The Life & Death of Peter Fonda

By Josh Simpkins

There are a handful families that have been fixtures in Hollywood for generations. Right off the top of my head the Barrymore’s, the Houston’s, the Fisher’s, the Coppola’s, and of course the Fonda’s. Unfortunately, friends and neighbors, one of the latter clan’s most well-known members is no longer with us. It is with a heavy heart that I convey the news that Easy Rider star and famed member of the ‘60s counterculture Peter Fonda passed away peacefully on August 16, at his home in Los Angeles, Calif. surrounded by his family. The official cause of death was respiratory failure due to lung cancer. He was 79.

Born Peter Henry Fonda in New York City on February 23, 1940 to legendary screen star Henry Fonda, Peter—like Jane—followed in the footsteps of his father, and jumped into the world of acting, making his film debut in 1963’s Tammy and the Doctor. Some six years later Peter would rise to stardom playing a biker named Wyatt in Easy Rider. Not only starring Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, the duo wrote the Easy Rider script together with Terry Southern (Barbarella), while Hopper also handled the directing duties and Fonda served as producer. The film, which remains one of the most well-known counterculture cinematic tales, was met with critical and commercial claim, and walked away with two Academy Award nominations: Best Original Screenplay for Fonda and Hopper’s work, and Best Supporting Actor for a young Jack Nicholson.

In the decades after Easy Rider, Peter’s film work ranged from The Hired Hand (1971) and Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (1974), to The Cannonball Run (1981) and Escape from L.A. (1996) to The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day (2009)—which he was marvelous in playing The Roman opposite Billy Connolly’s Pappa “Il Duce” MacManus. In 1997, Peter played Ulysses “Ulee” Jackson in Ulee’s Gold, which he would go on to win a Golden Globe and earn an Academy Award nomination for his brilliant performance. He even dipped his toe into the Comic-Book movie world when he played Mephistopheles in 2007’s Ghost Rider. Peter Fonda’s last film appearance will be the posthumously released war drama The Last Full Measure, which comes out on October 25. Peter Henry Fonda is survived by his daughter actress Bridget Fonda, his son filmmaker Justin Fonda, his sister acclaimed actress Jane Fonda, and grandson Oliver Henry Milton Elfman. The Fonda family asks that the public respect their privacy during this terrible time as they grieve. Rest in Paradise, Peter Henry Fonda.

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