From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
Victoria Duffy Hopper had reached her breaking point. It was October 2008, and the former waitress turned political organizer was vacationing in Paris with her husband, actor Dennis Hopper. As had become all too common in the last few years of their 14-year union, the couple were in the middle of a vicious fight. "He screamed, 'You are a human garbage can,'" claims Victoria, 42. (Dennis, 73, denies saying that in court papers.) Says Victoria: "I hadn't gotten a lawyer, but in my mind, our marriage was irrevocably broken."

But when the couple returned home to L.A. a week later, they got devastating news: Dennis's long-dormant prostate cancer had spread and was serious. "I dropped any idea of leaving and decided to stay and take care of him," says Victoria.

Now the couple are in the midst of an exceedingly nasty divorce battle, with accusations of wrongdoing flying on both sides and their 7-year-old daughter Galen caught in the middle. In her first interview about the divorce, Victoria, occasionally breaking into tears, describes a marriage that was rocky from the start. "My relationship with Dennis was always very difficult," says Victoria, who was 24 when she moved in with the notoriously intense actor, a counterculture icon who famously battled drug and alcohol addiction before becoming sober in 1983. "He is not an easy person, but we definitely did love each other." But Victoria claims Dennis had become increasingly verbally abusive, and last summer, amid fights over Galen's upbringing "he told me he planned great harm for me and I wouldn't see it coming. I started to feel scared for my life."

In court papers, Hopper denies making that statement and tells a very different story. The star of such films as Easy Rider, Blue Velvet and Speed filed for divorce Jan. 12 and denies ever threatening his fifth wife; he portrays her as an often hysterical spendthrift who "deliberately ... intended to cause me to suffer severe emotional distress." (Hopper declined to comment for this story.) In declarations made by Hopper's family and staff, Victoria is described as haranguing her seriously ill husband over money. "Victoria has made my father's life a living hell," Hopper's son from a previous marriage, Henry, told the court.

Friends of Dennis's family claim that the situation exploded after Dennis removed Victoria as executor of his estate in July in favor of his daughter Marin, 47, from a previous marriage. "Victoria flew into a rage when she found out," says a Hopper family source. "For her, this is all about money." People who have known her for years say that this characterization is inaccurate and that Victoria is just protecting the interests of her daughter. "Victoria was a devoted wife and is a great mom," says a friend of the couple's. "All she wants is to have a safe home for her daughter."

Currently Victoria and Galen live in a guesthouse next to Hopper's Frank Gehry-designed home. Galen regularly visits her father, who is still very ill but responded well to his latest round of chemo, according to friends. Victoria, who must stay 10 feet away from him per a mutually agreed upon court order, hasn't seen her husband since Jan. 19. "We spoke calmly and I said my final piece," she says of their last meeting. "I told him that I would always have love for him because of our daughter. His response was, 'I don't need forgiveness from you.' Then he held a cross up to my face and said, 'Now get out.'"