While some lucky and talented actors have longevity, there are a few whose careers, however long, somehow remain connected to a certain time and – without doubt, Peter Fonda and the film Easy Rider (1969) will always remain linked together as a singular point in time and the epitome of the counter-culture that sprang up in the 1960s. A young Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson all made their mark with that road-movie about finding and losing yourself – famous for its freewheeling in both the motorcycle and mood-altering chemical senses of the term. Fonda would get an Oscar nomination for his role.
The son of another cinematic legend Henry Fonda and the sibling of Jane Fonda, Peter’s life was just as dramatic off-screen as it was on, deliberately or accidentally finding himself in key moments of that decade and beyond – somehow surviving drugs, tragedy (his mother committed suicide when he was 10), serious injury and an unwillingness to tow the party line. But there was no doubting his charisma and talent. Over the years he was not quite prolific, but continued to work regularly – largely when he wanted to. His diverse films included: Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry (1974), Race with the Devil (1975), FutureWorld (1976), Certain Fury (1985) and John Carpenter’s Escape from LA (1996) . Even as the years progressed his appearances continued to be notable – whether they be another Oscar-nominated role in 1997’s Ulee’s Gold or alongside another 60s icon Terrence Stamp in 1999’s The Limey. he also essayed Mephisto in 2007’s Ghost Rider with Nicolas Cage. Taking a role in the kids film Thomas and the Magic Railroad in 2002 was something of a surprise and he also took cameo and guest-appearance roles in the likes of tv shows such as Hawaii Five-0 and CSI: NY.
The movie dynasty continued – Fonda is survived by his children Bridget Fonda (though a rising star, she has not appeared on screen since 2003 and her marriage to composer Danny Elfman) and Justin Fonda, who found work behind the scenes on various notable films.
Peter Fonda passed away from lung cancer on 16th August, aged 79. Though he was due to appear in the movie Skate God (listed as in pre-production) his final two completed movies will be The Magic Hours and The Last Full Measure (the latter featuring an equally all-star cast including Samuel L. Jackson, Ed Harris, John Savage, Christopher Plummer, William Hurt, Bradley Whitford, Linus Roache, Amy Madigan and Sebastian Stan). It is currently due to be released this October.
By any lasting measure, Peter Fonda’s life was a full one if not always an easy ride.