May 16, 1905 - August 12, 1982
"I'd just as soon not get into a discussion about
Jane and her politics. I'd just as soon stick to what we're here for, the
I loved his voice. His GAF commercials warmed
my early years. I would have bought a million View Masters from
him. His television show, The Smith Family was great
fun, even though it was cancelled very soon into its run. I used to love the
theme song. "Primrose Lane
A View-Master commercial with Jodie Foster
and that polka dotted black girl from Bewitched.
Henrys second wife, the mother of Jane and Peter slit her throat with a razor in 1950.
Their home life? Whoa. Check out this video:
In 1966 Henry married his fifth wife, an airline attendant named Shirlee.
She was 28 years younger than he was.
I was mistaken when I thought Hank was a staunch conservative. For some
reason I always got that impression from him. One of his best friends was
Jimmy Stewart, who was pretty right wing. Back when I thought that people
had the country's best interests in mind.
Fonda and Jimmy Steward were the best of friends. In 1933, they shared a New York
apartment, but refused to discuss politics. Hank was a rabid Democrat. He once
said that the current (Reagan) President made him "physically ill,"
and that he "couldnt stomach any of the Republicans, most of all Richard
Nixon." I didnt know this, did you? When his children Peter and Jane
started going on about how bad Henry was as a parent, my opinion plummeted
again. Peter wrote a book about growing up Fonda in, "Dont Tell
Dad." The title says it all, doesnt it?
Sadly, were all mortals. This is how it ended for Henry Fonda:
In his older years, Hank was plagued by heart problems. He underwent surgery
at Cedars for the first time on May 15, 1981. The hospital said that prostate cancer had
spread through his body, further complicating his fragile heart condition, and they installed a pacemaker. He returned home.
Henry and Shirlee lived in Bel Air. Remember the gatehouse on the right it comes up later.
He was nominated for his first Oscar, for the death bed performance in On Golden
Pond. He received a few visitors, and posed for this photograph. Clearly, he was not going to be
around much longer. Clearly. 5 months to be exact.
On Saturday, August 7th, he was admitted to Cedars Sinai for the
last time. Near the end, Henry reportedly told Peter, "I love you so
very much, son. I want you to know that." His wife was at his side when his
heart stopped just before 8 a.m., on Thursday, August 12, 1982. He was 77 years old.
Shirlee held a press conference in the driveway
of the family home, accompanied by Henrys children Peter, Jane, and Amy
(adopted daughter 3rd marriage). During the conference, Shirlee
said, "He had a very good night the night before. He talked to all of us.
He was never unconscious at any time. He woke up this morning, sat up in bed,
and quietly stopped breathing."
Per Henrys wish, there was no funeral service, and his body was cremated
Peter wrote about his fathers demise, "James Garner and his wife Lois
stopped by the Fonda familys estate to pay their respects. While Lois stayed
with Shirlee, Garner wandered into the gatehouse to visit Peter and both men lit
up a joint. They were inhaling when suddenly Jane walked in, clearly upset. She
had discovered that Shirlee was keeping Henrys ashes under her bed. All three
"In their stoned state, Peter and James devised a plot to sneak into the
house and liberate Henry. But as they were trying to figure a way to break into
the house, Jane returned and announced Shirlee had moved the ashes to a better
Trivia: Regarding his former accommodation with Jimmy Stewart, he once said,
"Christ, I suppose theyll call Jimmy and me fags (groan) after were
gone, just because we lived together. Hell, if we hadnt shared the food and
rent, we would never have made it." They were not fags.
More Trivia: There is a Henry Fonda Theater located in the more toilety section of
Hollywood Boulevard. Actually, there was. They took the name down
recently and it's now called The Music Box. Now it's the Fonda
again. I think. Oh, who knows.
More Trivia: During her workout tour, Jane (who doesnt have a motor in the
back of her Honda) told a friend of mine that Peter Fonda made more money on Easy Rider than Henry Fonda made in his entire
In April of 2010 I had the opportunity to meet Peter Fonda and
talk briefly with him. I could only ask about his possible connection with
the Manson murders, just because he socialized with most of the people
involved. He was pretty vague about it, but when I asked him about
Cass Elliot he really lit up. He loved driving Cass around LA in her Aston
Martin. That was neat - to see him genuinely react to that memory.
For thirty dollars I had the privilege of having a photograph with Peter.
Many thanks to Bob Siler.