Film News: Peter Fonda, Forever the ‘Easy Rider,’ Dies at 79

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Terry Southern and the ‘Easy Rider’

One of the more mythical stories to come out of Easy Rider is regarding the partnership of author and screenwriter Terry Southern (”Candy,” “Dr. Strangelove”) with Fonda on the story. Since much of what Southern contributed was cut from the film in its final form, Fonda was asked about whether his relationship with Southern at the time was contentious, as the history of the film has been told.

“Jane and I were doing parts in a segment for film ‘Histoires extraordinaires,’ which was directed by her husband at the time, Roger Vadim,” Fonda recalled. “I met Terry Southern at the villa I was staying at in France, and pitched him the idea for the film. He was very enthusiastic and wanted to work on it.”

But there were some obstacles.

“Terry was a pretty big screenwriter at the time, and I thought his price for doing the script would be the entire budget of the film,” Fonda said. “But he was so into the story that we ended up paying him a much lower fee.”

He continued: “It was never a contentious relationship, he just had a problem working with Dennis, who he called ‘Den-Den.’ Hopper and he had some serious confrontations on the New Orleans set and Terry just left. But I never had a problem with him.

And in fact, Terry Southern gave the film its famous title.

“You may think it has something to do with motorcycle riding but what it really refers to is the boyfriend of a prostitute, Fonda said. “She makes all the money and in exchange he gives her love, and the rest is just an ‘easy ride.’”

Captain America on Alternative Fuel

Alternative fuel sources is of great concern to Fonda, one of pop culture’s greatest motorcycle advocates. He spent a lot of last year helping to promote the documentary “Fuel.” As he put it, he had no stake in the film, he just wanted to help spread the message.

“The oil industry has done a good job of keeping alternative fuels out of public use,” Fonda explained. “The Volstead Act of 1920, besides establishing the law that launched Prohibition, was pushed heavily by John D. Rockefeller because it also served to squelched Henry Ford’s ethanol powered engine production, because that was essentially alcohol and against the law.”

“We see that today with bio-diesel, as information that is circulated claims that it is cutting into our food supply,” he added.

But Fonda offered a solution to that, which is a major premise in the documentary.

“Fuel can be made from algae,” Fonda said. “The same factories that pollute our waterways and cause algae to form can now be powered by it.”

Peter Fonda as Captain America in the Classic Film ‘Easy Rider’
Photo credit: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Peter Fonda and John Lennon

Historians of The Beatles have long noted that Peter Fonda was the inspiration for one of their greatest songs, “She Said, She Said.” It was in a Benedict Canyon home near Los Angeles that The Beatles stayed during their 1965 tour of America (the Shea Stadium tour). Fonda was in a group of people visiting them in their hideaway. The line that Fonda offered, “I know what it’s like to be dead.” was in reference to a childhood accident where he was shot playing with a gun. Lennon wrote the song one year later that appeared on the “Revolver” Album…

She said, I know what it’s like to be dead.
I know what it is to be sad

“It was glorious days, and I remember them well,” Fonda remembered. “It was great to be part of that experience and great to hear what George Martin and The Beatles came up with when Lennon interpreted that phrase.”

When it was remarked that the phrase and song will have him live forever, Fonda was quick to reply.

“No one lives forever, man.”

The Family Man

Peter Fonda is part of the legacy of the famous Fonda family, with sister Jane and father Henry both major contributors to film history and performance. When asked what his favorite Henry Fonda, Jane Fonda and Peter Fonda movie is, he offered these.

“For my Dad, I love ‘My Darling Clementine,’ just a beautiful picture. For Jane, I have to go with ‘Klute.’ For me, definitely ‘Ulee’s Gold.’

When asked what was the character thread that connected these performances, Peter Fonda went straight to the point.

“They were all real people.”

Sources for this article were Wikipedia and Peter Fonda, 1940-2019. senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Editor and Film Writer

© 2019 Patrick McDonald,

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