Bridget Fonda’s last name is a very famous one in the entertainment world. She’s a member of the Fonda dynasty – her father is Peter Fonda, her grandfather is Henry Fonda, and her aunt is Jane Fonda. Bridget was a very successful actress at first, picking up acclaim and award nominations just like the other members of her family. Then, without warning, she just disappeared from Hollywood all together.
Bridget Jane Fonda – yep, she shares a name with her aunt – was born to Peter Fonda and Susan Brewer in January 1964. But the relationship between her parents didn’t last. After they divorced Peter married Portia Rebecca Crockett, and Bridget was raised alongside her brother Justin and Portia’s son Thomas.
Peter Fonda did his best to cut himself off from the wider Hollywood society. He had mixed feelings about his fame. In 1968, speaking to Esquire magazine from the family home in Beverly Hills, he said, “Peter Fonda. Even reading my name in print drives me around the hill, man. It’s weird. I don’t become Peter Fonda till I go down that road, then the public takes over. Here I’m just me.”
As the four-year-old Bridget played in the garden, Peter told Esquire, “When I go down that hill, I’m the son of what’s-his-name and the brother of what’s-her-face. I want people to know I’ve got more going on.” Then he turned his attention towards his daughter and called to her, “You’re my proof.”
The conversation with Esquire turned to the subject of the woman little Bridget was named after, Bridget Hayward. She had been the daughter of Margaret Sullavan, the first wife of Peter’s father Henry. In 1960 Bridget committed suicide by overdosing on drugs, just a short time after her mother had done the same.
Peter told Esquire, “I loved Bridget.” But he also remembered the moment his father told him she had died. According to Peter, Henry’s main concern had been for Bridget’s father, producer Leland Hayward. “Bridget’s dead from an overdose of pills and I was falling thirteen floors to the ground and all he’s saying is, ‘Poor Leland!’” Peter recollected. “Adults. All my life I’ve been supposed to respect them and there’s nothing to respect, man.”
Peter seemed to have a lot of hopes riding on his toddler daughter. “The last thing I want is to send my kids to school,” he told Esquire. “I want to keep them as far away as possible from organized politics, religion and education. The only thing I owe my daughter is to tell her not to get pregnant.”
After Peter had said that, the young Bridget came to join him. Peter tried to get her interested in the interviewer’s recorder. He told her, “You wanna talk into this box, Bridget? When you get to be president of the world, you’ll have to do things like this.” But the little girl appeared not to care.
Bridget didn’t become president of the world, but she did follow in her family’s footsteps and become an actress. At the age of five she appeared as a hippie child in her father’s film Easy Rider. As an older kid she studied with the New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts acting program, graduating in 1986.
University was tricky for Bridget, because everyone recognised her as a Fonda. On her first day of acting studies, she told the Guardian in 2000, the teacher told every student to stand up and tell their classmates why they were taking the class. When it was Bridget’s turn, the lecturer simply said, “Of course, we know why you’re here.”
Come 1989 Bridget appeared in the film Scandal, which was advertised as “the most controversial film of the year.” She played Mandy Rice-Davies, the real-life showgirl who became involved in the British “Profumo affair” in the 1960s. The film received good reviews, with Roger Ebert calling it “a sad story about human nature.”
After that came The Godfather Part III, released in 1990. It’s considered by many to be the worst of that series, but it gave Bridget what was arguably her breakout role. And that same year she began dating Eric Stoltz, the young star of Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Mask.
As is so often the case when young celebrities get together, the relationship didn’t last. Although Bridget described Eric as “the love of my life” in a 1992 interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, the pair had split up by 1998. According to People, Eric’s father Jack wrote to Bridget at the time, “saying I would always consider her a sort of daughter.”
Bridget kept herself busy throughout the early ‘90s. She appeared in Doc Hollywood, Single White Female, Singles and more, plus she had uncredited cameos in Drop Dead Fred and Army of Darkness. It seemed like she had the potential to become a massive star.
In the latter half of the decade Bridget did a wide variety of films. Some were successful – Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown, the Oscar-nominated A Simple Plan – and some less so. Films like Camilla, Touch and Grace of My Heart have been all but forgotten now.
A Simple Plan didn’t just get Bridget a good role, though – it was also the movie which introduced her to her future husband, Danny Elfman. Elfman was the composer and he and Bridget encountered each other in the course of their work. Elfman’s name is well known in Hollywood – he’s scored most of Tim Burton’s films, and was also the man who put together the iconic theme song to The Simpsons.
In 1997 TV started calling for the young actress. Bridget starred in the television film In the Gloaming, about a young man dying of AIDS, and gained an Emmy nomination for her performance. A couple of years later she was offered the lead in a show that would go on to be massively popular: Ally McBeal.
Bridget was offered the title role before anyone else, but she turned it down. In 1999, after the part had gone to Calista Flockheart, she told the New York Post she didn’t want to get into television. “I refused to read the script for fear I might really like it,” she said. “I’ve never wanted to do TV. I love feature films too much.”
Bridget also said, “I’m not kicking myself for having passed on Ally McBeal,even though it’s a huge hit. I’ve been acting long enough to know it could have been a complete dud with me in it. It may work as well as it does because of Calista.” In the end, Ally McBeal ended up running for five seasons.
So instead of starring in Ally McBeal, Bridget did the monster movie Lake Placid in 1999. It made a lot of money, but received only very mixed reviews. Famous film critic Roger Ebert sardonically said of it, “This is the kind of movie that actors discuss in long, sad talks with their agents.”
Bridget discussed Lake Placid, among other movies, in a 2000 interview with the Guardian. She said, “I thought the effects would do all the work, but it’s actually a tough challenge to make something like this hang together. You have to bring energy to it; there’s no laziness allowed. It was fun, great fun.” It hadn’t really advanced her career much, though.
In the interview Bridget talked about the sort of actress she wanted to be. “I don’t want to be known as someone who can only do a certain thing, or be a certain way; I want to have the freedom to experiment,” she said. “Who wants to be narrowed down or put in a box? I’m freer this way; I’ll never be cast as the girl who’s so pretty she can just stand there, or the one who’s so quirky and comical that the whole thing stands or falls on her performance.”
Bridget went on, “Part of the glory of acting is that you continually take chances, and sure, I’ve had bad experiences where I’ve ended up working with people I don’t like, times when I’ve felt like Sisyphus, rolling the rock to the top of the hill only for it to end up at the bottom again. But when it all comes together, there’s nothing better.” Then she added, “I’m sorry, I’m a little like my father in that I take it all very seriously.”
Bridget also said she had never taken career advice from her family. “How would you feel if your mum or dad were giving you their opinion all the time?” she asked. “Say you’re leaving the house, and one of them doesn’t like what you’re wearing – well, your natural inclination would be to wear something even worse, wouldn’t it?”
The Guardian asked Bridget about the possibility of her having children. Fonda answered, “Yes, I’d love that, but not at any cost. I mean, I want a family, I don’t just want to be a mother.” The interviewer noted, “You get the feeling that, once she’s produced her brood, acting would be a secondary concern.”
Bridget starred alongside Jet Li in Kiss of the Dragon come 2001. That year she did an interview with Cinema.com in which she discussed marriage and motherhood once again. She said, “Somebody said the people who don’t get married are can’t get married people. This was somebody’s theory. And so I thought I must be a can’t.”
In the same interview, Bridget alluded to feeling depressed by acting roles sometimes. In Kiss of the Dragon she played a streetwalker, and she explained, “She got into me a lot… She got under my skin. I felt so sad. I felt the same thing but on a smaller scale that she felt, which was that I did not want to deal with how dark it can get.”
Bridget went on, “And for some reason, and this happens to me a lot, when you do these characters your life starts to mirror the life, or what happens is that the situation that you are playing forces you to look at your own issues in life with a different pair of eyes and you tend to look for the things, because that is what you are gearing yourself toward.”
Bridget considered her chosen career in the interview. “It’s a life of pathological lying,” she said of acting. “You do actually have responsibilities, some people don’t. But to set it straight, there are some people who escape responsibility, but I am a worrier, so I am not one of those people.”
At the end of the piece the interviewer asked Bridget, “Do you still feel the pressure of the family name to succeed?” She answered, “No, if I blow it I blow it. Pressure is when you are afraid of failing and I figure, I used to put pressure on myself and now I just sort of feel, who cares?”
It was the year after that, 2002, that Bridget played her last role. She appeared as the title character in a Hallmark production, The Snow Queen. It wasn’t poorly received – it was even nominated for a Saturn Award for Best Single Television Presentation. But yet, it marked the end of Bridget’s career.
Some people think that a car accident the year after Snow Queen might have caused Bridget to retire from acting. In February 2003 she lost control of her vehicle and it rolled down an embankment, injuring her. The only reason she survived, the media said, was because she was wearing a seat belt.
Bridget’s never spoken about any impact the car crash might have had. After it, she appeared to completely retreat from the celebrity world. That same year, she married Danny Elfman. In November she wed the composer at the First Congressional Church in Los Angeles, and her father Peter gave her away.
Seeing as how her new husband already had children from a previous marriage, Bridget got a ready-made family. And two years later, in 2005, she gave birth to a son named Oliver. The pair started raising their child in as much privacy as possible – to this day Bridget doesn’t have a social media account.
In 2009, however, Bridget and her son did appear on Jane Fonda’s official blog. The Elfman-Fondas had thrown a big party for their relatives. Jane wrote, “Bridget and Danny give an annual Christmas party, each one with a theme. This year was Cuba and there was a fantastic full Cuban band.” Oliver would have been four years old.
The party seemed like a lot of fun. “We did a minimal job on costumes but had fun anyway,” Jane wrote. “Vanessa [her daughter with Roger Vadim] and my grandchildren just got in from Atlanta in time for the party and to see their cousin Oliver.” And Danny performed with the hired Cuban band.
But since then, the world has seen barely a glimpse of Bridget Fonda. Oliver is a teenager now and he can sometimes be seen with his dad and stepsister Mali at film premieres, but it seems that Bridget doesn’t usually go with them. However, interest in her was reignited when her father Peter passed away in 2019.
Peter died in August of that year due to complications from lung cancer. At the time, Danny wrote on his Facebook page, “As some of you may have heard my father-in-law, Peter Fonda, passed away a few days ago. He was, quite simply, one-of-a-kind… and then some. An absolutely unique individual.”
Bridget didn’t release a statement as an individual, but there was one put out by the entire Fonda family. It read, “In one of the saddest moments of our lives, we are not able to find the appropriate words to express the pain in our hearts. As we grieve, we ask that you respect our privacy.”
And it concluded, “While we mourn the loss of this sweet and gracious man, we also wish for all to celebrate his indomitable spirit and love of life. In honor of Peter, please raise a glass to freedom.” Bridget may not be acting anymore but perhaps she feels that she has more freedom now she’s out of the public eye.