The Brief and Turbulent Union: Michelle Phillips and Dennis Hopper's 8-Day Marriage
Frequently referred to as 'Hollywood's Original Hell Raiser,' American actor and director Dennis Hopper was notorious for engaging in highly unconventional behavior during the 1960s and '70s. From gunning down a tree while under the influence of LSD to ingesting the ashes of a dead woman, Hopper personified a counter-cultural resistance to the mundane routines of life.
Following his triumph with the iconic 1969 road film "Easy Rider," Dennis Hopper embarked on his next cinematic endeavor, "The Last Movie." Set against the backdrop of Peru, this ambitious project saw Hopper assuming the role of a disillusioned stuntman seeking solace in the arms of a local woman. However, the boundary between fiction and reality blurred, leading to disastrous consequences. Despite receiving the CIDALC Award at the Venice Film Festival, "The Last Movie" ultimately met its demise as a critical and commercial failure.
The Last Movie was also notable for being the film debut of the Mamas and the Papas vocalist Michelle Phillips in a minor acting part. During the production, she felt an intense attraction towards Hopper and described it as “this Florence Nightingale instinct (and, just for the record, girls, it doesn’t work.) I was so overloaded emotionally by this point in my life, I didn’t know what I was doing.” They got married soon enough, finalising the details on October 31, 1970, after work on the production was over.
Despite the initial sparks, the marriage between Michelle Phillips and Dennis Hopper quickly unravelled, plagued by a series of incidents that showcased the volatile nature of their relationship. One notable incident occurred during their honeymoon in Mexico. Allegedly, an intoxicated Hopper began firing a shotgun into the air, causing a chaotic scene. It was a clear indication of the tumultuous path their union was destined to follow.
Another incident that strained their relationship occurred when Hopper accused Phillips of infidelity, claiming she had an affair with another man. The accusation further fueled the already simmering tensions between them. These episodes of mistrust and volatility ultimately contributed to the demise of their marriage, leading Phillips to file for divorce just eight days after their wedding.
Screenwriter Stewart Stern furnished more details about the allegedly bizarre ceremony: “[Hopper] got married reading ‘The Gospel of St Thomas’ aloud to Michelle… He decorated the whole place with candles stuck in paper bags. It was a whole mixed mystical thing. He read the whole marriage ceremony, and it was just craziness.” However, the actual craziness would take place in the following period since their union lasted only eight days.
When Phillips looked back on the marriage, she revealed that her time with Hopper was “excruciating”. Although she declined to elaborate on the experience, Phillips recalled: “My father dragged me into his attorney’s office and said, ‘Men like that never change. File for divorce now. It’ll be embarrassing for a few weeks, then it will be over… [Everyone asked] A divorce after eight days? What kind of tart are you?'”.
Following their divorce, sensational stories emerged from both sides, shedding light on the intensity and toxicity of their brief union. Reports suggested that Hopper allegedly vandalized their home, smashing Phillips' belongings and even defecating on her bed. These shocking details added fuel to the media frenzy surrounding their failed marriage.
Hopper had a different version of the story, claiming that “seven of those days were pretty good. The eighth day was the bad one.” Author Peter Biskind confirmed many of the rumours about the toxic marriage, stating that Hopper scared Michelle and her daughter Chynna by shooting guns within the house. Hopper also tried to restrain Phillips by handcuffing her because he insisted that she was a witch. “[Hopper was] so stoned the morning after the wedding… he didn’t recognise his bride,” the Daily Mail reported.
It was later rumoured that Phillips finally decided to call it off because of Hopper’s “unnatural sex demands”, which does not seem to be unrealistic at all since that period was an especially dark time in his life. The filmmaker had allegedly already started a cult during the production of The Last Movie, encouraging everyone to consume drugs in copious quantities and engage in orgies. One actor almost died from an overdose after downing five peyote buds in quick suspicion.
Hopper himself confirmed: “It was one long sex and drugs orgy. Wherever you looked there were naked people out of their [expletive] minds. But I wouldn’t say it got in the way. It helped us get the movie done. We might have been drug addicts but we were drug addicts with a work ethic… The drugs, the drink, the insane sex, they all fuelled our creativity.”
Despite the painful fallout, both Phillips and Hopper went on to have successful careers in their respective fields. Phillips continued her musical journey, while Hopper solidified his position as a renowned actor and director. Their individual successes serve as a testament to their resilience and ability to rise above the ashes of their tumultuous past.