Often called ‘Hollywood’s Original Hell-Raiser’, American actor and director Dennis Hopper was known for indulging in some truly crazy activities during the 1960s and the ’70s. Ranging from shooting up a tree while high on LSD to snorting a dead woman’s ashes, Hopper lived his life as a symbol of counter-cultural resistance against the monotony of a boring existence.
After creating the iconic 1969 road film Easy Rider, Hopper moved on to his next project titled The Last Movie. Set in Peru, it starred Hopper as a disillusioned stuntman who leaves the world of cinema and takes refuge in the arms of a local woman. However, things go wrong when the indigenous population attempt to recreate the cinematic spectacle of violence without realising the difference between fiction and reality. The film received the CIDALC Award at the Venice Film Festival, but it ended up as a critical and commercial failure.
The Last Movie was also notable for being the film debut of the Mamas and the Papas vocalist Michelle Phillips in a minor acting part. During the production, she felt an intense attraction towards Hopper and described it as “this Florence Nightingale instinct (and, just for the record, girls, it doesn’t work.) I was so overloaded emotionally by this point in my life, I didn’t know what I was doing.” They got married soon enough, finalising the details on October 31, 1970, after work on the production was over.
Screenwriter Stewart Stern furnished more details about the allegedly bizarre ceremony: “[Hopper] got married reading ‘The Gospel of St Thomas’ aloud to Michelle… He decorated the whole place with candles stuck in paper bags. It was a whole mixed mystical thing. He read the whole marriage ceremony, and it was just craziness.” However, the actual craziness would take place in the following period since their union lasted only eight days.
When Phillips looked back on the marriage, she revealed that her time with Hopper was “excruciating”. Although she declined to elaborate on the experience, Phillips recalled: “My father dragged me into his attorney’s office and said, ‘Men like that never change. File for divorce now. It’ll be embarrassing for a few weeks, then it will be over… [Everyone asked] A divorce after eight days? What kind of tart are you?'”.
Hopper had a different version of the story, claiming that “seven of those days were pretty good. The eighth day was the bad one.” Author Peter Biskind confirmed many of the rumours about the toxic marriage, stating that Hopper scared Michelle and her daughter Chynna by shooting guns within the house. Hopper also tried to restrain Phillips by handcuffing her because he insisted that she was a witch. “[Hopper was] so stoned the morning after the wedding… he didn’t recognise his bride,” the Daily Mail reported.
It was later rumoured that Phillips finally decided to call it off because of Hopper’s “unnatural sex demands”, which does not seem to be unrealistic at all since that period was an especially dark time in his life. The filmmaker had allegedly already started a cult during the production of The Last Movie, encouraging everyone to consume drugs in copious quantities and engage in orgies. One actor almost died from an overdose after downing five peyote buds in quick suspicion.
Hopper himself confirmed: “It was one long sex and drugs orgy. Wherever you looked there were naked people out of their [expletive] minds. But I wouldn’t say it got in the way. It helped us get the movie done. We might have been drug addicts but we were drug addicts with a work ethic… The drugs, the drink, the insane sex, they all fuelled our creativity.”