'Easy Rider' Peter Fonda dead at 79: 'Please raise a glass to freedom'

Peter Fonda, whose countercultural classic Easy Rider helped usher in the New Hollywood movement of the 1970s that paved the way for filmmakers from Martin Scorsese to Quentin Tarantino, has died after suffering respiratory failure due to lung cancer. Fonda, the son of screen legend Henry Fonda, younger brother of Jane Fonda and father of actress Bridget Fonda, was 79.

The family confirmed the news of his death Friday in a statement to Yahoo Entertainment.

“It is with deep sorrow that we share the news that Peter Fonda has passed away,” the family said, adding Fonda “passed away peacefully on Friday morning, Aug. 16 at 11:05am at his home in Los Angeles surrounded by family. The official cause of death was respiratory failure due to lung cancer.

“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.

“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 statement concluded. “In honor of Peter, please raise a glass to freedom.”

According to Jane Fonda, her brother “went out laughing.”

“I am very sad,” she said in a statement. “He was my sweet-hearted baby brother. The talker of the family. I have had beautiful alone time with him these last days. He went out laughing.”

Fonda was best known for his starring role 1969’s Easy Rider, which he co-wrote and produced, and which celebrated its 50th anniversary on July 14. The film earned him his first Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay. In 1997, Fonda was nominated for Best Actor for starring in Ulee's Gold.

Born in New York City, Fonda began acting in the early '60s. He started to make a name for himself in 1966's The Wild Angels alongside Nancy Sinatra and Bruce Dern, but his big break came three years later with Easy Rider. He was inspired to write the film in 1967 in response to a speech by Jack Valenti, then the newly appointed head of the Motion Picture Association of America who was advocating for more family-friendly films.

"And like a TV evangelist [Valenti] says, 'It's time we stopped making movies about sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll and more movies like Doctor Dolittle,' but he's looking right at me," said Fonda in a 2013 Role Recall interview with Yahoo Entertainment. Soon after he began writing the story of two drug-fueled motorcyclists on an ultimately tragic cross-country odyssey.

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HOLLYWOOD, CA - JUNE 19: Actors Peter Fonda, Kristen Schaal, Lewis MacDougall and Vera Farmiga attend the premiere of Sony Pictures Classics' 'Boundries' at American Cinematheque's Egyptian Theatre on June 19, 2018 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - JUNE 19: Actor Peter Fonda and Margaret DeVogelaere attend the premiere of Sony Pictures Classics' 'Boundries' at American Cinematheque's Egyptian Theatre on June 19, 2018 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - JUNE 19: Peter Fonda attends the Premiere Of Sony Pictures Classics' 'Boundaries' at American Cinematheque's Egyptian Theatre on June 19, 2018 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by JB Lacroix/WireImage)
PALM SPRINGS, CA - JANUARY 02: Peter Fonda attends the 29th Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival Film Awards Gala - Arrivals at Palm Springs Convention Center on January 2, 2018 in Palm Springs, California. (Photo by David Crotty/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 14: Actor Peter Fonda speaks on stage during AFI Fest's Los Angeles premiere of The Ballad Of Lefty Brown on November 14, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Randy Shropshire/Getty Images for A24)
PALM SPRINGS, CA - JANUARY 02: Salma Hayek and Peter Fonda attend the 29th Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival Awards Gala at Palm Springs Convention Center on January 2, 2018 in Palm Springs, California. (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Palm Springs International Film Festival )
LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 20: (L-R) Parky Fonda, Peter Fonda, and Todd White attend the Los Angeles book launch party for Barry Avrich's 'Moguls, Monsters And Madmen' on October 20, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Phillip Faraone/Getty Images for Melbar Entertainment Group)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - JUNE 09: Parky Fonda (L) and actor Peter Fonda attend American Film Institute's 44th Life Achievement Award Gala Tribute to John Williams at Dolby Theatre on June 9, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - MAY 23: Actor Peter Fonda and Margaret DeVogelaere attends the premiere of Disney's 'Alice Through The Looking Glass' at the El Capitan Theatre on May 23, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Michael Boardman/WireImage)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - JUNE 09: Actor Peter Fonda attends Audi Arrivals at the 44th AFI Life Achievement Award Gala Tribute honoring John Williams at Dolby Theatre on June 9, 2016 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Rachel Murray/Getty Images for Audi of America)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - OCTOBER 15: (L-R) Actor Peter Fonda, IMDb founder and CEO Col Needham, actress Mira Sorvino and comedian Tommy Davidson attend IMDb's 25th Anniversary Party co-hosted by Amazon Studios presented by VISINE at Sunset Tower Hotel on October 15, 2015 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for IMDb)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - OCTOBER 15: Actor Peter Fonda and actress Mira Sorvino attend IMDb's 25th Anniversary Party co-hosted by Amazon Studios presented by VISINE at Sunset Tower Hotel on October 15, 2015 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for IMDb)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - JUNE 09: Peter Fonda and Jack Horner arrives at the 'Jurassic World' - World Premiere at Dolby Theatre on June 9, 2015 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - OCTOBER 15: Actor Peter Fonda (L) and Parky Fonda attend IMDb's 25th Anniversary Party co-hosted by Amazon Studios presented by VISINE at Sunset Tower Hotel on October 15, 2015 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for IMDb)
BEVERLY HILLS, CA - MARCH 09: Parky Fonda (L) and actor Peter Fonda attend the Venice Family Clinic's Silver Circle Gala at Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel on March 9, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Mike Windle/Getty Images for Venice Family Clinic)
WEST HOLLYWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 20: Actor Peter Fonda arrives at the 8th Annual Women In Film Pre-Oscar Cocktail Party at HYDE Sunset: Kitchen + Cocktails on February 20, 2015 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Paul Redmond/Getty Images)
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Fonda shared the screen only once with his famous father, in the 1979 western Wanda Nevada, which he also directed.

"A fairy tale. A perfectly written fairy tale," he told Yahoo. "I was fortunate enough to cast my dad. And he came and played for one day with us. And it was really an amazing moment for me, to be able to work with my father, to direct him and act in a scene with him. Up until that moment, no matter the success of Easy Rider, and the tremendous success of Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry, these were not films that my father would understand."

"In 1978, I'm shooting in the Grand Canyon with my father, who's basically dying," Fonda continued. (Henry Fonda passed away in 1982 from heart disease at age 77.) "Any rate, it was fabulous. We had such a good time. He just did one day's work. And I was warning him he had to chew tobacco, so I had all this licorice ready for him to spit instead. I said 'I don't chew tobacco, and I don't want you chewing tobacco.' He said, 'Nope, I'm gonna do it!' You know, stubborn. And so he passed out at lunch!"

Fonda added, "I got a letter, the fifth one I ever got from him, this fabulous letter. Basically it said, 'In my 41 years of making motion pictures, I have never seen a crew so devoted to a director, and you're a very good director, Son. And I love you very much.' The first time it had been put in writing, and there it was. Signed, 'Love, your dad.' It was just amazing."

Fonda, whose other films include the original Westworld, the Nicolas Cage superhero film Ghost Rider and the remake of the western 3:10 to Yuma with Russell Crowe and Christian Bale, leaves behind a family of his own. He shared two children with ex-wife Susan Brewer: actress Bridget Fonda, 55, and Justin Fonda, 53. He is also survived by his third wife, Margaret “Parky” DeVogelaere, whom he wed in 2011, sister Jane, 81, and half-sister Amy, 66.

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