In Memoriam: Peter Fonda’s Greatest Roles on the Silver Screen
In 1969, Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper rode into frame, did a drug deal (with the cocaine hidden in their motorcycle batteries) and made history. Easy Rider almost single-handedly sparked a genre of filmmaking that cared very little about what other people were doing. It gave a middle finger to conventional Hollywood while simultaneously spitting on the establishment. Unfortunately, the aforementioned legends are no longer with us; Dennis Hopper passed away nine years ago and Peter Fonda died just last week. Both men, and especially the latter, will forever be remembered as a prominent figure of ’60s counterculture, whether that meant doing LSD with the Beatles or turning archetypes on their heads. Fonda’s sister Jane said he went out laughing and advised all to “please raise a glass to freedom” for the immortal rebel. Here is a look back at some of Peter Fonda’s best roles, a man who undoubtedly rode off into the sunset.
Cover Photo: Columbia Pictures
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'The Wild Angels' (1966)
Fonda's “counterculture” career began with the role of Hells Angels chapter president, Heavenly Blues. He won the role over a fellow actor because he knew how to ride a bike and preach freedom.
Photo: American International Pictures (AIP)
'Easy Rider' (1969)
This first-of-its-kind on-the-road film featured two hippie bikers who encountered all sorts of societal commentary on their way to Mardi Gras. Fonda played Wyatt and Dennis Hopper played Billy. It was a game-changing film with a killer soundtrack that is cemented in history as one of the all-time greats.
Photo: Columbia Pictures
'The Hired Hand' (1971)
Fonda’s directorial debut did not do well the first time around, but after being restored and remastered in 2001, the story of a drifter, Harry Collings, trying to make amends with the wife he abandoned, is now considered a Western classic.
Photo: Universal Pictures
'Dirty Mary Crazy Larry' (1974)
Robbery, romance, and high-speed chases, this film was Fonda’s version of The Fast and The Furious. He played Larry, a broke NASCAR hopeful who could drive the hell out of a '69 Charger.
Photo: Twentieth Century Fox
'Race with the Devil' (1975)
This film was similar to Dirty Mary Crazy Larry in regard to the whole revved-up chase vibe, but with a satanic twist. Fonda played Roger Marsh, a motorcycle enthusiast who could drive the hell out of a souped-up RV.
Photo: Twentieth Century Fox
'Ulee's Gold' (1997)
After trying to replicate the success of Easy Rider and then settling into a career that focused more on producing some not-so-ambitious blockbusters, no one really expected an Oscar-worthy performance from Peter Fonda this late in the game. That's exactly what happened. Fonda received his only Oscar nomination for a performance containing the opposite of cheap thrills.
Photo: Orion Pictures
'The Limey' (1999)
Capitalizing on Fonda's newfound momentum, Steven Soderbergh cast Fonda as the drug-smuggling record producer Terry Valentine in this film. The Limey was praised as being one of the best films of '99.
Photo: Artisan Entertainment
'3:10 to Yuma' (2007)
Fonda played Byron McElroy in the James Mangold remake of 3:10 to Yuma, a gritty, badass, Pinkerton trying to bring Russell Crowe's Ben Wade to justice.
Living in the shadow of his father and sister (also famous filmmakers if you’ve been living under a rock), Peter Fonda had to find a way to carve out an identity for himself. However, there’s no road map for something like that. Fresh out the gate, he made an impression with films like The Wild Angels and Easy Rider; changing the way people thought about the type of work his family had been doing all his life. However, when someone sets the bar so high for themselves, it’s hard to keep riding at the level of excellence. It’s unlikely that Peter cared—being credited with over 110 roles. He was an immensely talented creative who seemed to know who he was and had nothing to prove. Plunging into the unknown with a joint in your mouth, rebellion in your heart, and rock 'n' roll on the radio -- that's freedom.
Photo: Leonardo Alvarez Hernandez (Getty Images)