The iconic and legendary Peter Fonda (or “Peter Fondue,” as Dennis Hopper once called him) passed this morning at age 79. Now Wyatt and Billy are in biker heaven together, cruising on some two-lane blacktop somewhere in New Mexico. No, they’re not actually — death has simply paid them both a visit now, and I’m very sorry. Hugs and condolences to the Fonda family (Jane in particular), Peter’s filmmaking colleagues, friends (in Los Angeles as well as Paradise Valley, Montana) and fans.
Like anyone else Fonda had his up and down periods, his dark or fallow or inactive periods, but during the heyday of the ’60s, man, or more precisely between mid ’65 and the release of Easy Rider on 7.14.69, Peter knew the language…he knew his way around.
By HE calculations Fonda created, participated in or partly authored six culturally important events in his life.
One, when he told John Lennon that “I know what it’s like to be dead” while they were tripping (along with a few others) in a Benedict Canyon hillside home in August ’65. This inspired Lennon to write “She Said She Said.”
Three, when Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson re-ordered the motion picture universe with Easy Rider (’69).
Four, when Fonda directed and starred in The Hired Hand (’71), easily his finest directing effort and arguably the second best film he ever starred in.
Five, his near-perfect performance as Terry Valentine in Steven Soderbergh‘s The Limey (’97).
And sixth, his performance in Victor Nunez‘s Ulee’s Gold, which I saw at Sundance in January ’97.
Fonda was always cool if you had something to say. He was with me, at least, on three or four occasions. The first time we spoke was when I interviewed him about his Split Image role (a cult leader) for the N.Y. Post. (One of the sub-topics was Biker Heaven, a proposed sequel to Easy Rider that would have costarred Fonda and Hopper.) Then at a Toronto Film Festival party for The Limey in September ’97. The last time I saw Fonda was toward the end of a party for Silver Linings Playbook at the Chateau Marmont, six or seven years ago. You’d say whatever came to mind and Fonda would return the volley if you were making any sense.
He loved his aloof dad, Henry Fonda, and in fact told me so when we did that ’82 interview in Manhattan. Peter would look right at you and hold the stare when he said stuff like this. He had kind, trusting eyes and what seemed to me like a fairly large heart.