Back in 1994, Dennis Hopper went on the Tonight Show and told Jay Leno a story about the casting of Easy Rider in the late '60s. Rip Torn was up to play a tuned-out lawyer--the role that eventually launched Jack Nicholson's career--in the anti-Establishment biker classic. Hopper said he rejected Torn for the part after Torn pulled a knife on Hopper while the two were eating dinner.
Not so, said Torn, who claimed it was Hopper who pulled a blade on him. He sued Hopper for defamation of character in Los Angeles Superior Court. Torn--who had a B-grade career before landing the Emmy-winning role of producer Artie on the Larry Sanders Show--also contended Hopper's comments cost him $260,000 in 1994 because no one would hire him while he was on hiatus from the Garry Shandling series.
The two actors agreed to let a retired judge arbitrate the case, which began last December.
Court records show the actors had completely different recollections of what happened at a Manhattan restaurant in either late 1967 or early 1968 (it was the '60s, after all, so it's a wonder anyone remembered anything). Witnesses backed up Torn's version.
In the end, retired Judge Campbell Lucas sided with Torn, saying Hopper--who's alternately played psycho criminals (Speed, Waterworld) or flat-out weirdos (Blue Velvet, River's Edge)--was not a credible witness. "The court accepts Torn's testimony that Hopper pulled the knife," the judge said. In a decision that became official last week and was announced Thursday, Lucas awarded Torn $300,000 for loss of income and $175,000 for emotional distress.
Hopper's attorneys have objected to the judge's findings, claiming his award was "grossly excessive." Hopper can appeal the ruling.