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LOS ANGELES — Had fate worked out just a bit differently, Peter Fonda might be remembered as one of the great figures of 1960s pop music rather than one of the standout actors of his generation.
As a young man trying to make his way in Hollywood in that turbulent decade, Fonda, who died Friday at 79, would have had to make a conscious effort not to intersect with the vibrant music community that was boiling up in and around Tinseltown at the time. It’s a period when groups such as the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, the Doors, Arthur Lee & Love and many others were frequenting the plethora of clubs spotlighting pop music.
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“I told him there was nothing to be afraid of and that all he needed to do was relax,” Fonda said. “I said that I knew what it was like to be dead because when I was 10 years old, I’d accidentally shot myself in the stomach and my heart stopped beating three times while I was on the operating table because I’d lost so much blood.
As Lennon recalled it, author David Sheff wrote in his book “All We Are Saying,” “That was written after an acid trip in L.A. during a break in the Beatles’ [U.S.3/8 tour, where we were having fun with the Byrds and lots of girls. Some from Playboy, I believe. Peter Fonda came in when we were on acid and he kept coming up to me and sitting next to me and whispering, ‘I know what it’s like to be dead.’
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“We didn’t want to hear about that! We were on an acid trip and the sun was shining and the girls were dancing and the whole thing was beautiful and ’60s, and this guy — who I really didn’t know; he hadn’t made ‘Easy Rider’ or anything — kept coming over, wearing shades, saying, ‘I know what it’s like to be dead,’ and we kept leaving him because he was so boring! And I used it for the song, but I changed it to ‘she’ instead of ‘he.’ ”
He released a single, “November Night,” written by soon-to-be country-rock-pioneer Gram Parsons, in 1967 to little notice. But it’s more evidence of the circles in which he traveled.
“I met Jack Nicholson because Peter Fonda was a motorcycle-riding buddy of mine,” the Monkees’ lead guitarist, singer and songwriter Michael Nesmith wrote in his 2017 memoir, “Infinite Tuesday: An Autobiographical Riff.”
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“Peter and I met at a local Topanga Canyon music gathering put on every so often by the musicians and artists who lived in the Canyon; everyone would hang out, play music and socialize,” Nesmith wrote. “Peter and I hit it off because of our motorcycles. I had a Triumph Bonneville and he had a Harley, and we started riding around the canyons soon after he had his Harley chopped but before he got the Captain America Helmet.
“Dennis Hopper came into those circles as a friend of Peter’s,” Nesmith added, “and Jack was a part of an even bigger concentric circle that slowly drew us all together by various means.”
“The story of the movie changed a bit each time Peter told it to me, so I couldn’t get my head around it completely. It seemed to me that a movie with Fonda riding a motorcycle was a good commercial idea in any case. A Monkees movie did not sound like a good idea to me.”
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About three decades later, Fonda was tapped by roots-country musician and actor Dwight Yoakam to be in the cast for Yoakam’s western “South of Heaven, West of Hell,” which also costarred Fonda’s actress daughter, Bridget Fonda.
Music archivist and latter-day Monkees reissue producer and concert promoter Andrew Sandoval homed in on Fonda’s legacy as a musician when he included “November Night” in a 2009 compilation “Where the Action Is” as part of Rhino Records “Nuggets” series of indie and underground music of the ’60s.
“I was lucky enough to get to include this Gram Parsons song 10 years ago on the Nuggets ‘Where the Action Is’ box set and even luckier to get to have lunch with its singer, Peter Fonda,” Sandoval wrote Friday on his Facebook page. “We talked about my favorite movie of his, ‘The Limey,’ and about his influence on the film ‘Head.’ Another unexpected loss, gone too soon.”
In “The Limey,” Fonda played an ultra-successful record producer named Terry Valentine — sharing the surname of Whisky a Go Go co-founder Elmer Valentine, another associate of Nicholson and Fonda over the decades.
“The one time I met him, he described and virtually reenacted [a scene] from ‘The Limey,’ ” Sandoval wrote. “It still blows my mind to remember. It is such a composite of the people I’ve met from that era, for better or worse.”Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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Freddie Jones, the British actor who starred in “The Elephant Man,” died July 9. He was 91. Jones is also known for his appearance in “Dune” (1984), “Wild at Heart” (1990), and the US TV series “Hotel Room.”
Sid Ramin, composer-arranger who won an Oscar, an Emmy and a Grammy for his work in film, TV and theater, died July 1. He was 100. Ramin won a 1961 Academy Award for adapting the music of “West Side Story” and a 1983 Daytime Emmy for music for TV’s “All My Children.”
Dave Bartholomew, a New Orleans trumpeter, songwriter, arranger and producer who guided the career of Fats Domino and whose recordings brought the festive spirit of his hometown to a national audience in the 1950s, died June 23. He was 100.
Milton Quon, an American animator who worked on Disney classics such as “Fantasia” and “Dumbo,” died June 18. He was 105. Quon also was an actor and an extra who appeared in films and TV shows including “Speed” (1994), “Sweet Jane” (1998) and “The Cat Killers” (2000).
Grammy-winning musician Malcolm John Rebennack Jr., known as Dr. John, an American singer and songwriter died June 6. He was 77. The music legend combined the genres of blues, pop, jazz, boogie woogie and rock and roll.
Ermias Davidson Asghedom known professionally as Nipsey Hussle, died March 31st. He was 33. Hussle was known for his numerous mixtapes, including his “Bullets Ain't Got No Name series,” “The Marathon,” “The Marathon Continues” and “Crenshaw”.
John Carl Buechler, whose Hollywood horror film makeup and special effects made movies like "Hatchet," "Deep Freeze" and the Michael Moriarty-starrer "Troll" into classic frightfests, died March 18. He was 66.
Drummer Hal Blaine, who propelled dozens of major hit records during the ‘60s and ‘70s as a member of the “Wrecking Crew,” Hollywood’s elite, ubiquitous cadre of first-call studio musicians, died March 11. He was 90.
Sidney Sheinberg, who served for more than 20 years as president and COO of MCA, Inc and Universal Studios and helped build the former agency into a potent entertainment corporation, died March 7. He was 84.
Mark Hollis, the frontman of the band “Talk Talk,” died Feb. 25. He was 64. The band released several hit singles in 1980s such as “It’s My Life,” “Such a shame,” “Talk Talk” and “Life’s What You Make It”.
Morgan Woodward was an American actor, best known for his character oil-man Marvin “Punk” Anderson on TV show “Dallas,” died Feb. 22. He was 93. Woodward also appeared on the original "Star Trek" series and "Gunsmoke" TV series.
Steven James Brody, known professionally as Brody Stevens, who appeared in the movie “The Hangover,” died Feb. 22. He was 48. Brody was also known for appearances on “Chelsea Lately,” “Due Date” and Chris Hardwick's “@midnight”.
Stanley Donen, was an American film director, best known for the 1952 musical “Singin' in the Rain,” which he co-directed. Donen died Feb. 21. He was 94. His other films included “On the Town,” “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” and “Funny Face”.
Peter Tork, the bassist for The Monkees and a jokester on the band's popular 1960s television series died Feb. 21. He was 77.
Bruno Ganz, the Swiss actor best known for dramatizing Adolf Hitler’s final days in 2004’s “Downfall,” died Feb. 15. He was 77.
Nita Bieber, a onetime dancer and actress who appeared with the Three Stooges in "Rhythm and Weep," with Judy Garland in "Summer Stock" and with Tony Curtis in "The Prince Who Was a Thief," died Feb. 4. She was 92.
Harold Bradley, who played on thousands of country, pop and rock ’n’ roll recordings, including landmark hits like Brenda Lee’s “I’m Sorry,” Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” and Roy Orbison’s “Only the Lonely,” died Jan. 31. He was 93.
Merwin Goldsmith, who appeared in films like “Cadillac Man," and on the TV series "Law & Order" and "The Good Wife," died Jan 24. He was 81.
Jonas Mekas, director, critic, patron and poet widely regarded as the godfather of modern American avant-garde film and as an indispensable documenter of his adopted New York City, died Jan. 23. He was 96.
Singer-comedienne Kaye Ballard, who starred alongside Eve Arden in the 1960s sitcom “The Mothers-in-Law” and was among the stars of the 1976 feature based on Terrence McNally’s farce “The Ritz,” died Jan. 21. She was 93.
William Morgan Sheppard, "Star Trek" and "Doctor Who" Actor, died Jan.5. He was 86. Sheppard was known for his many appearances across the "Star Trek" franchise. His other credits include an episode of "Doctor Who", in which he starred as Old Canton Delaware alongside his son Mark.
Jo Andres worked as a director, editor, choreographer and artist throughout her years in the industry. She went on to direct the award-winning 1996 film "Black Kites", which starred Lucian Buscemi died Jan.6. She was 65.
Daryl Dragon, the cap-wearing "Captain" of "The Captain and Tennille" who teamed with then-wife Toni Tennille on such easy listening hits as "Love Will Keep Us Together" and "Muskrat Love," died Jan. 2. He was 76.
Mary Kay Stearns, one of TV’s earliest, if now largely forgotten, sitcom stars who beat Lucille Ball to on-air pregnancy by at least four years, died Nov. 17, 2018 in Newport Beach, California. She was 93.