Peter Fonda
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Credit: Isa Foltin / Getty Images

Screen icon Peter Fonda dead at 79

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Aug 16, 2019

Screen legend Peter Fonda has passed away at his Los Angeles home at the age of 79. The acting icon, who enjoyed a lengthy career that spanned entire generations of movie trends, was perhaps best known for his landmark role opposite Jack Nicholson and the late Dennis Hopper in Easy Rider.

Fonda, a multiple Academy Award nominee and Golden Globe winner whose career crossed many genres, is beloved among science fiction fans for starring roles during his early and middle career in John Carpenter’s Escape From L.A. and the 1976 sci-fi thriller Futureworld. More recently, he starred opposite Nicolas Cage as Mephistopheles in one of many biker-themed films that threaded through his career: 2007's Ghost Rider.

Fonda even tried his hand behind the camera in the 1970s, directing the obscure 1973 Idaho Transfer, a slow-paced sci-fi film that merged time travel with the threat of a looming environmental disaster. In 1994, Fonda played Van Helsing in the avant-garde horror feature Nadja, a black-and-white film that earned praise from critics at the time for its offbeat mix of deadpan comedy into the more conventional vampire movie formula.

Fonda’s starmaking turn as Wyatt, Easy Rider’s soft-spoken, world-weary biker, was by no means a genre role. But with his star-spangled motorcycle and red, white, and blue costumed motif, his character shared much of the same American imagery that suffused contemporary pop culture, from Marvel’s Captain America comics to daredevil stuntman Evel Knievel — and it flagged Fonda as a countercultural antihero in his own right, in the waning days of the politically fermenting 1960s.

Fonda was nominated for an Academy Award for his screenwriting credit on Easy Rider, and went on to earn another Oscar nomination, this time for Best Actor, for his role in the 1997 beekeeping drama Ulee’s Gold. For that role, he also picked up a Golden Globe award for Best Actor, one of two Golden Globes he received in his career (he won again in 1999 for his portrayal of Frank O’Connor in Showtime's The Passion of Ayn Rand, taking home the Best Supporting Actor award).

Multiple entertainment outlets reported the news of Fonda’s passing Friday. Part of an extended Hollywood family, Fonda (father of Bridget Fonda) shared the spotlight through much of the 1970s and beyond with his sister, Barbarella star Jane Fonda; both actors are the children of golden-age movie icon Henry Fonda. 

Fonda reportedly had planned to participate in this year’s ongoing roster of commemorative events celebrating the 50th anniversary of Easy Rider, which was to continue next month with a concert and screening he had been slated to attend.

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