Dennis Hopper’s Divorce: A Bitter Feud

A letter exclusively obtained by The Daily Beast reveals the depth of bitterness in Dennis Hopper's divorce case. Jacob Bernstein on the terrible price paid by the couple’s daughter.

Jordan Strauss / Getty Images

By all accounts, it was a moving ceremony.

Jack Nicholson, Peter Fonda, and Val Kilmer all traveled to Taos, New Mexico, for the funeral of their friend, the actor Dennis Hopper. During the ceremony, which took place on Wednesday, Hopper's son Henry read poetry by Walt Whitman and the actor's other children, Marin and Ruthanna, gave touching eulogies. Afterward, bikers joined in the procession, revving their engines in tribute to the 74-year-old Easy Rider star, who recently died from prostate cancer.

But one person was missing among the family members and longtime friends who had come to say goodbye: Hopper's 7-year-old daughter, Galen.

“That’s the thing that’s just tragic,” says a friend of the couple. “A 7-year-old girl has just lost her father, and she can’t even go to his funeral.”

Galen didn't attend her father's funeral because her parents' divorce battle turned so ugly in the last six months before the actor's death that lawyers couldn't work out an agreement that would allow her to go.

Galen was "disinvited," says a confidante of Galen's mother, Victoria.

"So much bullshit," responds a person on the other side.

In a letter from Dennis' attorney, Joe Mannis, to Victoria's counsel that was obtained by The Daily Beast, Mannis wrote the day before the funeral: "As your client knows, the funeral for Mr. Hopper will be where he wanted to be buried in Taos, New Mexico. As your client also knows… she is not invited to the funeral. It was Mr. Hopper's specific wish that Ms. Hopper not attend his funeral. Ms. Hopper has indicated that she is not going to allow Galen to attend the funeral unless she attends. Mr. Hopper's family (particularly after what was said about them in the press by Ms. Hopper) does not wish that Ms. Hopper attend the funeral. On the family's behalf, I request that [her nanny] be allowed to bring Galen to the funeral and return her thereafter. Please let me know whether your client will consent to do what I can only call the 'decent thing.'"

Victoria declined.

"It's insane," says one of her friends, adding that the letter arrived just "hours" before the ceremony. "You don't send a 7-year-old on a private plane to her father's funeral without her mother."

The view from the other side is, not surprisingly, quite different.

"She's using Galen as a pawn," a source says.

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How did things get this messy?

When they met in the early '90s, Victoria was a waitress at a restaurant where Dennis often ate. He was three decades older than her, but still youthful and sexy, with keys to a world she had never before had access to. There were famous friends—actors and artists—and a Frank Gehry-designed house in a fashionable part of Venice, California. And although he had earned a bad-boy reputation—he rose to fame playing a hell-raising biker in Easy Rider, and off-screen, there were drugs and allegations of spousal abuse—his friends say that by the time he met Victoria, he had mellowed.

The couple married, but their relationship quickly began to fray.

She found him cruel and controlling, her friends say.

He thought she was cold and materialistic, his friends say.

When Dennis was diagnosed with prostate cancer, things deteriorated even further.

Friends of the couple say they hadn't had sexual intercourse for several years before he filed for divorce. And Dennis' oldest daughter Marin—who is five years older than Victoria—moved into their house, making an already complicated marriage more fraught.

Politically, the couple was far apart, too. Dennis was a libertarian Republican with a thing for guns; Victoria started to fundraise for Barack Obama and, before the 2008 election, became close to a Democratic consultant whom the New York Post identified recently as James Cannon Boyce.

Caroline Graham: Remembering My Friend DennisView Dennis Hopper's Photographs of Art IconsBy Christmas 2009, things came to a head. After months of fighting, Dennis' children moved him to a room at the Beverly Hills Hotel under an assumed name, sources close to Victoria say. Victoria, meanwhile, took Galen on a trip to Boston. According to her friends, she was exhausted and wanted to visit her mother, who lives there. His side, however, accuses her of going M.I.A.—and, of course, Boyce lives in Boston.

Then there was the question of the paintings—valuable work by the street artist Banksy and the iconic L.A. painter Ed Ruscha that Victoria took with her when she left. According to Alex Hitz, a spokesman for Dennis and his daughter Marin, "The pre-nup clearly delineates what her separate property was when she entered into the marriage, and none of the pieces she took are listed on the pre-nup. And if they were bought after they got married, they were bought with Dennis' money, not Victoria's."

But emails obtained by The Daily Beast from Banksy's office make it pretty clear that the sculpture from him at least—a spray-painted TV on a pedestal—was in fact a gift the artist gave Victoria. "Having spoken to Banksy and explained your situation," the note to Victoria reads, "he'd really like you to have the installation of his TV on a pedestal for your own collection… Sorry that you're in this situation."

At one point, people close to Dennis and Marin accused Victoria of stealing a Warhol, though it later turned out said painting was on display in a museum. As for the Banksy, it's now gone. Two weeks ago, Victoria filed a police report, alleging it was burglarized from her part of the compound. Hitz says that any allegations that artwork was stolen from her by other members of the family are ludicrous.

"Dennis' children presume everything belongs to him, because he's the king and I'm the 'waitress,'" is how Victoria explained it to someone recently.

In January 2010, Dennis filed for divorce, citing "irreconcilable differences" and Victoria responded with a declaration that suggested the divorce wasn't his idea but rather "a result of estate planning by other family members" who presumably wanted to cut her off financially. In court documents, Victoria said that Dennis had told her that "he does not want to divorce" and "that other people are insisting he take care of them upon his death."

Dennis, however, responded by filing several restraining orders against Victoria as the couple bickered over spousal support, Dennis' life-insurance policy, a prenuptial agreement, which guaranteed Victoria 25 percent of the estate so long as the two were living together at the time of his death, and Victoria's hefty attorneys fees, which already run upward of $200,000.

There were several settlement offers, though no one seems to agree about how much she was offered. According to a source close to Victoria, she was offered around $1.5 million, which was dismissed as an insufficient amount that didn't properly factor in Galen's care. According to the other side, the numbers were exponentially greater.

Another major point of contention during Dennis' final days: Victoria's living arrangements. At first, Victoria asserted in court documents that it wouldn't be good for her to live close to Dennis. But she changed her mind and moved into a residence next door to Dennis' main property. Mannis, Dennis' lawyer, said he believes she made this decision so that when Dennis died, she could claim that the two were still living together, and that she was therefore entitled to take the 25 percent share of his estate. During a court appearance in April, Mannis described it as a play to "better her position when he dies… nothing more, nothing less."

Now, the question is what will happen to Dennis' multimillion-dollar fortune, which includes almost half a dozen properties in California, New Mexico, and North Carolina, as well as artwork by Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Julian Schnabel, and Frank Gehry.

Should the two sides continue to bicker over a settlement, it could take years for the courts to work out.

Amid the finger-pointing, there is one thing most involved agree on: The victim of this is Galen.

"That's the thing that's just tragic," says a friend of the couple. "A 7-year-old girl has just lost her father, and she can't even go to his funeral."

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Jacob Bernstein is a senior reporter at The Daily Beast. Previously, he was a features writer at WWD and W Magazine. He has also written for New York magazine, Paper, and The Huffington Post.