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Peter Fonda in Easy Rider: A look back at the Hollywood icon’s most famous film

 

Peter Fonda in Easy Rider
Peter Fonda helped change the way films were made. Pic credit: Columbia Pictures

Peter Fonda died on Friday at the age of 79. The legendary actor died following a long battle with lung cancer.

Fonda was Hollywood royalty, his family legendary in the world of acting.

His father was Henry Fonda, who turned heads in everything from Sidney Lumet’s 12 Angry Men to Sergio Leone’s Once Upon a Time in the West.

His sister was Jane Fonda, one of the most acclaimed political activists in Hollywood history. She was a seven-time Oscar nominee for movies such as Klute and Coming Home.

Peter Fonda’s daughter is Bridget Fonda, who has appeared in everything from Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown to Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather: Part III.

While Peter Fonda may not be as acclaimed as his family members, he did something none of them did. With Easy Rider, Fonda changed Hollywood.

Peter Fonda in Easy Rider

In 1969, Hollywood was in a rut. In the novel Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, author Peter Biskind wrote how Hollywood was churning out the same movies over and over like a machine. Everything was safe and no one was taking chances.

Then, Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper, two young counterculture actors who had a love of illegal drugs and fast lives, co-wrote a movie no one in Hollywood would have made at the time.

That was Easy Rider, which Hopper directed himself. They even cast a young unknown actor named Jack Nicholson as a hitchhiker they met along the way — a hitchhiker that was beaten to death by bigots in the south, who hated hippies with a passion.

The movie was about two guys on motorcycles who wanted to travel across the United States and passed through the worst of the country at that time period — the Deep South.

The entire trip then ended at a cemetery in New Orleans where the two men got stoned. However, the movie ended with the bigots coming after Hopper and Fonda’s bikers.

The freeze-frame of Hopper’s character, nicknamed unironically Captain America, as he died in a blaze of glory, told the entire story of this movie.

Columbia Pictures released Easy Rider and the movie made $60 million. Most impressive is that it only cost $400,000 to make. This changed Hollywood.

Thanks to Easy Rider, Martin Scorsese was able to make Taxi Driver. Francis Ford Coppola was able to make The Godfather. If it wasn’t for Easy Rider, Bonnie and Clyde never would have been made.

Dennis Hopper received the first-ever film award at Cannes for the movie. It was nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay and Jack Nicholson was nominated for Best Supporting Actor. In 1998, it was added to the United States National Film Registry.

It was a line by Captain America that showed what the film was all about and how Peter Fonda lived his life.

“No, I mean it, you’ve got a nice place. It’s not every man that can live off the land, you know,” Fonda said. “You do your own thing in your own time. You should be proud.”

Easy Rider is available to purchase on a pristine Criterion Collection Blu-ray that includes an audio commentary track with Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda and production manager Paul Lewis.

Shawn S. Lealos has been a freelance writer for 25 years, starting with magazines and newspapers before moving to the internet. He has been published... read more
Shawn S. Lealos

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