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Easy Rider star and ’60s icon Peter Fonda dies at age 79

Two-time Oscar nominee Peter Fonda, who became a Hollywood icon thanks to his starring role in Easy Rider and his embrace of 1960s counter-culture, has died at age 79 due to complications arising from lung cancer, Variety reports.

The actor was the only son of The Grapes of Wrath and 12 Angry Men star Peter Fonda and socialite Frances Ford Seymour, and was the younger brother of actress-turned-political activist Jane Fonda. Following a number of well-received appearances on Broadway and television, Peter Fonda made his silver screen debut in the 1963 romantic comedy Tammy and the Doctor and quickly became known as a talented, if unconventional, actor.

However, Fonda’s big break didn’t come until a few years later, when he produced, co-wrote, and starred in Dennis Hopper’s highly influential 1969 drama Easy Rider. As Wyatt, a drug-smuggling drifter who rode on a star-spangled motorcycle known as “Captain America,” Fonda helped bring the simmering tensions of late-’60s American culture to the big screen.

Easy Rider shocked audiences with its frank depictions of drug use, free love, and violence, and went on to become the third-highest grossing movie of 1969. Easy Rider is credited with helping launch the “New Hollywood” era, in which major studios shied away from the Golden Age filmmaking-model in favor of low-budget, realistic movies aimed at younger audiences, while its soundtrack made bands like The Band, The Byrds, and Steppenwolf into household names.

Fonda wasn’t just a rebel on-screen, however. During the ’60s, he was friends with The Beatles, used LSD regularly, and occasionally ran into trouble with the police. Before Easy Rider catapulted Fonda to superstardom, he regularly appeared in films by B-movie master Roger Corman. Later, Fonda starred in Hopper’s drug-fueled The Last Movie and directed Wanda Nevada, which garnered controversy for a romance plot between the 39-year-old Fonda and 13-year-old Brooke Shields.

In the ’70s and ’80s, Fonda became an action star, playing leading roles in Open Season, the Westworld sequel Futureworld, and The Cannonball Run. In 1997, Fonda was nominated for Best Actor for Ulee’s Gold. Fonda continued working right up until his death — his last movie, Skate God, has yet to be released.

In his personal life, Fonda was an outspoken liberal who had harsh words for American Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump, and who helped produce a scathing documentary about the Deepwater Horizon oil spill called The Big Fix. Fonda is survived by his wife Margaret DeVogelaere and his two children, Justin and Bridget Fonda, the latter of whom is a notable actress in her own right.

Chris Gates
Contributor
Christopher Gates lives in Los Angeles, CA and writes about movies, TV, video games, and other pop culture curiosities. In…
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