Dennis Hopper and wife Victoria in happier times Image Credit: Wenn

As a gesture of pure, hate-fuelled spite, it takes some beating. Ultimate bad boy Dennis Hopper, the actor who played the psychotic thug in Blue Velvet and the hairy biker in Easy Rider, is divorcing his wife, Victoria — from his deathbed.

Most people, given weeks to live, would at least attempt a reconciliation. Especially if, like the Hoppers, they had a much-loved six-year-old daughter and had enjoyed nearly 14 relatively happy years together.

But not the incorrigible Dennis. Suffering from terminal prostate cancer, he is vowing to cap the amount Victoria gets in his will and, what's more, to deny her any hope of contesting it. As the 73-year-old lies dying, he also wants her to move out of the beachside compound where they had once lived in harmony.

It seems only yesterday that I was in Morocco with Hopper, who was playing a Philistine general in Nic Roeg's movie Samson And Delilah.

Newly married to the then 28-year-old actress Victoria Duffy — who is now at the receiving end of this ultimate gesture of deathbed defiance — the couple were holed up in their desert bungalow, enjoying each other's company so much that the other stars, including Elizabeth Hurley, who had been expecting displays of Hopper's legendary roistering, were left sorely disappointed.

Here was the Hollywood hellraiser, variously known as a genius and a maniac, in nesting mode, his only arguments confined to benign exchanges with the local carpet-sellers as he haggled for soft furnishings to take back to the marital home in LA.

It was a far cry from the barnstorming, argumentative "madman of the movies" we had come to expect, the man who habitually carried a gun and a knife, and whose daily intake of stimulants was half a gallon of rum, 28 beers and three grams of cocaine.

Outlaw urges

Despite the odd spell of good behaviour, Hopper has always been very bad indeed. And yet he could have been Hollywood royalty. Born in Kansas in 1936, he always claimed he developed his outlaw urges while growing up in his home state, a place where "if you could put your hand on the bar, they put a beer in it — even though the state was dry".

When his soldier father returned a hero from the Second World War, he failed to rein in his son. Indeed, instead of being inspired by his role-model father, the young Hopper took to sniffing petrol fumes, and smashing up trucks with a baseball bat.

A born show-off, he soon gravitated to Hollywood to work in the theatre. And there he started propositioning girls in the street with the characteristically unsophisticated chat-up line: "My name is Dennis Hopper. Do you want to f***?" Legend has it he even tried his luck with a couple of nuns.

Never remotely apologetic, he recently described his philosophy as "living to the edge of your senses. I always thought that's what keeps the violin tuned. All my early idols were alcoholics and drug addicts. Arthur Rimbaud, John Barrymore, Edmund Kean. Crazies.

"When I started doing Shakespeare at the age of 13, the first stories I ever heard were about the great English Shakespearean actors, who all seemed to be a bunch of drunks.

"So I took immediately to the bottle and let it carry me through my career. Then there was the sex..."

He was initiated into Hollywood ways by none other than Natalie Wood. The pair were making Rebel Without A Cause with James Dean, and as well as bedding 40-something director Nicholas Ray, Natalie also propositioned Dean's stand-in, the then 18-year-old Dennis Hopper. The two made love in a car by the side of the road.

Then, while working in New York in 1961, he met and married Brooke Hayward, daughter of the great Broadway producer Leland Hayward.

In a legendary scene, her exasperated father followed them up the aisle desperately whispering in his beloved daughter's ear: "It's still not too late to get out of it."

In New York, Hopper cultivated his interest in photography, sculpture and painting, taking photographs for Vogue and developing his passion for pop-art. But his real speciality was the city's heavy-duty nightlife.

He hung out with foul-mouthed com-edian Lenny Bruce and jazz musician Miles Davis, and rarely went home or got to the theatre on time.

Distorted personality

Brooke, mother of his first child, says: "Dennis had a reputation for being difficult — he was actually very shy and very sweet, but much of his personality was distorted by virtue of being an actor."

But why she put up with him for so long has always puzzled me. He would come home from drug-fuelled orgies — and start beating her up. By 1969, the marriage was over.

That was the year Hopper and Jack Nicholson persuaded supermarket heir Huntington Hartford to give them $500,000 (Dh1.8 million) to finance their breakthrough movie, Easy Rider, in which Hopper, by now a semi-psychotic maniac, directed as well as starred, alongside Jane Fonda's little brother, Peter. The stories from the set are legendary. On one occasion, Hopper demanded that Peter clamber on top of a statue of the Madonna and open his heart about his mother, who had committed suicide by cutting her throat with a razor when Peter was ten.

"Ask her why she copped out on you," raved Hopper cruelly.

Relations became so bad that Jack Nicholson remembers: "Everyone wanted to kill one another or put one another in institutions."

When the Easy Rider crew moved to Taos, New Mexico, the burial place of D.H. Lawrence, Hopper had everyone dropping LSD and hallucinating.

One girl who resembled Joan of Arc was chained to a post and narrowly avoided being set on fire.

Unnatural demands

But Hopper's most memorable moment in Taos was when he married Mamas And Papas singer Michelle Phillips, who happened to be visiting. The morning after the wedding, he woke up so stoned he didn't recognise his bride. The marriage lasted a week; Phillips always said she divorced him because of his unnatural sexual demands.

Despite all this, Easy Rider was a phenomenal success, giving its leading men untold freedom to behave just as they liked. In those days, Fonda, Nicholson and Hopper would congregate at a production company called BBS, where secretaries were hired for their skills in rolling and injecting drugs. They also made sure no table was laid without putting cocaine in the salt cellars.

One story known to Hopper insiders concerns the ashes of the dead wife of a BBS executive, which were kept at headquarters in a gold dish. The doped-up stars were so used to inhaling anything they found in an open bowl that one day they snorted her ashes by mistake.

For the time being, though, Hopper could do no wrong. The studios threw money at him hoping he would make another masterpiece, and he came up with his next film, The Last Movie. He flew a huge cast down to Peru, then the cocaine capital of the world, and when asked at a press conference in Lima if he had stopped doing drugs, he replied: "Why should I stop doing drugs just because I'm in Peru?"

The film was a flop and Hopper did not direct anything for a decade. Within a year, he was in an institution, a move which probably saved his life.

"I always thought an artist was allowed to derange their senses any way they wanted, as long as they created," he explained forlornly.

By the '80s, after falling off the wagon and indulging in another gargantuan binge, things had once again got so bad that Dennis was officially known as The Menace.

He was imprisoned in Mexico after being found naked wandering in a jungle and begging the police to shoot him. Shortly after the Mexican incident, he was hospitalised for months in LA after he tried to clamber onto the wing of a moving plane. He claimed the drugs they gave him to bring him down gave him temporary Parkinson's disease, which brought him to his senses — and he gave up drinking in 1983.

Having failed at matrimony to two more actresses — which produced another daughter and a son — Hopper married Victoria in 1996 and appeared to calm down. Their daughter, Galen, was born in March 2003.

Magnificent art collection

The wonder is that despite all this bad behaviour, Hopper has managed to make more than 80 films. No one has ever disputed that he is talented both as an actor and artist — art is his hobby, and he has a magnificent contemporary art collection featuring some of the 20th century's most acclaimed works.

Introduced by James Dean to Andy Warhol, he was the first person to buy one of Warhol's famous Campbell's soup can prints. Having paid $75 for it in the '60s, it is now worth at least $10 million (Dh36 million).

Though he gave some of his collection to Brooke Hayward after their divorce, he still keeps paintings worth up to $100 million (Dh367 million) in the magnificent beach compound from which he is trying to bar Victoria.

And until last year, he was still filming a TV series in the heat of the New Mexico desert — playing an aggressive, drug-fuelled and paranoid music producer, based on his friend, Phil Spector, who was recently jailed for shooting dead his girlfriend.

And his remarkable, deathbed divorce is obviously a last act of defiance from one of Hollywood's greatest hellraisers.

Hopper’s wife speaks out

Dennis Hopper’s wife of 14 years says he doesn’t want to divorce her — but is being “pressured by his advisors and adult children” to cut her out of his will. Victoria Hopper said in court documents filed in Los Angeles last month that the star had told her he did not want to divorce. She said “other people are insisting that he take care of them upon his death”.In her legal statement, she said that the divorce was a means to cut her out of her husband’s estate and that the actor was unable to make his own decisions. “I believe that the filing of the present dissolution action is a result of estate planning by other family members,” she said. “I do not believe that petitioner is capable of taking care of himself or his legal and financial affairs,” her declaration said. “Therefore, I do not believe Petitioner is capable of making sound decisions in the best interests of our daughter.