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Inside Final Days of Jane Fonda’s Brother Peter Who Was Also an Actor & Suffered Tragedy at 10

Busayo Ogunjimi
Nov 08, 2021
07:40 A.M.

Jane Fonda's younger brother Peter Fonda also pursued acting. However, before building a successful career, he endured some childhood tragedies.

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Jane Fonda's little brother, Peter Fonda, died on August 16, 2019. She spent his last days with him, and she found his death difficult to process.

Just like Jane, Peter was an actor. They were close and shared many experiences. However, the death of his mother proved difficult for Peter to deal with, to digest.

Jane Fonda at the Sydney Opera House on August 27, 2018 in Sydney, Australia[left]. Peter and Jane Fonda smile as they board an airplane on August 1957[right] | Photo: Getty Images

Jane Fonda at the Sydney Opera House on August 27, 2018 in Sydney, Australia[left]. Peter and Jane Fonda smile as they board an airplane on August 1957[right] | Photo: Getty Images

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THE FONDA FAMILY

Peter was born on February 23, 1940, in New York City. He was the only son of actor Henry Fonda and his wife, Frances Ford Seymour.

Henry was known for his roles in Western films like "My Darling Clementine" and "The Ox-Bow Incident." and classics like "The Grapes of Wrath" and "12 Angry Men." In addition, he won an Oscar for his role in "Golden Pond."

Meanwhile, Frances was a Canadian socialite from an aristocratic family. She was King Henry VIII's third wife, Jane Seymour's distant relative, and named her daughter Jane Fonda after her.

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Portrait of actor Henry Fonda from the John Springer Collection, circa 1930 | Photo: Getty Images

Portrait of actor Henry Fonda from the John Springer Collection, circa 1930 | Photo: Getty Images

Jane and Peter were the only children of Henry and Frances. However, Frances had a daughter named Frances de Villers Brokaw from her first marriage.

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The Fonda family struggled as a result of Henry's fame. It was not easy for Peter and Jane to grow up with their father, especially after their mother's death.

Peter has previously revealed how difficult it was to grow up with his dad. He said he and Jane did not look forward to having dinner with Henry.

Peter Fonda and Jane Fonda attend the 2014 AFI Life Achievement Award: A Tribute to Jane Fonda After Party at the Dolby Theatre | Photo: Getty Images

Peter Fonda and Jane Fonda attend the 2014 AFI Life Achievement Award: A Tribute to Jane Fonda After Party at the Dolby Theatre | Photo: Getty Images

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Their dad was quiet and said little. Hence, they felt he was judging them, and they did not do much that was right. It made their dinner table a scary place.

Also, Peter once revealed that crying was not acceptable because their father grew up in a Christian Scientist household. Hence, he raised them to believe they could cure their pain or hurt by praying.

After Henry died at 77 in 1982, it was discovered that he had left Jane, Peter, and his stepdaughter, Frances, out of his will. Instead, he left his assets to his widow, Shirlee Fonda, who he married in 1965, and his adopted daughter with Susan Blanchard, Amy Fonda.

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PETER'S CHILDHOOD STRUGGLES

Peter had a fraught relationship with his father. He was sent to boarding school at six and did not see Henry often in his youth. Sometimes, Henry was abusive towards him.

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One of the things Peter struggled with in childhood was his mom's absence. After Frances and Henry had been married for 13 years, she found herself part of a fraught existence.

Peter Fonda pictured in 1962 for his film debut in Tammy and the Doctor, released in 1963 | Photo: Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Peter Fonda pictured in 1962 for his film debut in Tammy and the Doctor, released in 1963 | Photo: Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

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Frances had debilitating mental illness while her marriage with Fonda broke down. Henry also requested a divorce from her because he wanted to marry a much younger woman.

On the day Frances turned 42, she tragically took her life while living in an institution. Jane and Peter were 12 and 10, respectively, when their mom died.

Actor/director Peter Fonda at the IMDb's 25th Anniversary Party in 2015 in West Hollywood | Photo: Getty Images

Actor/director Peter Fonda at the IMDb's 25th Anniversary Party in 2015 in West Hollywood | Photo: Getty Images

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The then-young kids did not know the actual circumstances behind her death and were told she died of a heart attack. However, a year later, Jane was in a study hall when a female friend handed her a movie magazine that revealed the truth.

Also, Jane has previously revealed that her mother had visited her home with a nurse shortly before her death. Then, the siblings were not informed that their mom was staying in an institution. Instead, they were told she was simply away.

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When Frances requested to see Jane, she refused to come downstairs, and that happened to be the last time she ever saw her mother. Jane still feels guilty about that incident.

Like his older sister, Peter found out about the actual circumstances of his mother's death years later. In his 1998 book, "Don't Tell Dad: A Memoir," he wrote that no one ever talked about his mom, and it was almost as though she never lived.

Peter Fonda attends the 29th Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival Awards Gala at Palm Springs Convention Center | Photo: Getty Images

Peter Fonda attends the 29th Annual Palm Springs International Film Festival Awards Gala at Palm Springs Convention Center | Photo: Getty Images

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Although Peter was estranged from his dad, Henry, partly due to his mom's suicide, he ultimately reconciled with him before his death in 1982.

Peter reached out to Henry by offering him a role in the 1979 movie "Wanda Nevada." Henry accepted the role and the father-son duo began mending their broken relationship.

Two years after their reconciliation, Henry became critically ill. When Peter visited him, Henry's last words to his son were about how much he loved him.

Portrait of American actor Henry Fonda | Photo: Getty Images

Portrait of American actor Henry Fonda | Photo: Getty Images

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PETER'S CAREER AT A GLANCE

Peter was an actor, director, and screenwriter. He was part of the counterculture of the 1960s and is famed for producing and co-scripting the 1969 film "Easy Rider," for which he received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay.

Peter also earned an Oscar nomination for Best Actor for his starring role in the 1997 movie "Ulee's Gold." In addition, he won the Golden Globe Awards for the Best Actor – Motion Picture Drama for the same film.

Peter Fonda attends the Toronto International Film Festival on December 20, 2010 | Photo: Gordon Correll, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Peter Fonda attends the Toronto International Film Festival on December 20, 2010 | Photo: Gordon Correll, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

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He also won the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor – Series, Miniseries, or Television Film for his performance in "The Passion of Ayn Rand" (1999).

He also appeared in "Grace of My Heart," "Escape from L.A," and made a cameo appearance in "Bodies, Heat & Motion," which also starred his daughter, Bridget Fonda.

Peter Fonda attends the Build Series at Build Studio | Photo: Getty Images

Peter Fonda attends the Build Series at Build Studio | Photo: Getty Images

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JANE AND PETER'S RELATIONSHIP

Jane and Peter shared a close sibling bond. After Peter's death, his sister spoke to People and revealed she was devastated by his passing. Jane spent some time alone with Peter before he died and said he went out laughing. The actress said:

"I am very sad. 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."

In her memoir, "Jane Fonda: The Private Life of a Public Woman," Jane also wrote about her relationship with her little brother when she was young.

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In one of the chapters, she revealed she was jealous of how her mom kissed Peter's feet when he was a baby. She cried and ran away unhappy. The situation worsened as the young Jane felt doubly rejected as her mom focused all her attention on Peter.

However, Jane outgrew her jealousy over her younger brother and bonded with him. The siblings leaned on each other amid their tough childhood, mom's death, and estrangement from their dad.

Actors Peter Fonda (L) and Jane Fonda attend Jane Fonda's hand and footprint ceremony at TCL Chinese Theatre | Photo: Getty Images

Actors Peter Fonda (L) and Jane Fonda attend Jane Fonda's hand and footprint ceremony at TCL Chinese Theatre | Photo: Getty Images

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PETER'S DEATH

Peter was married thrice in his lifetime. His first wife was Susan Brewer, with whom he shared Bridget and Justin. They married in 1961 but divorced in 1974.

Peter married Portia Rebecca Crockett in 1975. They were married for 36 years before divorcing in 2011. That same year, the actor married Margaret DeVogelaere, and they remained married until he died in 2019.

Actor Peter Fonda attends the premiere of Sony Pictures Classics' "Boundries" at American Cinematheque's Egyptian Theatre | Photo: Getty Images

Actor Peter Fonda attends the premiere of Sony Pictures Classics' "Boundries" at American Cinematheque's Egyptian Theatre | Photo: Getty Images

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Peter died at 79 of respiratory failure due to lung cancer. When his family announced his death, they urged people to celebrate his indomitable spirit and love of life by raising a glass to freedom.

Nearly a year after Peter's death, his wife sued Providence Saint Joseph's Health Center in Santa Monica and some of its doctors for alleged negligent behavior, which according to her, led to his death.

She claimed the doctors did not order the proper tests and failed to properly advise Peter of more follow-up tests, contributing to his death.

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