Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Legends Remembered: Wooden & Hopper

This post seems odd in comparison to my past entries, but I wanted to put down some thoughts about the lives of two separate individuals in the wake of their passing.  The only similarities between John Wooden and Dennis Hopper was that they were both politically conservative, found their careers in L.A., and were both men. 

Wooden was nicknamed, much to his chagrin, "The Wizard of Westwood," for his amazing career as the men's head basketball coach for the UCLA Bruins.  He is one of only three men who has been enshrined into the Basketball Hall of Fame as a player and coach.  He led the Bruins to ten national titles, four perfect seasons, and over 600 wins in 27 years. 

He was a man driven by faith and a quest for perfection.  He was once quoted, saying, "I have always tried to make it clear that basketball is not the ultimate. It is of small importance in comparison to the total life we live. There is only one kind of life that truly wins, and that is the one that places faith in the hands of the Savior." 

UCLA celebrates a day in his honor every year on February 29th.   His legacy has and will continue to stem for lifetimes to come.  He taught his teams the meaning of working together, and he had only three hard-and-fast rules -- no profanity, tardiness or criticizing fellow teammates. 

He lived his life by a small list that his own father gave him upon his elementary school graduation:
  • Be true to yourself.
  • Make each day your masterpiece.
  • Help others.
  • Drink deeply from good books, especially the Bible.
  • Make friendship a fine art.
  • Build a shelter against a rainy day.
  • Pray for guidance and give thanks for your blessings every day.

Over the years, he added three of his own maxims to his credo.
  • Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.
  • Flexibility is the key to stability.
  • Be quick, but don't hurry.
Wooden was a man of simple, yet traditional values.  In a 2009 interview, John Wooden described himself politically as a "liberal Democrat," who had voted for some Republican presidential candidates.  Never wanting much for himself, he never made more than $35,000 in on year, and kept his retirement present (a blue Mercedes, given to him by UCLA) until the day of his death, never opting to buy a newer car. 

"He had as little ego as anybody I've ever known. He would never give advice, but he would always give opinions," Jim Harrick recalled, another former head coach of the UCLA Bruins. "I happened to be the coach during the time that went from the short, short pants to what he called the bloomers. He thought that was the worst thing that ever happened to basketball."

Nell, Wooden's wife of 53 years, died of cancer in 1985.  His health permitting, he visited her graveside every month on the 21st.  He took with him a handwritten love letter in hand that he would lay on a pillow that she laid her head on for the length of their marriage.  Besides his son and daughter, Wooden is survived by three grandsons, four granddaughters and 13 great-grandchildren.

It seems strange to most people to mention Dennis Hopper and the word legend in the same sentence.  He was often dwarfed by his co-stars, which to name a few have included James Dean, John Wayne, Jack Nicholson, Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, and Gene Hackman.

His passing, at age 74, seems all too soon.  He was laid to rest in his beloved adopted hometown of Taos, New Mexico.

He was born in the Old West town of Dodge City, Kansas, and much like the gun-slinging legends before him, he set out for his own legacy.  He was one of the pioneers of acting by being one of Lee Strasberg's first students at the Actor's Studios.  He overcame a lengthy battle of addiction to drugs and alcohol to have an amazing career that lasted over half a century and included many on-screen accolades.

What is not well-known is his success and life in the world of other arts. Hopper was a prolific photographer, painter, and sculptor.  His photography is known for portraits from the 1960s. His painting style ranges from abstract impressionism to photorealism and often includes references to his cinematic work and to other artists.

Ostracized by the Hollywood film studios due to his reputation for being a difficult actor, Hopper eventually turned to photography in the 1960s with a camera bought for him by his then-wife, Brooke Hayward. During this period he created the cover art for the Ike & Tina Turner 1966 release River Deep – Mountain High.

Hopper became a noted photographer, and herald writer Terry Southern profiled Hopper in Better Homes and Gardens magazine as an up and coming photographer in 1964.

He began working as a painter, poet, as well as a collector of art during this time as well.  One of the first art works Hopper owned was an early print of Andy Warhol's Campbell's Soup Cans bought for a mere $75.

On the Gorillaz album Demon Days, Hopper narrated the song "Fire Coming out of the Monkey's Head."

In May 2009 it was announced that Hopper would be the subject of an upcoming biography by American writer Tom Folsom.  Hopper: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream.  The subtitle is a direct reference to the Hunter S. Thompson book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

He was a noted Republican, often supporting the GOP and its candidates, until 2008.  He threw his support in favor of Barak Obama.  He had said that his reason for not casting his vote republican after over 30 years of doing so, was the selection of Sarah Palin, as John McCain's running-mate.

In March 2010, it was announced that Hopper would be honored with the 2,403rd star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, in front of Grauman's Theatre.  Surrounded by friends including Nicholson, Viggo Mortensen, David Lynch, Michael Madsen, and family and fans, he attended, weakened by his battle with prostate cancer.

Days after, it was reported that his health diminished even further, weighing less than 100 pounds, and unable to carry on long conversations.  According to his attorney and spokesperson, Hopper was terminally ill and unable to undergo chemotherapy to treat his cancer.

He is survived by five ex-wives, six children, and two grand children.

Two different men.  Two separate lives.  Both remembered for their talents and approach to life.  While each man carried themselves differently, they easily lived a life where they both knew that There is Nothing Wrong with Knowing You're the Best!"



1 comment: