The films of the 1960s and early 1970s broke so many of the conventional rules of filmmaking, and they reinvigorated cinema with a creative edge that would change the landscape of Hollywood for decades to come. Right at the center of it all was Peter Fonda, the star, co-writer and producer of Easy Rider, one of the most rebellious and influential films of all-time. Sadly, this counterculture icon has died at 79 years old after a battle with lung cancer.
News of Peter Fonda dead was confirmed by a statement from the actor’s family (via The Guardian), which reads:
“It is with deep sorrow that we share the news that Peter Fonda has passed away. He passed away peacefully on Friday morning, August 16 at 11:05 a.m. at his home in Los Angeles surrounded by family. The official 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. 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. In honor of Peter, please raise a glass to freedom.”
Peter Fonda’s sister, fellow actress Jane Fonda, also released a statement of her own to Deadline:
“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.”
Though Fonda was basically born into Hollywood royalty as the son of classic film star Henry Fonda, he didn’t exactly follow in his same footsteps. Peter Fonda started off his career like many with television roles in the early 1960s on shows like like Naked City, The New Breed, Wagon Train, The Defenders, Channing, Arrest and Trial, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, and 12 O’Clock High. Then smaller roles in films like Tammy and the Doctor, The Victors and Lilith helped establish him as a reliable talent.
The Young Lovers, the only directorial effort by Samuel Goldwyn Jr., turned Peter Fonda into a leading man, but he would soon become quite the unconventional movie star thanks to the rise of the counterculture movement. Fonda was famous for be a rebel and tossing the establishment to the wind. He grew out his hair at a time when it was considered controversial and had no problem experimenting with psychedelic drugs like LSD, and on-screen, and eventually that started to come through on screen.
Fonda played a biker in The Wild Angels in 1966 from famous B-move producer Roger Corman, and he would work with the filmmaker again with The Trip, a take on the experience of consuming LSD, which was written by Jack Nicholson. But his most iconic and influential counterculture role was yet to come.
In 1969, Peter Fonda co-wrote, produced and starred in Easy Rider, a film that was directed and also co-written by fellow star Dennis Hopper. Throwing the conventional rules of cinema (and society at large) out the window, the film follows two bikers traveling through the southwestern and southern United States where they encounter intolerance and violence. The film was shot on a shoe string budget and became famous for scenes of drug use, much of which was real while filming. It explored the societal landscape, issues, and tensions in the United States during the 1960s, including the popular hippie movement of the time.
Easy Rider earned Peter Fonda an Oscar nomination for co-writing the script, and it cemented his place in pop culture for generations to come. Though the film was specifically meant to go against the establishment, it was still recognized by the National Film Registry among the 1998 batch of films considered to be “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
Fonda would follow his rise to counterculture fame with work as a director of films like the western The Hired Hand, in which he also starred, as well as the sci-fi movie Idaho Transfer, which became a cult classic. But his next round of fame arrived when he became an action star in films such as Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry, Open Season, Race with the Devil, the Westworld sequel Futureworld, Fighting Mad, and High-Ballin’.
As his career continued, Fonda never really found the same level of acclaim and fame that he had in the 1960s and 1970s. But he kept starring in a wide variety of films in the 1980s like The Cannonball Run, which included a nod to Easy Rider, Split Image, Certain Fury, Mercenary Fighters, and The Rose Garden, and the 1990s brought roles such as Escape from LA and Don’t Look Back.
The last high profile round of acclaim and success for Peter Fonda came in 1997 for his performance in Ulee’s Gold. In an interesting walk back of his famous role as a counterculture icon, the film follows Fonda as a stoic North Florida beekeeper who tries to save his son and granddaughter from a life of drug abuse. It earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor
Fonda continued to act through the 2000s with films roles in Ghost Rider, Wild Hogs, 3:10 to Yuma and The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day. He also kept appearing on television in shows such as ER, Hawaii Five-0, The Blacklist, and even Documentary Now. He was acting right up until his last days, and there are three movies with performances that have yet to be released: The Magic Hours, The Last Full Measure and Skate God.
Peter Fonda helped change the face of cinema in the 1960s and made an indelible mark on pop culture that can still be seen today. He helped bolster the careers of some of cinema’s finest young men during the height of his fame, and he will long be remembered for his contributions to history and film. Rest in peace.
The post Peter Fonda, ‘Easy Rider’ Star and Cinematic Rebel, Has Died at 79 appeared first on /Film.