryn Spira, a native of Cleveland, OH who pursued an acting career in NYC and Los Angeles, now pursues freelance writing from Caroga Lake in Fulton County, New York. Previous columns may be accessed at her web site