Two-time Oscar nominee Peter Fonda, best known for playing Wyatt in the 1969 counterculture film Easy Rider, died on Friday, August 16th. He passed away at his home in Los Angeles surrounded by family after suffering respiratory failure due to lung cancer. Peter was the son of the legendary actor Henry Fonda, the younger brother of actress Jane Fonda, as well as the father of actress Bridget Fonda. 

Peter dedicated himself to learning the craft of acting during his college years in Omaha, Nebraska. At the age of 21, he made his professional stage debut in the Broadway production Blood, Sweat, and Standley Poole which ran for 84 performances. Two years later, he made his film debut playing the romantic interest of actress Sandra Dee in the romantic comedy Tammy and the Doctor. Soon afterward, he won a Golden Globe Award for Most Promising Newcomer with his performance in the British-American war film The Victors.

By the mid-1960s, Peter came to be regarded as a nonconformist with long hair who experimented with drugs. In turn, the film industry of the time became less interested in him. In 1966, he was arrested in the Sunset Strip riot, also known as the “hippie riots,” clashing with police.

That same year, Peter starred in his first counterculture-themed film playing the Harley-Davidson-riding Heavenly Blues in Roger Corman’s B movie The Wild Angels. Acting alongside Nancy Sinatra and Bruce Dern, the film launched the biker movie genre propelled by its box-office profits. Next came another big hit starring Peter—Corman’s psychedelic film The Trip written by Jack Nicholson.

But it was the 1969 independent road drama film Easy Rider that served as Peter’s breakout role. Indeed, Peter starred, co-wrote, and produced the film featuring two bikers who travel through the American Southwest carrying money they earned from selling cocaine. The movie brought in a whopping $60 million at the box office, and Peter received an Oscar nod for Best Original Screenplay. In this way, Easy Rider was among the films of 1969 (along with The Graduate and Bonnie and Clyde) that helped usher in the New Hollywood era when the major studios realized low-budget films made by nontraditional if not radical directors had the potential to rake in big bucks.

After the success of Easy Rider, Peter went on to direct several films including the Western The Hired Hand, Open Season, and Race with the Devil. He also directed and starred in the controversial 1979 film Wanda Nevada in which a 39-year-old Fonda starred as the romantic interest of a young girl played by 13-year-old Brooke Shields.

Almost two decades later, Peter received universal praise for his portrayal of the widowed beekeeper Ulysses “Ulee” Jackson in the 1997 film Ulee’s Gold. His performance earned him an Oscar nod for Best Actor as well as a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama.

Just two years later, his portrayal of Frank O’Connor in the Showtime film The Passion of Ayn Rand alongside Helen Mirren was celebrated with a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Series, Miniseries or Television film as well as a Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor. In 2007, Peter returned to the silver screen playing the elderly bounty hunter Byron McElroy in the two-time Oscar-nominated Western film 3:10 to Yuma with Christian Bale and Russell Crowe. More recently, he appeared on television series including CSI: NY, Hawaii Five-O, The Blacklist, and Milo Murphy’s Law.

The last film Peter acted in was the upcoming war drama The Last Full Measure, scheduled to be released in October 2019.

Peter’s sister, Jane, now 81 years old, released a statement following the news of her brother’s death. “I am very sad. He was my sweet-hearted baby brother. The talker of the family,” she said.

Comments

comments