“You do your own thing in your own time,” Captain America declares in a solemn voice in Easy Rider, the iconic 1969 road movie that begins with a motorcycle tank being filled with ill-gotten drug money; travels through LSD trips and hippie communes, small-town truck stops and rural jail cells; and ends with a double murder. “You should be proud.”
Peter Fonda, the actor who played Captain America, passed away from respiratory failure due to lung cancer yesterday in Los Angeles at the age of 79. Fonda, who certainly did his own thing in his own time, was the son of the actor Henry Fonda and the younger brother of Jane Fonda, and he followed in both of their footsteps, forging his own career on the screen.
Fonda had a tough childhood. His father was famously cold and distant; when he was 10 his mother passed away. It was years before he learned the truth, that she had died of suicide. He was an enthusiastic participant in the 1960s culture of sex and drugs, and reportedly inspired John Lennon to write the line “I know what it’s like to be dead” in the Beatles’s song “She Said She Said.”
He may have been most famous for his role in Easy Rider, but that was not Fonda’s first foray into the hot-young-guy-on-a-bike genre. In 1966 he starred in Roger Corman’s B movie The Wild Angels. (Originally hired for a minor part, Fonda got the lead when it turned out that the actor George Chakiris could not ride a motorcycle.)
Though he never reached the professional heights of his father and sister, Fonda had a solid career in movies and television. He was nominated for the Academy Award for best original screenplay for Easy Rider and the Academy Award for best actor for Ulee’s Gold. For the latter he won the Golden Globe Award for best actor. He also won a Golden Globe for best supporting actor for the TV film, for The Passion of Ayn Rand.
Fonda was married three times; he is survived by his sister and his wife; a daughter, the actress Bridget Fonda; a son, Justin Fonda; two stepsons; a stepdaughter; and one grandson. Upon his passing the family issued the following statement: “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. In honor of Peter, please raise a glass to freedom.”
Fonda took that freedom seriously—recently he became known for his inflammatory anti-Trump tweets. His fury and his passion for politics were far from the laconic counterculture stoner hero he was best known for playing—but maybe not. Maybe Captain America, had he lived, would have woken up from his dreamy haze, opened his eyes wide, looked around at his beloved country, jumped off his Harley-Davidson chopper, and taken to the streets.
Originally Appeared on Vogue