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Peter Henry Fonda (born February 23, 1940) is an American actor. He is the son of Henry Fonda, the brother of Jane Fonda, and the father of Bridget and Justin Fonda (by first wife Susan Brewer, stepdaughter of Noah Dietrich). Fonda is an icon of the counterculture of the 1960s.

Early life

Fonda was born in New York City, New Yorkmarker, the son of actor Henry Fonda and his wife Frances Ford Seymour; he is the younger brother of actress Jane Fonda.

On his eleventh birthday, he accidentally shot himself in the stomach and nearly died. Years later, he would reference this incident to John Lennon claiming "I know what it's like to be dead", which ended up becoming an indirect influence behind the Beatles song She Said, She Said.

Early on, Fonda studied acting in Omaha, Nebraskamarker, his father's home town. He began attending the University of Nebraska at Omahamarker and joined the Omaha Community Playhousemarker, where many actors (including his father and Marlon Brando) had founded their careers.


Fonda found work on Broadway where he achieved notice in Blood, Sweat and Stanley Poole, before going to Hollywood to make films. He started his film career in romantic leading roles. He debuted in Tammy and the Doctor (1963), which he called "Tammy and the Schmuckface". But Fonda's intensity impressed Robert Rossen, the director of Lilith (1964). Rossen envisioned a Jewish actor in the role of Stephen Evshevsky, a mental patient. Fonda earned the role after removing his boss' glasses from his face and putting them on so as to look more "Jewish". He also played the male lead in The Young Lovers (1964), about out-of-wedlock pregnancy, and The Victors (1964), an "anti-war war movie".

By the mid-1960s, Peter Fonda was not a conventional "leading man" in Hollywood. As Playboy magazine reported, Fonda had established a "solid reputation as a dropout". He had become outwardly nonconformist and grew his hair long, alienating the "establishment" film industry. Desirable acting work became scarce. In the 1963-1964 season, he appeared in an episode of the ABC drama about college life, Channing.

Through his friendships with members of the Byrds, Fonda visited The Beatles in their rented house in Benedict Canyonmarker in Los Angeles in August, 1965. While John Lennon, Ringo Starr and George Harrison were under the influence of LSD, Lennon heard Fonda say, "I know what it's like to be dead". This phrase became the tag line for Lennon's song, "She Said She Said", which appeared in their groundbreaking Revolver (1966) album. In 1966, Fonda was arrested in the anti-war Sunset Strip riot which the police ended forcefully. The band Buffalo Springfield protested the department's handling of the incident in their song "For What It's Worth". Fonda would take a stab at being a singer himself in 1968, recording a 45 for the Chisa label: "November Night" (written by Gram Parsons) b/w "Catch The Wind" (the Donovan song), produced by Hugh Masakela. [25969]

Fonda's first counterculture-oriented film role was the lead character Heavenly Blues, a Hells Angels chapter president, in the Roger Corman directed film The Wild Angels (1966). The Wild Angels is still remembered for Fonda's "eulogy" delivered at the fiasco of a fallen Angel's funeral service, which was sampled in the Primal Scream recording "Loaded" (1991), and in other rock songs. Then Fonda played the male lead character in Corman's film The Trip (1967), a take on the experience and consequences of consuming LSD.

Easy Rider

In 1968, Fonda produced and starred in Easy Rider, the classic film for which he is best known. Easy Rider is about two long-haired bikers traveling through the southwest and southern United States in a world of intolerance and violence. The Fonda character was the charismatic, laconic "Captain America" whose motorcycle jacket bore a large American flag across the back. Dennis Hopper played the garrulous "Billy". Jack Nicholson was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his turn as George Hanson, an alcoholic civil rights lawyer who rides along. Fonda co-wrote Easy Rider with Terry Southern and Hopper, who directed.

Hopper filmed the cross-country road trip depicted in Easy Rider almost entirely on location. Fonda had secured funding in the neighborhood of $360,000 - (largely based on the fact he knew that was the budget Roger Corman needed to make The Wild Angels), and they released the film in 1969 to massive international success. Robbie Robertson was so moved by an advance screening that he approached Fonda and tried to convince him to let him write a complete score, even though the film was nearly due for wide release. Fonda refused, using the Byrds' song "Ballad of Easy Rider", Dylan's "It's Alright Ma, I'm Only Bleeding" sung by the Byrds' Roger McGuinn. Fonda, Hopper and Southern were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.

Later work

After the success of Easy Rider, both Hopper and Fonda were in a position to make any film project they wanted. While Hopper chose to make the drug addled jungle epic The Last Movie, (in which Fonda co-starred along with Michelle Phillips), Fonda directed the Western film, The Hired Hand. Fonda took the lead role in a cast that also featured Warren Oates, Verna Bloom and Beat poet Michael McClure. This was followed by the cult-classic "Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry", a box-office smash in 1974, and "Open Season", which tanked. He would re-team with Warren Oates in "Race With The Devil" in 1975, and later would star in "Futureworld", a sequel to "Westworld", which was another box office failure. Despite generating mixed reviews upon its initial release, In 2001, The Hired Hand was fully restored and exhibited at a number of festivals to a generally enthusiastic critical response. Subsequently, the Sundance Channel released a DVD of the film in two separate editions that same year, and the film has since found an audience as a cult Western classic. In 1979, Fonda directed and starred in the drama Wanda Nevada alongside Brooke Shields. His father Henry Fonda made a brief appearance as well, making it the only time the father and son appeared together on film. In a later nod to his roles in The Wild Angels and Easy Rider, Fonda also had a cameo as the "Chief Biker" in the 1981 slapstick comedy The Cannonball Run.

Fonda received high-profile critical recognition and universal praise for his role in Ulee's Gold (1997). Fonda portrayed a stoic north Florida beekeeper who, in spite of his tumultuous family life, imparts a sense of integrity to his wayward convict son, and takes risks in acting protectively toward his drug-abusing daughter-in-law. His performance resulted in an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. Fonda's movie career has made the more interesting for the extreme contrast between the wide-eyed and questing (though possibly amoral, certainly drug-dealing) rebel motorcyclist in Easy Rider and the upright war-veteran father he played nearly three decades later in Ulee's Gold — a character who tries to share the wisdom of age with his defiantly nihilistic son and who saves his addicted daughter-in-law's life. Two years later, Fonda appeared in the 1999 Steven Soderbergh neo noir crime film The Limey, as the money laundering/celebrity rock music producer Terry Valentine.

In 2002 Fonda was inducted into the AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame.

Fonda lent his voice talent to the 2004 video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas as the aging hippie, The Truth.

In 2007, Fonda made a notable return to the big screen in the critically acclaimed remake of the 1957 Western 3:10 to Yuma, appearing alongside Christian Bale and Russell Crowe as the bounty hunter Byron McElroy. The film received two Academy Award nominations, and positive reviews from critics. He also made an appearance in the last scenes of the Biker-comedy Wild Hogs as Damien Blade, founder of the biker gang Del Fuegos and father of Jack, a character played by Ray Liotta. This year also featured Fonda portraying Mephostophiles, one of two main villains in the 2007 film Ghost Rider, and he has also expressed interest in re-playing the character in Ghost Rider 2. In 2009, he appeared in The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day, the sequel to the cult hit, as 'The Roman', the main villain and an old acquaintance of Il Duce, the character played by Billy Connolly.


In addition to his film work, Fonda's lent his talents to TV as well, notably in the Time Life infomercial for nine music CDs of 1960's music, Flower Power: Music of the Love Generation. He appeared in the critically-acclaimed 2004 TV movie Back When We Were Grownups with Faye Dunaway, Blythe Danner and Jack Palance,and he also appeared in a 2008 remake of Journey to the Centre of The Earth with Rick Schroeder. Fonda also made a special guest appearance on ER 's 300th episode as a man who gave up his Down Syndrome child for adoption and finally has a chance to meet him years later. This episode aired on December 6, 2007.

On July 2, 2009 Fonda made a guest appearance on BBC 1's The One Show introduced by Adrian Chiles and Christine Bleakley. He briefly popped into the studios whilst en route to seeing a drag racing event in the UKmarker.


Year Film Role Notes
1963 Tammy and the Doctor Dr. Mark Cheswick
The Victors Weaver Nominated — Golden Globe Award for Most Promising Newcomer - Male
1964 Lilith Stephen Evshevsky
The Young Lovers Eddie Slocum
1966 The Wild Angels Heavenly Blues
1967 The Trip Paul Groves
1968 Histories extradinaires Baron Wilhelm (segment "Metzengerstein")
1969 Easy Rider Wyatt Nominated — Academy Award For Best Original Screenplay with Dennis Hopper and Terry Southern
Nominated — Writers Guild of America Award for Best Drama Written Directly for the Screen with Dennis Hopper and Terry Southern
1971 The Hired hand Harry Collings
The Last Movie Young Sheriff
1973 Idaho Transfer Director
Two People Evan Bonner
1974 Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry Larry Rider
Open Season Ken
1975 Race with the Devil Roger March
92 in the Shade Skelton
1976 Killer Force Bradley
Futureworld Chuck Browning
Fighting Mad Tom Hunter
1977 Outlaw Blues Bobby Ogden
1978 High-Ballin' Rane
1979 Wanda Nevada Beaudray Demerille
1981 Cannonball Run Chief Biker (cameo appearance)
1982 Split Image Kirklander
1983 Peppermint-Frieden Mr. Freedom
Dance of the Dwarfs Harry Bediker
Daijôbu, mai furendo Gonzy Traumerai
Spasms Dr. Tom Brasilian
1985 A Reason to Live Gus Stewart TV movie
Certain Fury Rodney
1987 Hawken's Breed Hawken
1988 Mercenary Fighters Virelli
1989 The Rose Garden Herbert Schluter
1990 Fatal Mission Ken Andrews
1992 South Beach Jake
Family Express Nick
1993 Deadfall Pete
Bodies, Rest & Motion Motorcycle Rider
1994 Molly & Gina Larry Stanton
Love and a .45 Vergil Cheatham
Nadja Dracula/Dr. Van Helsing
1996 Escape from L.A. Pipeline
Grace of My Heart Guru Dave
1997 Ulee's Gold Ulysses 'Ulee' Jackson Dallas-Fort Worth Film Critics Association Award for Best Actor
Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Drama
New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Actor
Nominated — Academy Award for Best Actor
Nominated — Independent Spirit Award for Best Lead Male
Nominated — Online Film Critics Society Award for Best Actor
Nominated — Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role

Painted Hero Ray the Cook
1999 The Passion of Ayn Rand Frank Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Series, Miniseries or Television Film
Nominated — Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor – Miniseries or a Movie
Nominated — Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Miniseries or Television Movie

The Limey Terry Valentine
2000 South of Heaven, West of Hell Shoshonee Bill
Thomas and the Magic Railroad Grandpa Burnett Stone
Second Skin Merv Gutman
2001 Wooly Boys Stoney
2002 The Laramie Project Doctor Cantway
2004 The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things Grandfather
Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas The Truth (voice)
2005 Supernova Dr. Austin Shepard
2007 Ghost Rider Mephistopheles
Wild Hogs Damien Blade
3:10 to Yuma Byron McElroy Nominated — Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture
The Gathering Thomas Carrier
2008 Japan Alfred
Journey to the Center of the Earth Edward Dennison
2009 The Perfect Age of Rock 'n' Roll August West
The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day The Roman


Primary sources

  • Fonda, Peter, "Don't Tell Dad", Hyperion Books (April, 1998).
  • Playboy, "Playboy Interview: Peter Fonda", HMH Publishing Co., Inc., pp. 85-108, 278-79 (September, 1970).
  • Filmography: Internet Movie Database.
  • Also in Thomas and the Magic Railroad

Further reading

External links

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