Second generation Hollywood royalty. Jane Fonda comes from a family of actors, but she quickly made a name for herself and became an icon in her own right.
Born in 1937 to Frances Ford Seymour and movie legend Henry Fonda, Jane became interested in acting as a teen after starring alongside her dad in a charity performance in Nebraska. After dropping out of Vassar College, she moved to Paris to study art, then returned to the U.S. and began studying acting in earnest with method pioneer Lee Strasberg.
Jane worked steadily on the stage in the late 1950s before making her film debut in 1960’s Tall Story. While the Golden Globe winner appeared in several films in that decade, her breakout role came in 1965’s Cat Ballou, in which she played a schoolteacher-turned-outlaw trying to protect her father’s ranch. The movie was nominated for five Oscars (and won one), but its lead actress was surprised that it was a hit.
“When we did Cat Ballou, neither [costar] Lee [Marvin] nor I thought it was going to be any good,” Jane told the Star Tribune in June 2019. “We made it on a shoestring and shot it very fast. Then Lee won an Oscar. So, you never really know. You just give it your best and see what happens.”
Jane earned her first Oscar nomination in 1970 for her work in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? before winning two years later for her turn as call girl Bree Daniels in Klute. The role is now remembered as one of her greatest performances, but Jane later revealed that she initially didn’t think she was right for the part.
“I was just beginning to understand feminism,” she explained during an interview with Criterion in 2019. “It wasn’t in my body, but it was becoming part of my thought process. I was trying to understand the women’s movement, which I had been resistant to for a long time. … I remember thinking, ‘Well, if I’m a feminist, I can’t play a prostitute.’”
As cinema fans know, however, she ultimately took the part, preparing for the role by spending time with real sex workers. She explained that her full feminist awakening didn’t come until later, but the early 1970s kicked off the activist streak that she’s been known for over the last 50 years.
After vocally opposing the Vietnam War, she traveled to Hanoi in 1972 to witness the damage herself. During her visit, she was photographed sitting on top of an anti-aircraft gun, leading to speculation that she condoned Vietnamese soldiers shooting down American planes. Critics, meanwhile, began calling her “Hanoi Jane.” The Emmy winner later said she would “regret” the picture until her “dying day,” but she has remained a vocal antiwar activist, speaking out against the Iraq War in 2005.
In her later years, Jane became known for her activism as much as her screen work. The Tony Award nominee moved to Washington, D.C. in 2019 so she could more easily stage protests about the climate crisis in front of the U.S. Capitol. She was arrested multiple times, with one image of her raising her hands in triumph while sticking her tongue out going viral.
“Why be a celebrity if you can’t leverage it for something that is this important?” she told The New York Times in 2019 of her protests, which were heavily covered by the media. “You are all here. So I think it’s working.”
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Keep scrolling for a look back at Jane’s life in pictures: