Peter Fonda, best known for Easy Rider and Ulee’s Gold, has passed away at the age of 79.
The son of an acting dynasty, Peter Fonda spent much of his career in the shadow of his father and older sister. Henry Fonda is considered one of the greatest movie stars of Hollywood’s golden age, while Jane Fonda remains a major movie and TV star. His daughter, Bridget Fonda, is an acclaimed actress in her own right.
Peter and Jane’s mother, Frances Ford Fonda, took her own life when they were just children. In fact, Peter didn’t find out how his mother had died until he was 15 years old.
Yet Peter Fonda’s career was, for most of his life, defined by one movie: 1969’s Easy Rider. Despite an early start as a conventional leading man (thanks, in part, to his father’s legacy), Peter became a counterculture figure. He regularly dropped acid and even hung out with The Beatles, inspiring the song “She Said She Said” on Revolver. He was arrested in the Sunset Strip riot, wore his hair long, and turned his back on Hollywood to star in a string of Roger Corman B-movies.
He met Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson while working with Corman. Together, they made Easy Rider, a story about two bikers traveling across the American Southwest. Hopper directed and co-starred, while Peter produced, co-wrote, and co-starred in the film. It was a phenomenal success, earning $40 million on a shoestring budget, earning multiple Oscar nominations, and shifting everyone’s careers into high gear.
In the decades after Easy Rider, Peter struggled to find his niche. He made a few Westerns, a lot more biker films, and a number of fairly terrible B-movies in the 70s and 80s. Although he struggled to find his niche, he continued working steadily.
However, Peter experienced a renaissance in 1997 with his starring role in Ulee’s Gold. The role earned him a nomination for a Best Actor Oscar as well as winning him a Golden Globe, proving that there was more to him than Easy Rider.
More recently, he found steady work on a variety of TV shows as well as the occasional film role. In fact, he continued working despite his failing health, with one film in development and another in post-production at the time of his death.
Peter Fonda died on August 16 from respiratory failure while battling lung cancer. His older sister, Jane, told the press:
“I am very sad. He was my sweet-hearted baby brother. The talker of the family. I have had beautiful alone time with him these last days. He went out laughing.”
In addition to his film work, Peter Fonda was an outspoken critic of conservative politics and an advocate for equal rights. His family issued a joint statement after his death, urging his fans to “raise a glass to freedom” in his honor.