Another day, another legend. Hollywood royalty Peter Fonda has died aged 79.
Fonda, the son of legendary actor Henry Fonda and brother of Jane Fonda, was perhaps best known for his part in creating Easy Rider (1969), co-writing with Dennis Hopper (who directed) and Terry Southern, producing, and starring in the film, again with Hopper and Jack Nicholson. The counter-culture film about bike riders became a touchstone for a generation, and cemented Fonda along with his two co-stars as the new Hollywood heartthrobs and bad boys, easily dubbed the hellraisers.
Fonda’s career was celebrated with awards including two Academy Award nominations. The first, an original screenplay nomination for Easy Rider in 1970, and a second for Best Actor in a Leading Role in 1998 for drama film Ulee’s Gold. His further awards included two Golden Globe wins, in 1998 for Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama for Ulee’s Gold, and the second in 2000 for Best Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or Television Film for The Passion of Ayn Rand. He received two further nominations, the first a Promising Newcomer nomination in 1964 for The Victors, and the second for Best Actor in a Miniseries or Television film for The Tempest. He was also Emmy nominated for his performance in The Passion of Ayn Rand.
Fonda’s success with Easy Rider led to him becoming a leading man, with his movie-star good looks, dangerous persona and the fact that he was related to Hollywood royalty. Other films that would see him in films as varied as Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (1974), Race with the Devil (1976), Futureworld (1976), Outlaw Blues (1977), and comedy caper The Cannonball Run (1981).
The 80s saw something of a dip in his career, and the 90s appeared to also be a dead-end, with his early to mid 19990s performances being mainly forgotten films, with only Deadfall directed by Christopher Coppola and written by Nick Vallelonga (who won Oscars this year for Green Book) in 1993, and science fiction sequel Escape from L.A. in 1996 being of any note.
1997’s Ulee’s Gold was a source of some resurgence with his aforementioned win and nominations as reclusive beekeeper Ulee’s Jackson who attempts to bring his family together despite trouble from within and outside. Of the film Fonda said “Ulee is the best character I’ve ever read. it’s the kind of role you pay money to do – a complex character full of responsibilities and the script was full of moments that were very deep, very pure and very simple. I found a lot of Ulee in my father.”
Following this career defining return to form, Fonda followed it up with a turn as crime boss Terry Valentine in Steven Soderbergh thriller The Limey, family film Thomas and the Magic Railroad, Ocean’s Twelve, and a voice role in video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.
2007 became a mainstream year for Fonda with turn in popular but panned comedy film Wild Hogs that riffed on his Easy Rider prowess, a supporting turn in James Mangold’s masterful western remake 3:10 to Yuma, and as Satan himself Mephistopheles in comic book action film Ghost Rider alongside Nicolas Cage and Eva Mendes.
Though his output after this was slower and less popular than his status might allow, he continued to work until his death with one film yet to be released, war drama The Last Full Measure, which stars an ensemble cast including Fonda with Sebastian Stan, Christopher Plummer, William Hurt, Ed Harris, Samuel L. Jackson and Bradley Whitford.
Fonda was not without controversy in his life, he tweeted criticism of Donald J Trump claiming that in response to the Mexican parents separated from their children that then 12-year-old Barron Trump should be taken from his mother First Lady Melanie Trump and put in a cage with pedophiles. Fonda would later apologise for his comments but would maintain a disdain for the White House until his death.
Fonda will be remembered perhaps best for Easy Rider, it easily being a touchstone of the New Hollywood era, ushering in a change in filmmaking in the US and making movie stars of its leads. Fonda died from complications caused by lung cancer. He is survived by his children Bridget and Justin, and his grandson Oliver.
1940 – 2019