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In Memoriam: Peter Fonda – The Easy Rider And The Aspiring Driver Has Left The Building

In Memoriam: Peter Fonda – The Easy Rider And The Aspiring Driver Has Left The Building

Peter Fonda’s career in Hollywood stretches back to 1962 and includes westerns and the like, but for the majority of readers who visit here, two characters stand out above the rest: Wyatt from 1968’s “Easy Rider” and Larry Raydar from 1974’s “Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry”. The two couldn’t be further apart…Wyatt is the calm, laid-back drifter who sees the world through his own eyes and nobody else’s who is only tied to his motorcycle, his desire for travel and his compatriot, Billy. Larry, on the other hand, is a racer-turned-robber who would’ve had a better day if his one-night stand hadn’t turned up in the Chevy after he got the money. Full of wise-assed one-liners and the chops to wheel a Charger around before he inexplicably plows the sucker into a freight train, Larry is full of fun and good times…and maybe something else, too. It was 1974, cut him a break.

As you read on today, you will hear plenty of people waxing poetic about how Easy Rider was a view into the 1960s counterculture movement, how his acting was defined by that one movie, his achievements in Hollywood, et cetera. As someone born fifteen years past the movie, I generally can’t grasp the world in 1968. But here’s what I can understand: The vision of Fonda, on that chopper as he rides from L.A. to New Orleans, speaks to wanderlust, to doing whatever the hell your heart desires, and to finding your own path in life regardless of the actions of others. Putting the whole scene to contemporary rock music of the time was genius…tell me someone that doesn’t hear Steppenwolf’s “Born To Be Wild” and doesn’t see Fonda in the full “Captain America” getup, cruising down the road.

Fonda had work through 2020, and had been working continuously since 1962. Nearly fifty years of work in an 79-year life, and we gearheads look to two main roles he played, one outshining the other by miles. In Easy Rider, Wyatt looks at Billy and tells him, “We blew it.” In an email to The Hollywood Reporter, answering a question about what “it” was, he explained, “I never intended to answer that question. I intended it to be enigmatic and applicable to all kinds of things. When asked today if it’s still relevant, go look out the window and tell me we haven’t blown it.” Maybe it has been blown this whole time. Maybe it hasn’t been blown. But he never told. But maybe he left a hint…maybe the answer is out there, on that stretch of quiet highway that nobody seems to travel anymore.

Rest easy.

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32 thoughts on “In Memoriam: Peter Fonda – The Easy Rider And The Aspiring Driver Has Left The Building

  1. Richard Noggin

    \’Dirty Mary Crazy Larry\’ was one of the movies l had on beta, vhs & dvd…..the now ex-wife took all my audio equipment & many other unearned goodies when she split

  2. jerry z

    Never was a fan of Easy Rider but Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry, now that film I never get bored watching!

    RIP Pete.

    1. 75Duster

      Normally I respect your views The Crusty Autoworker,but when one sides with the enemy in Vietnam, and the other wishes for the President’s youngest son to be caged with pedophiles then I don’t respect them.
      And yes I am a veteran. US Navy 1991 – 2011.

  3. HotRodPop

    So, this morning I found that what I thought was the last bastion of the apolitical peoples of The U.S.of A. has fallen victim to the rabid haters of our world. Politics be damned, I was saddened to hear that another icon of my generation is gone. Respect the exercise! Thank God I won’t live long enough to see this great country of ours torn apart. RIP, Pete… Ride Free, brother!

  4. Greg

    Politics and religion are not supposed to be discussed on BangShift. Save that for Yellow Bullet or Fox comments sections.

    1. Realdeal

      This is an automotive blog not an obituary column and he should of not made ridiculous comments about a innocent kid then maybe he’d get respect

  5. OKSnake08

    Amen Brother ! This site is about our mutual love for all things mechanical and the culture that surrounds THAT. I’m good with the internal arguments about Ford vs Chevy vs Mopar vs Imports even tho’ anyone outside the walls of the Blue Oval camp is obviously wrong . In 4 Drag Week trips I never heard political BS other than “ let’s fight the good fight to keep our hobby”. Let’s keep this place safe and focused. The engine doesn’t know who’s name is on the valve covers is where we need to be when we are here. I’m sick of the “ LS everything “ as much as I was sick of “SBC everything “ when I was younger BUT that guy/gal pulled the LKQ motor and built their car – am I happy they desecrated a fox body with an LS ? Hell No! But I know that we share the drive , broken knuckles and lost blood as well as the long nights finishing our latest project. I know we are part of something together that is just for US. So no matter who you support or what your political ideals are let’s check ‘em at the door and just bench race and hang with our gear head brothers and sisters here . I’m going to go work on my wife’s truck then grab a beer and watch some racing. Anyone that wants to join me is welcome !

    1. Steve Akker

      Amen to You Bro , I drove Fords growing up , Worked at the local Chevy Olds dealership for 15 yrs , and some of my oldest friends are Mopar racers. Who cares ! We are all Gearheads ! Rode Jap bikes then Harleys …rode with Everybody…even guys on scooters ! True enthusiasts don’t care what it says on the fenders or tank ! Wrench on ! Ride Free and Burn Rubber !

  6. Doug

    So, McTaggart, you think this counter culture puke, son of a card carrying communist, is some kind of American icon?

  7. bob

    Didn’t see this coming Taggs. I thought your followers were better than this. It’s just a couple of movies and a movie star. Relax fellas.

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