With a New Wife, Son and Movie Uneasy Rider Dennis Hopper Hopes to Find the Hot Spot Back on Top

updated 11/12/1990 at 01:00 AM EST

originally published 11/12/1990 01:00AM

Dennis Lee Hopper, natty in a light silk suit and diamond pinkie ring, tiptoes across the nursery to the crib. He gazes down lovingly as, from another angle, we see Henry Lee Hopper, a 2-month-old bundle of boy, sleeping contentedly. Enter Katherine Lee LaNasa Hopper, 23. Together the actor and his young wife coo—he over their baby, she over her husband.

CUT! This domestic fantasy just won't play. Not with Hopper, 54, the once drug-addled actor who in the 1970s won the running of the Hippie Freakness by a well-coked nose. Ah, but wait. Lost for a decade to drink and drugs, Hopper returned in 1986, chemically clean for several years and cast as Blue Velvet's resident psychopath. Since then he has kept busy indeed, wedding a wife, fathering a son and making movies. The latest of the latter is The Hot Spot, a torrid film noir he has just directed that is based on the 1953 Charles Williams novel Hell Hath No Fury.

It is the cinematic delivery that concerns him at the moment. Though audience response to the movie has been good since its release last month, Hopper has been plunged into a postpremiere funk by the reluctance of stars Don Johnson and Virginia Madsen to promote the film. The former nervously waited "until he read the reviews" before talking about the movie, claims Hopper, and Madsen "was very embarrassed," he says, by the amount of her onscreen nudity.

Fortunately, Hopper's bride kept her own cool over the steamy scenes her hubby oversaw. "It's not like having sex," she says of the Hot Spot seductions he staged. "Besides, I feel pretty confident about my relationship with Dennis. I'm not worried about him running off with someone because he did a sex scene with them. Dennis has had his time."

Indeed he has. In fact, the couple's 31-year age difference (he is seven years older than her plastic surgeon father) seems to extend the stereotypical May-December gap by a couple of months. New Orleans-born Katherine was a 20-year-old dancer in the Karole Armitage Ballet when she and Dennis met one opening night in Los Angeles in 1987. But on their first date, "He wasn't like Mr. Suave who pulled some big number." she says. "When he took me back to the hotel, he took my face in his hands and kissed me all over like a puppy." "I loved her the first time I saw her," says Hopper. "She was snappy, strong, not sentimental. She wasn't impressed by things." Plus, adds the part-time painter and photographer (whose own work appeared in a 1986 photo book titled Out of the Sixties), "Katherine is very well versed in art, which is the only thing I am very well versed in."

The pair dated for nine months, after which Katherine moved into Hopper's Venice, Calif., home. "Living together was wonderful, but I really didn't like the way she was being treated publicly," he says. "We would go to a premiere, and she would be pushed away. The press would say, 'Who is this girl? Is she your daughter?' That wasn't the kind of relationship we had. I thought it would be much better for us to be married."

And so they were, last June in a Pacific oceanside chapel ceremony attended by the groom's two daughters from earlier marriages. For her part, Katherine says she is pleased that Hopper doesn't make a big deal of his seniority ("He lets me be my age; I don't feel like I have to be an older, sophisticated woman") but admits. "Sometimes he has done so much stuff, it's overwhelming. For instance, the news came out about Kuwait. Well, Dennis knows the emir and his son. It's so unreal."

Hopper, too, confesses to some age anxiety. "Sometimes, when I am on an airplane, I think, 'I hope my will is in order.' If I take care of myself, I'll be 74 when Henry is 20. That's pretty heavy."

Of course, taking the long view of life has never been one of Hopper's habits. Cast in his first movie opposite James Dean in 1955's Rebel Without a Cause, he had some early run-ins with directors that quickly got him typecast as a troublemaker. Virtually blacklisted from movies, he resorted to TV dramas and even moonlighted as a Vogue photographer before returning to marquee prominence in 1969 with Easy Rider. Then the first of his four marriages, to Brooke Hay ward, daughter of actress Margaret Sullavan and producer Leland Hayward, ended after eight years and the birth of daughter Marin, now 28.

Hopper next wed ex-Mama Michelle Phillips, but their union lasted only a week. ("I got her a job going on tour with Leonard Cohen. She called me from Nashville and said. 'I've decided to make music my life.' ") Then came a four-year union with actress Daria Halprin and the birth of a second daughter. Ruthanna, now 17. Finally, Hopper's excesses overwhelmed him, and in 1982 he was committed to a Los Angeles psychiatric ward suffering psychotic hallucinations from cocaine and alcohol.

Hopper still expresses regret for the costs of his addictions and says, "Instead of directing 20 films in my life. I have done only six. I haven't left a meaningful body of work." Which explains, perhaps, why the onetime rebel is talking as much about movie projects as paternity at the moment. "I haven't stopped working since we've been married," boasts Hopper, who went to work on The Hot Spot just five days after his wedding. In fact, even though he and Katherine went through Lamaze classes together, he was absent again, acting in an upcoming Showtime special titled Paris Trout, when Henry was born. Calling from a phone booth on location, he was told the natal news and "started crying," says Katherine.

Although Hopper does see his older daughters often (and even enlisted Marin, a movie script developer, as a bridesmaid in his wedding), he's no doting dad. "I give him the baby to hold; he does do that." says Katherine with a shrug. But he is making space for little Henry—a two-room addition for the baby and his nanny, to go with Hopper's private screening theater, office and gallery of modern art.

Whether Hopper or Katherine will be spending much time there is the next question. She hopes to start up her own ballet troupe. Umbrella Forest Dancers, early next year, and he has already finished performing in another new film titled Indian Runners, written and directed by longtime pal Sean Penn. "Hopefully I'll be directing a movie a year until I'm 70," he says, as Henry snoozes in the crib nearby. "If I could act in a movie a year besides, I could be very happy."

—Steve Dougherty, Vicki Sheff in Los Angeles

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