Peter Henry Fonda (born February 23, 1940) is an American actor. He is the son of Henry Fonda, brother of Jane Fonda, and father of Bridget and Justin Fonda (by first wife Susan Brewer, stepdaughter of Noah Dietrich). Fonda is an icon of the counterculture of the 1960s.
Fonda was born in New York City, the only son of actor Henry Fonda and his wife Frances Ford Seymour; he is the younger brother of actress Jane Fonda. He and Jane had a maternal half-sister, Frances de Villers Brokaw (1931-2008), from their mother’s first marriage. Their mother committed suicide in a mental hospital when Peter, her youngest, was ten.
On his eleventh birthday, he accidentally shot himself in the stomach and nearly died. He went to Nainital and stayed for a few months for recovery. Years later, he referred to this incident while with John Lennon and George Harrison and taking LSD. He said, “I know what it’s like to be dead.” This inspired The Beatles‘ song “She Said She Said“.
Early on, Fonda studied acting in Omaha, Nebraska, his father’s home town. While attending the University of Nebraska at Omaha, Fonda joined the Omaha Community Playhouse, where many actors (including his father and Marlon Brando) had begun their careers.
In 1968, Fonda produced, co-wrote and starred in Easy Rider, directed by Dennis Hopper. This independent film is his most notable. Easy Rider is about two long-haired bikers traveling through the southwest and southern United States where they encounter intolerance and violence. Fonda played “Captain America,” a charismatic, laconic man whose motorcycle jacket bore a large American flag across the back. Dennis Hopper played the garrulous “Billy”. Jack Nicholson was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his turn as George Hanson, an alcoholic civil rights lawyer who rides along with them. Fonda co-wrote the screenplay with Terry Southern and Hopper.
Hopper filmed the cross-country road trip depicted almost entirely on location. Fonda had secured funding in the neighborhood of $360,000 – (largely based on the fact he knew that was the budget Roger Corman needed to make The Wild Angels).
The film was released in 1969 to international success. The guitarist and composer Robbie Robertson, of The Band, was so moved by an advance screening that he approached Fonda and tried to convince him to let him write a complete score, even though the film was nearly due for wide release. Fonda declined the offer, instead using Steppenwolf‘s “Born to Be Wild“, Bob Dylan‘s “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” sung by the Byrds‘ Roger McGuinn, and Robertson’s own composition “The Weight” performed by The Band, among many other tracks. Fonda, Hopper and Southern were nominated for the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. The film grossed over $40 million.