Henry Fonda

May 16, 1905 – August 12, 1982


Henry Fonda
Henry Fonda


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.

Henry’s 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 “couldn’t stomach any of the Republicans, most of all Richard Nixon.” I didn’t 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, “Don’t Tell Dad.” The title says it all, doesn’t it?

Sadly, we’re 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 Henry’s 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 Henry’s wish, there was no funeral service, and his body was cremated immediately.

Peter wrote about his fathers demise, “James Garner and his wife Lois stopped by the Fonda family’s 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 Henry’s ashes under her bed. All three were horrified.

“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 spot.” Where?

Trivia: Regarding his former accommodation with Jimmy Stewart, he once said, “Christ, I suppose they’ll call Jimmy and me fags (groan) after we’re gone, just because we lived together. Hell, if we hadn’t 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 doesn’t 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 career.

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.



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