Jane Fonda After Death and Divorce

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Wednesday, June 18, 2014


Jane Fonda (Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty)

What do you think of when you think of Jane Fonda? The sexy space traveller from Barbarella? Vietnam War activist? Fitness goddess? Fonda, now 76, has had quite the career. She’s also had three marriages — to a French director, an anti-war activist, and the billionaire Ted Turner — and each ended in divorce. When she found herself newly single at 62, she felt whole for the first time. Now, she says she’d disappear into a monastery before getting married again.

After seven years of celibacy, she started dating her current boyfriend, music producer Richard Perry, when she was in her seventies. With him, she’s discovered a mature kind of intimacy and a new role as caretaker. He’s living with Parkinson's, and she’s learning how to help.

She's also working more than ever. She just published a relationship guidebook for teenagers calling Being a Teen. She's writing a novel. She continues to act. Next summer, she reunites with her 9-to-5 costar Lily Tomlin in a new Netflix series about two divorced women finding their way late in life. The American Film Institute honored her with a life achievement award this year.  

Busy as she is, Jane Fonda took time to talk to me about her mother's suicide when she was a girl, her father Henry Fonda's long decline, and the lessons she learned by choosing to be alone.


Finding out about her mother’s suicide:

We found out through magazines how she killed herself, and we never were told by anybody in our family that she did. And no one ever mentioned her name again. So it was like a huge emptiness....I just got together with my brother three days ago, and he and I made a pact that we’re going to Ogdensberg, New York, where she is buried, and we are going to kneel at her tombstone and we’re going to plant things and clean it up and pray for her. And we’re going to do it together....We both feel we owe it to her. When she died, I was 12. He was 10. No one ever mentioned her again. So we want to make up for that.

Sexual confusion in her teenage years:

Nothing seemed normal. I didn’t get my period until I was 17....I actually did think that maybe I was supposed to be a boy....I used to get a mirror and sit in such a way that I could look at my vagina and try figure out if maybe it wasn’t supposed to be a penis. I just, I didn’t know what I was looking for. I didn’t know what was supposed to be there. I didn’t know what was normal. I didn’t feel any of the things that my girlfriends seemed to be feeling.

Feeling whole after her divorce from Ted Turner:

I moved into my daughter’s house in Atlanta. I was all by myself, which after Ted, the silence was deafening. And I remember standing in the middle of this little bedroom that didn’t even have a closet. I’d been living in 23 kingdom-sized estates, flying in private jets. Now I had a rented car and a room with no closet. And I stood in the middle of the room, in tremendous pain, with sadness that the marriage hadn’t worked, and yet there was also this voice that said, I’m okay. For the first time in my life, I do not need a man to be whole.

Jane Fonda and then husband Ted Turner in 1990 (Tony Duffy/Getty)

Jane Fonda and then-husband Ted Turner in 1990. (Tony Duffy/Getty)

Sex gets better with age:

I think that when a woman is older, sex is better. Partly because she doesn’t give a fuzzy rat’s ass anymore, you know? She’s not out there on the marketplace anymore. She knows her body. She knows what she wants. She’s less afraid to ask for it. If it doesn’t work out, so what?

Read a full transcript of the interview, and hear a bonus excerpt of Jane Fonda talking about reuniting with her 9-to-5 co-star Lily Tomlin for their new Netflix comedy.

Jane Fonda recently spoke at TEDxWomen about living in this age of unprecedented life expectancies:

In 1972, Fonda spoke out at a rally in protest of the Vietnam War:

And for a certain generation, Jane Fonda might be most well-known for her workout videos:


    Music Playlist
  1. Take a Ride - Death, Sex & Money Theme
    Artist: The Reverend John Delore and Steve Lewis
  2. Cerulean
    Artist: Tiny Houses
  3. Hollow Man
    Artist: Kerry Muzzey
    Album: Trailer Music 2
  4. Venice
    Artist: Lucy Bland
    Album: Down To Sea Level
  5. Plumb
    Artist: Lucy Bland
    Album: Down To Sea Level
  6. Sea Level
    Artist: Lucy Bland
    Album: Down To Sea Level
  7. The Bridge
    Artist: Lucy Bland
    Album: Down To Sea Level


Jane Fonda

Hosted by:

Anna Sale

Comments [14]

Donna from California

Really enjoyed this interview. What an honest, open person Jane Fonda is. She really spilled her guts, which takes guts. :)

As for the famous picture, as someone commented above, we should all be so brave as to admit our mistakes.

I would also add that, in general, not supporting our military in the wars it involves itself in might not be so dumb.

Apr. 23 2015 11:58 PM
Joan Ashton

Ogdensburg, New York (Note it is "burg," rather than "berg.")is my hometown where I was born in 1938, making me, like Ms. Fonda, 76. I hope she and her brother find peace in their journey to discover their mother's story. I wish they could see Ogdensburg itself the way it looked with its late 1800s architecture before it was replaced in the 1960s.

Jul. 30 2014 08:05 PM

Setting aside political views or associations with Ms. Fonda....

Excellent anecdote of the complexities of marriage, divorce and family relations. The most powerful message I took away from this depiction of Ms. Fonda's story, one that resonates with me as a recent divorcee, is that what is most important is to be content with yourself. Living for others satisfaction is no life at all. I am grateful for the telling of this story as it affirms this truth. And more... am grateful for this podcast which normalizes talking about the things that isolate us most. Thanks Anna & team.

Jul. 16 2014 03:52 PM
Sinature from Craven Hills

a little Prozac could have made you all really crazy.

Jul. 08 2014 03:36 AM
Guy from SF Bay Area, CA

First of all, you are a great interviewer. You really put your guests at ease and get them to open up; almost like a therapist. Keep 'em coming.

I found this interview with Jane Fonda to be excellent in so many ways; really got me to see the complex person behind the celebrity that I hardly knew much about.

Jul. 05 2014 02:47 PM
Joanne from NYC

Life is one continuous learning experience, there is no curve, but MANY detours. Just keep forging ahead, Jane Fonda is doing just that, good for her! Yes, she's easy to critique but she now seems able to listen and understand other's point of view now. The past is past, forgiveness is all.

Jun. 24 2014 12:47 AM
Deb from Queens New York

Having been around Ted Turner as a crew member's girl friend I could never understand Ms Fonda's attraction to Ted turner. Yet he is fun and exciting to be around. I truly respected his extra exceptional skills in the art of sailing and business. I do see why a relationship with Turner could be difficult.
I was moved of the story of her mother's death. We forget that such events in the life of a young child leaves scars and great emotional baggage. I started demonstrating against the war, fought my rights and discovered exercise thanks to Jane Fonda. May she at this age find peace and love. A terrific older woman.

Jun. 20 2014 09:05 AM
Ellen Conroy O'Brien from Old Bridge, NJ

My first foray into this was an article on Jane Fonda. I had no idea that you were trying to corner a part of "People","Us" territory. Ms. Fonda is a classic example of the worst Hollywood has to offer. Shallow, narcissistic and willing to sell out our country to feed her need to seem "intellectual". Shame on you for indulging her rapacious greed for publicity! I wish her the well-deserved contempt of our American citizens. No more!

Jun. 18 2014 03:40 PM

We should all be so brave to speak about our lives and admit our faults and terrible mistakes in life. She is an inspiration precisely because she knows what an irritant she was and is not afraid to admit it. More power to her.

Jun. 18 2014 03:19 PM
Sugar from Chicago

We all went through "stuff", but we "all" didn't betray our soldiers. Let her live and be well, but she deserves no accolades!

Jun. 18 2014 12:17 PM
Anna Sale

Yes, Walt! To download an mp3, just click "download" in the audio player at the top of the page.

Jun. 18 2014 11:28 AM
Froggy from Sydney, Australia

I enjoyed this episode very much. Jane Fonda seems like a very honest woman and her stories seemed heartfelt and I found them interesting. She admits the anti-aircraft stunt was a big mistake - we all do foolish things sometimes.

Jun. 18 2014 09:50 AM
Walt Auvil

Can I download this as an MP3? If so, how?

Jun. 18 2014 09:16 AM
Garyboy from Harlem

She watched thousands of Atlanta baseball fans, in her billionaire husband's stadium, make "Indian war whoop cries" while making an arm motion called the "tomahawk chop," to the backdrop of Indian war drums -- and made no complaints. She refused to bite the hand that fed her. 30 years before that, she cheerfully posed, in a miniskirt, atop North Vietnamese tanks, earning her nickname "TB." The T stands for "Traitor".... This limousine liberal should have zero credibility with everyone.

Jun. 18 2014 07:35 AM

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