Son of Hollywood’s hero, Henry Fonda and brother to activist actress Jane Fonda, Peter Fonda has died at the age of 79.

[Source: BFI News]

For a brief moment, Peter Fonda was one of the most important people in American cinema. Not because he was the son of Hollywood stalwart Henry Fonda or the younger brother of activist actress Jane Fonda. But because he had made $60 million on a $384,000 road movie.

Moreover, in producing, co-writing and starring in Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider (1969), Fonda had shattered the studio system’s shackles and made himself a countercultural icon in the process. His performance as Wyatt (aka Captain America) prompted the Village Voice to declare him “a combination of Clint Eastwood and James Dean”. Yet, somehow, to paraphrase his famous campfire line, he blew it.

Having impressed with his directorial debut, The Hired Hand (1971), Fonda drew less praise for Idaho Transfer (1973) and Wanda Nevada (1979), the only film in which he appeared with his famous father, whose distant strictness after the 10-year-old’s mother had committed suicide shaped an unhappy childhood that included a near fatal incident with an antique gun (mention of which during a 1965 LSD party prompted John Lennon to write ‘She Said She Said’). Fonda taught himself to be self-reliant, but this wasn’t an admired trait in early 60s Hollywood and, following supporting roles in mainstream pictures like Robert Rossen’s Lilith (1964), he gravitated toward such maverick outsiders as Roger Corman, who starred Fonda in The Wild Angels (1966) and The Trip (1967).

Earning a reputation for being difficult to work with on projects like Hopper’s The Last Movie (1971) and John Hough’s Dirty Mary Crazy Larry (1974), Fonda realised he had no place in blockbuster Hollywood and subsisted on the periphery in largely undistinguished projects. Among the best were Michael Almeyreda’s Nadja (1994), in which he played both Dracula and Dr Van Helsing, and John Carpenter’s Escape from L.A. (1996), in which he guested as a stoner surfer. Consequently, his Oscar nomination for Best Actor for Victor Nunez’s Ulee’s Gold (1997) came somewhat out of the blue. Fonda delivered again in Steven Soderbergh’s The Limey (1999). But his own disinclination to play the corporate game restricted his options after a solid turn as a bounty hunter in James Mangold’s remake of 3:10 to Yuma (2007), two teamings with Nicolas Cage on Ghost Rider (2007) and The Runner (2015), and a cornball cameo in the biker comedy Wild Hogs (2007).

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