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Appeals court upholds judgment vs. Hopper

Torn wins defamation case and punitive damages

A California appellate court has backed Rip Torn in his longrunning legal battle with fellow thesp Dennis Hopper, affirming an earlier defamation action brought by Torn and reversing the lower court’s decision denying punitive damage.

Torn filed suit after Hopper, while appearing on “The Tonight Show,” claimed Torn was fired from “Easy Rider” after assaulting him with a knife.

Torn’s attorney, Robert Chapman of Greenberg, Glusker, Fields, Claman & Machtinger, said: “Mr. Torn is gratified that the court of appeal has agreed with the trial court and he feels vindicated. He wishes the whole thing never had happened.”

As detailed in the court’s opinion, Hopper appeared on the “Tonight Show” on May 31, 1994, to promote the movie “Speed,” and was asked by host Jay Leno how Jack Nicholson came to be cast in a lead role in “Easy Rider.”

Hopper, who directed the film and along with Peter Fonda and Terry Southern wrote the script, said Torn had been considered for the Nicholson role, but he and Torn “had a little problem.”

According to Hopper, Torn pulled a knife on Hopper at dinner because Torn thought he was being cut out of the picture.

Torn demanded a retraction and offered a different version of events. He contended that he was having dinner at a restaurant in New York in 1967 or 1968 with Fonda, Southern, Southern’s girlfriend Gail Gerber and novelist Don Carpenter, when Hopper showed up, clad in buckskin and sporting a buck knife, which he allegedly pointed between Torn’s eyes.

Torn said later that he passed on “Easy Rider” because of previous commitments and low pay.

At the original trial in Los Angeles Superior Court, a judge ruled that Hopper had lied and Torn was awarded $475,000 in damages.

In reinstating Torn’s punitive damages claim, the appeal court noted that although Hopper later admitted that the dispute was not about script changes on “Easy Rider” he refused demands for a retraction and stuck by his story that Torn had pulled the knife on him.