Actor Peter Fonda, the star and co-writer of “Easy Rider” and the son of acting legend Henry Fonda and brother of Jane Fonda, has died, his family confirmed Friday. He was 79. His cause of death was respiratory failure due to lung cancer, the family said.
“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,” his family said in a statement. “In honor of Peter, please raise a glass to freedom.”
In a statement, Jane Fonda described Peter Fonda as her “sweet-hearted baby brother” and “the talker of the family.”
“I have had beautiful alone time with him these last days,” Jane Fonda said. “He went out laughing.”
Born into Hollywood royalty as Henry Fonda’s only son, Peter Fonda carved his own path with his non-conformist tendencies and earned an Oscar nomination for co-writing “Easy Rider.” He never won an Oscar but would later be nominated for best actor in “Ulee’s Gold.”
Fonda was born in New York in 1940 and was only 10 years old when his mother Frances Ford Seymour died. Fonda had an estranged relationship with his father, but said that they grew closer over the years before Henry Fonda died in 1982.
Although Peter never achieved the status of his father or even his older sister Jane Fonda, the impact of “Easy Rider,” which just celebrated its 50th anniversary, was enough to cement his place in popular culture.
Fonda collaborated with another struggling young actor, Dennis Hopper, on the script about two weed-smoking, drug-slinging bikers on a trip through the Southwest and Deep South.
On the way, Fonda and Hopper befriend a drunken young lawyer – Jack Nicholson in a breakout role – but raise the dander of Southern rednecks and are murdered before they can return home.
Fonda’s character Wyatt wore a stars-and-stripes helmet and rode a motorcycle called “Captain America,” repurposing traditional images for the counterculture.
Fonda produced “Easy Rider” and Hopper directed it for a meager $380,000. It went on to gross $40 million worldwide, a substantial sum for its time.
The film was a hit at Cannes, netted a best-screenplay Oscar nomination for Fonda, Hopper and Terry Southern, and has since been listed on the American Film Institute’s ranking of the top 100 American films. The establishment gave its official blessing in 1998 when “Easy Rider” was included in the United States National Film Registry for being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”
Fonda was the father of actress Bridget Fonda and Justin Fonda.