Things sometimes don’t go as planned. Peter Fonda, the handsome actor who most famously starred in 1969’s “Easy Rider,” along with co-star Dennis Hopper, died on Friday at his home in Los Angeles, ahead of what would’ve been the fiftieth anniversary of the release of the film.
Fonda was 79.
The man who once said, “I feel like I’m about eight years old on most days” had boyish charm and a glint of hope in his eyes, even though his take on humanity was, in all likelihood, gloomy. “Civilization was always a bust” is also attributed to him.
The son of Hollywood star actor Henry Fonda, Jane Fonda’s little brother and father to Bridget, Peter Fonda succumbed to respiratory arrest caused by lung cancer.
“Easy Rider,” which was written by Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper and Terry Southern and directed by Hopper, tells the story of two bikers, Wyatt and Billy. Their journey, a quest for freedom filled with pitfalls, was taken by motorcycle through the great outdoors of the American Southwest. The image of Peter Fonda with his legs extended on a Harley Davidson “California” chopper, painted in the colors of the American flag, is drolly emblematic, of one era on the wane and of another that began, and that was filled with anger, resentment and the need for change. There was a loss of innocence in America, bookended by the assassination of JFK and Nixon’s admission of guilt and subsequent resignation. Society had lost its bearings and “Easy Rider” came at the hindmost part of this existential crisis.
“Easy Rider,” a generational seismic shock of a film, led Peter Fonda to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Screenplay. “Rider” also signaled a new era in Hollywood filmmaking. Ever since this film and its ending, marked by violence, conventional happy endings have given way to less-idealized epilogues.
After the success of “Easy Rider” Peter Fonda went on to play roles of different registers in both cinema and television. In 1998 he was an Academy Award nominee for his role in the Victor Nuñez film “Ulee’s Gold” (1997). This earned him a Golden Globe.
More recently, Peter Fonda played Mephistopheles in “Ghost Rider” (2007). The same year, he made a noted appearance in the remake of the western “3:10 for Yuma,” alongside Christian Bale and Russell Crowe. His latest film, “The Last Full Measure,” starring Samuel L. Jackson, Morgan Freeman and Laurence Fishburne, is slated for release in late October.
To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the release of “Easy Rider,” Peter Fonda had organized a screening event in New York on September 20th. Musicians were to perform the film’s famous soundtrack, including Steppenwolf’s anthem “Born to Be Wild.” Things sometimes don’t go as planned, but, presumably, this anniversary event will go on, with Fonda in absentia, but Wyatt, and Billy, like true nature’s children, still very much present in spirit both.