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Peter Fonda, 'Easy Rider' Architect and Counter-Cultural Icon, Dies at 79
Fonda, the son of acting legend Henry Fonda, the younger brother of Jane Fonda and the father of Bridget Fonda, died Friday morning.
Peter Fonda, who broke out from under the legendary Fonda family name with Easy Rider, has died. He was 79.
Fonda, the son of acting legend Henry Fonda, the younger brother of Jane Fonda and the father of Bridget Fonda, died Friday morning at his home in Los Angeles, according to his rep. The cause of death was respiratory failure due to lung cancer.
"In one of the saddest moments of our lives, we are not able to find the appropriate words to express the pain in our hearts. As we grieve, we ask that you respect our privacy," said his family rep on Friday afternoon. "And, while we mourn the loss of this sweet and gracious man, we also wish for all to celebrate his indomitable spirit and love of life."
The family statement concluded: "In honor of Peter, please raise a glass to freedom."
Fonda received an Academy Award nomination as a screenwriter for Easy Rider, which he shared with Dennis Hopper and Terry Southern.
Fonda and Hopper dreamed up the idea of two motorcyclists who hit it big with a drug deal and take off across the country, ostensibly to attend Mardi Gras. Their trek was "in search of America," emblematic of the '60s zeitgeist of rebellion and drug experimentation. Featuring Jack Nicholson as their alcoholic, back rider/lawyer, the film was a low-budget, colossal hit.
Fonda produced Easy Rider for about $384,00, with Columbia Pictures picking up distribution rights. "I made Easy Rider for the same amount of money Roger Corman made Wild Angels, and [I knew] it would knock the audience's socks off," Fonda recalled to The Hollywood Reporter in July for a feature on the 50th anniversary of the classic.
Shot in roughly seven weeks between L.A. and New Orleans, it introduced the studios to the bright, educated youth market, and Fonda paved the way for independent filmmakers. For the cataclysmic year of 1969, Easy Rider was a road movie that accomplished cinematically what Jack Kerouac's On the Road did for literature. It won a standing ovation at Cannes and the festival's best director award.
To a generation of young people, Fonda was "Captain America" and a poster boy for the age. With his cool shades and leather jacket with the flag stitched on back, he sat perched atop a chrome-laden, high-handle-bar cycle, and the poster for the film was ubiquitous in college dorms in 1969 and the early '70s.
As a symbol for rebellious youth, Fonda, along with Mick Jagger, Jimi Hendrix, Muhammad Ali and John Lennon, were among the most revered of countercultural poster boys.
Nearly 30 years after Easy Rider, Fonda's performance in Ulee's Gold (1997) as a beekeeper and sullen Vietnam War veteran whose family had nearly fallen apart earned him a best actor Oscar nom.
Fonda followed up Easy Rider by starring and directing The Hired Hand (1971), a feminist Western that his Pando Company made for Universal. He then helmed Idaho Transfer (1973), a message film about the environment.
He directed and starred opposite Brooke Shields in Wanda Nevada (1979), which featured a cameo by his father.
For a period after Easy Rider, Fonda lived on an 82-foot sailboat, essentially having dropped out. "I was writing during that period, and I got about as much writing done as a child in a sandbox," he told the Los Angeles Times in 1984.
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