Peter Fonda, the Oscar-nominated actor whose roles in Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider and Roger Corman’s The Trip made him a counterculture hero in the late 1960s, died Friday at the age of 79. The cause of death was respiratory failure due to lung cancer, his family confirmed to People.
“It is with deep sorrow that we share the news that Peter Fonda has passed away,” the family said. “[Peter] passed away peacefully on Friday morning, August 16 at 11:05am at his home in Los Angeles surrounded by family,” they continued. “The official cause of death was respiratory failure due to lung cancer. In one of the saddest moments of our lives, we are not able to find the appropriate words to express the pain in our hearts. As we grieve, we ask that you respect our privacy.
“And, while we mourn the loss of this sweet and gracious man, we also wish for all to celebrate his indomitable spirit and love of life,” the family added. “In honor of Peter, please raise a glass to freedom.”
His sister Jane Fonda said in a statement to the Hollywood Reporter, “I am very sad. He was my sweet-hearted baby brother. The talker of the family. I have had beautiful alone time with him these last days. He went out laughing.”
Born February 23, 1940, in New York City, Fonda was the brother of Jane Fonda and son of actor Henry Fonda. He made his film debut in 1963, starring opposite Sandra Dee in the romantic comedy Tammy and the Doctor, but it was his appearance as a biker-club leader in B-movie director Roger Corman’s The Wild Angels three years later that introduced him as a counterculture figure. Fonda furthered that reputation with the lead role in the 1967 LSD drama The Trip, written by Jack Nicholson and costarring Dennis Hopper, with whom he’d re-team the following year for the seminal road film Easy Rider.
Directed by Hopper, the movie cast Fonda and Hopper as free-spirit bikers Wyatt and Billy, who are eager to experience all facets of American life in the Sixties — the good, bad and ugly — while on a mind-expanding road trip. Fonda, in his red, white, and, blue helmet, embodied the figure of “Captain America” and scored an Academy Award nomination for co-writing the script with Hopper and Terry Southern.
Fonda’s other notable roles included the 1971 Western The Hired Hand, which he directed, the 1975 heist film Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry, the 1975 horror classic Race With the Devil, Wanda Nevada with Brooke Shields in 1979 and 1997’s Ulee’s Gold, a critical comeback for the actor. He earned a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his titular part as a widowed beekeeper with a problematic son. In 1999, Fonda won a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the TV movie The Passion of Ayn Rand.
Still, it was Fonda’s Easy Rider role as a motorcyclist that became synonymous with his legacy, one he would later parody with cameos in 1981’s Cannonball Run and 2007’s road comedy Wild Hogs.