Peter Fonda, ‘Easy Rider’ Star and Hollywood Icon, Dies at 79
One of the definitive screen actors of the generation has died. TMZ reports that Peter Fonda, star and co-writer of Easy Rider and many other films, passed away after a battle with lung cancer. Fonda was 79 years old:
A rep for Peter confirms he passed Friday morning at his his home in Los Angeles, and was surrounded by family. We're told the official cause of death was respiratory failure due to lung cancer -- and he had been in and out of the hospital recently.
Fonda was one of many Hollywood icons in his family; his father was the great actor Henry Fonda and his sister was Jane Fonda. (His daughter, Bridget Fonda, is an actress as well.) Peter Fonda first found work on Broadway and television, then reinvented himself — and become one of the key film stars of the late 1960s — when he hooked up with Roger Corman and his indie film factory. Before Fonda became maybe the most famous biker in movie history in Easy Rider, he starred in Corman’s biker movie The Wild Angels. The movie was a surprise hit, and directly led to the creation of Easy Rider, along with the rest of the biker movie genre.
Fonda reteamed with Corman on The Trip, about a man (played by Fonda) on a surreal LSD trip. Directed by Corman, written by Jack Nicholson, the movie became another improbable hit (and its psychedelic sequences remain very memorable 50 years later):
The following year, Fonda teamed with Dennis Hopper for Easy Rider. Fonda co-wrote the screenplay with Hopper and Terry Southern, produced the movie, and starred as Wyatt, one of a pair of bikers (Hopper, who directed, played the other) headed to New Orleans for Mardi Gras. The movie’s unique editing, trippy sequences, and soundtrack of rock tunes made it one of the iconic films of its era.
Easy Rider became a massive blockbuster, and the third highest-grossing movie of 1969. Along with Bonnie and Clyde it helped inaugurate the so-called “New Hollywood” era of American movies, where younger filmmakers were given the opportunity to explore new, mature ideas and themes onscreen.
Fonda worked steadily for decades after Easy Rider. He’s great in Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry, a car chase film, and in Futureworld, the sequel to the original film of Westworld. In 1997, he was nominated for the Oscar for Best Actor for his performance in Ulee’s Gold. But even with all his other credits, Peter Fonda will likely be remembered first and foremost for Easy Rider, both for its unforgettable depiction of 1960s counterculture, and for the impact it had on mainstreaming culture by helping to change the film industry forever. Fonda will be missed, but his legacy is guaranteed.
Gallery — The Best Films of the Year So Far: