Peter Fonda Dead at 79 After Respiratory Failure from Lung Cancer: 'Please Raise a Glass to Freedom'
Peter Fonda was best known for his starring role as Wyatt in 1969’s Easy Rider
Peter’s family confirmed the sad news in an exclusive statement to PEOPLE on Friday and said that the two-time Oscar-nominee died after suffering respiratory failure due to lung cancer.
“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 11:05 a.m. at his home in Los Angeles surrounded by family.”
“The official cause of death was respiratory failure due to lung cancer,” they continued.
“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,” they wrote.
“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 Fonda family finished. “In honor of Peter, please raise a glass to freedom.”
Peter, who became a movie star and counterculture icon with his 1969 movie Easy Rider, was born in New York City to screen legend Henry Fonda and Frances Ford Seymour.
The star spent his early years growing up alongside his older sister, Jane, until he was sent to boarding school at just 6 years old.
Their childhood was struck by tragedy when their mother, who struggled with her mental health, died by suicide when Peter was 10 and Jane was 12.
In his 1998 book, Don’t Tell Dad: A Memoir, Peter said his mom’s death was something that his “forbidding figure” father, who was remote and often away on set, lied about and subsequently “ignored”.
“When I walked toward [my family] they told me to go through the closed doors and into the living room. I opened the doors and saw Jane, Grandma, and Dad sitting on the couches. Jane was on Dad’s lap,” Peter recalled in the memoir. “I went to Grandma, and she told me Mother had died of a heart attack, in a hospital.”
“After that, no one ever talked about Mom. No one seemed to miss her. It was almost as if she had never lived. Jane and I never went to a funeral or service for her; I didn’t know where she was buried,” he added.
When he finally did learn what happened to his mother, Peter said “he was stunned. I sat there for two or three minutes, speechless … Everyone else knew. Knew everything! But not me.”
Speaking to PEOPLE in March 2014, Jane recalled how Peter “was much more affected by the fact that no one talked about our mom.”
“It was like she’d just been erased,” Jane said. “[The Christmas after she died], Peter filled a chair with presents and a letter for her. He couldn’t stand that there was no acknowledgment of her. He was such a sensitive, sweet, vulnerable kid.”
Later in life, Peter would reconcile with his father by offering him a role in the 1979 film Wanda Nevada.
According to his memoir, one day after spending the afternoon together, dad Henry started to cry.
“Slowly and choking on the high-powered emotion, he said, ‘I love you very much, son. I want you to know that,'” Peter wrote.
Despite their tough relationship, Peter followed in his father’s footsteps and went on to study acting in college and made his professional stage debut in 1961 in the Broadway production of Blood, Sweat, and Standley Poole.
That same year, Peter married Susan Brewer and they had two children — actress Bridget Fonda and Justin Fonda.
RELATED VIDEO: Jane Fonda Opens Up About Her Mother’s Suicide: ‘It Has A Big Impact On Your Sense of Self’
Two years after his Broadway debut, the actor transitioned into the film world and made his debut in Tammy and the Doctor, before playing an ensemble role in the World War II saga The Victors.
He also appeared in 1966’s Wild Angels, opposite Nancy Sinatra and Bruce Dern, and The Trip in 1967.
His breakout role, however, came in 1969 when he starred as Wyatt in Easy Rider, which he also produced and co-scripted. For his work on the project, Peter earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Original Screenplay.
Around that time, Peter “dove headlong into the era’s sea of drugs and sexual freedom,” which eventually led to his 1972 divorce from Brewer, according to his memoir.
Three years later, Peter married Portia Crockett and continued to act in a series of films, such as Ulee’s Gold, The Hired Hand, and 3:10 to Yuma.
He also directed a number of projects and earned himself several accolades along the way, including four Golden Globe nominations (two of which he won), one Emmy nomination and earned another Oscar nomination for Ulee’s Gold.
In 2011, however, Peter and Crockett called it quits. His final marriage came in June of that year to Margaret “Parky” DeVogelaere.
More recently, Peter was featured on television series, including CSI: NY, Hawaii Five-O, The Blacklist, and Milo Murphy’s Law.
At the time of his death, he was in pre-production for a movie called Skate God, expected to release in 2020, according to his IMDb. The last film he acted in was The Last Full Measure which is expected to be released later this year.
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