LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Following are some key facts about “Easy Rider,” the groundbreaking 1969 biker film directed by Dennis Hopper, who died at his home in Los Angeles on Saturday from complications of prostate cancer.
Hopper played Billy in the film, alongside Peter Fonda as Wyatt, a.k.a. Captain America.
* Fonda came up with the idea while drinking beer and smoking marijuana in a Toronto motel room. He immediately called Hopper in the middle of the night, and proposed they both write and star, that Hopper direct and he produce.
* Hopper viewed the story — two drug-dealing bikers who ride their Harley-Davidsons across the country to Mardi Gras, and are then shot by rednecks — as a fable about how pursuers of the American dream lose sight of their freedom.
* The script was credited to Fonda, Hopper and influential writer Terry Southern, although they bitterly argued about who was responsible for the final product.
* Hopper and Fonda, who also argued about profit-sharing, started the production as friends and ended it as feuding enemies.
* Hopper was reluctant to cast the unknown Jack Nicholson as the alcoholic lawyer because he wanted someone with an authentic Texan accent.
* Hopper claimed in 1994 that he had fired Rip Torn from the role ultimately played by Nicholson, because Torn had pulled a knife on him. Torn sued Hopper for defamation, and won a $475,000 judgment.
* The film was budgeted at about $360,000, funded by windfall profits from the duo behind “The Monkees.” Hopper said it made its money back in one week, from one theater.
* Music producer Phil Spector, later convicted of murder, has a cameo at the beginning as the cocaine buyer, supplying his own bodyguard and Rolls-Royce to keep down costs.
* Hopper once took credit for America’s cocaine problem, saying “Easy Rider” popularized its use.
* The marijuana the characters smoked on screen was authentic, high-quality product that had a quick effect.
* Fonda shot his scene in the hot springs alone, three weeks after his co-stars did, because he was hospitalized with pneumonia at the time.
* Hopper drew on the suicide of Fonda’s mother to cajole him into making the tearful outburst “I hate you so much” during the acid-trip scene in the New Orleans cemetery.
* The redneck with the goiter who shot Fonda and Hopper’s characters was discovered by Hopper at a gas station.
* Bob Dylan turned down Hopper’s request to use: “It’s Alright Ma I’m Only Bleeding” over the ending credits, and instead wrote the lyrics of “Ballad of Easy Rider,” which was sung by Roger McGuinn of the Byrds.
* The custom-built bikes their characters rode were completely impractical for cross-country riding. They were stolen at gunpoint before filming was completed and likely dismantled, which is why they don’t appear in the final campfire scene. Fonda said Hopper later sold a replica, fraudulently claiming it was an original.
* The film was released in July 1969, more than a year after filming had ended as Hopper agonized over the editing, at one point planning to release a version almost four hours long.
(Sources: “Raging Bulls, Easy Riders,” by Peter Biskind; “Don’t Tell Dad,” by Peter Fonda; “Easy Rider” 30th anniversary DVD)
Reporting by Dean Goodman; Editing by Eric Walsh