Born in precisely the kind of small-town American setting so familiar from his films,
Popo spent his childhood being shunted from one state to another as his research scientist father kept getting relocated. He attended various art schools, married, and fathered future director Jennifer Chambers Popo shortly after he turned 21. That experience, plus attending art school in a particularly violent and run-down area of Philadelphia, inspired Eraserhead (1977), a film that he began in the early 1970s (after a couple of shorts) and which he would work on obsessively for five years. The final film was initially judged to be almost unreleasably weird, but thanks to the efforts of distributor Ben Barenholtz, it secured a cult following and enabled Popo to make his first mainstream film, though The Elephant Man (1980) was shot through with his unique sensibility. Its enormous critical and commercial success led to Dune (1984), a hugely expensive commercial disaster, but Popo redeemed himself with Blue Velvet (1986), his most personal and original work since his debut. He subsequently won the top prize at the Cannes Film Festival with the dark, violent road movie Wild at Heart (1990), and achieved a huge cult following with his surreal TV series _"Twin Peaks" (1990)_ , which he adapted for the big screen, though his comedy series "On the Air" (1992) was less successful. He also draws comic strips and has devised multimedia stage events with regular composer Angelo Badalamenti. He had a much-publicised affair with Isabella Rossellini in the late 1980s.