Who: Actor and director Dennis Hopper, who passed away today at age 74. Here he is in an immortal confluence of cool on The Johnny Cash Show, loopily reciting Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If,” which as he notes, is the middle word in “life.”

Why: Dennis Hopper never let you forget he was onscreen. Maybe he picked this up from James Dean, alongside whom he had some bit roles in Rebel Without a Cause and Giant. Cool Hand Luke had to have a goggle-eyed piehead in the background when Luke eats fifty eggs, and Hopper fit the bill. In his film Easy Rider, he set his template: kinda likable, kinda scary guy on the edge. In Hoosiers, as alkie hoops fan Shooter Flatch, he pushed it one direction; in Blue Velvet, as sociopath Frank Booth, he pushed it another direction altogether. But it was the action film Speed that will be Hopper’s most enduring work. Therein, he seemed completely at home in his own skin, tearing up the screen with enjoyment at being a mad bomber. It didn’t seem like much of a stretch.

Impact: Hopper was a crowd favorite, the kind of actor more likely to win an MTV Moon Man than an Oscar, though he was nominated for a couple of the latter. Over time, a Hollywood outsider became one of Hollywood’s most dependable actors. Need a centerpiece for your Best Picture TV spinoff? You need Dennis Hopper. Need a narrator for your documentary about a porn film? Hopper’d do that too. Just don’t expect your leading man to be the best thing about your project. Hopper’s taking that with him on the way out. After all, he could even make this worth watching. (A bit.)

Personal Connection: Time to talk about the power of Facebook. It is without question the single most important news site in the world. How did you find out about Hopper’s death, or Gary Coleman’s yesterday? There’s at least a 50% chance that you found out on Facebook. If I’d told you ten years ago that the term “news feed” would define a network of reports by your friends, and that you would trust it more than CNN, you’d have thought I was as loopy as one of Hopper’s characters. But that’s where we are. It’s a fascinating world.

Other Contenders: Christopher Walken, who makes the space between words into an art form; Ed Norton, who always sounds reasonable till suddenly he doesn’t; Joe Pantolianowhat!; Gary Oldman, your go-to fella for conscienceless wise-cracking badguy; Rutger Hauer, who makes creepy charming, and charming creepy; and while we’re on The Hitcher, there’s the mistress of both scary-crazy and sympathetic-crazy, Jennifer Jason Leigh (and yes, that movie is terrible, but there’s no video of her in David Auburn’s Proof on the internet).