How Jane Fonda Rewrote Her Life With a Third Act
Jane Fonda’s long career as an actress and activists includes a lot of wins and as many mistakes. In her third act in her 80s, here’s what she’s learned.
The year is 2019, and 81-year-old, two-time Oscar-winner Jane Fonda is being arrested for the fourth week in a row. Her crime? “Non-violent disobedience.”
While being arrested, Jane takes the time to thank the BAFTAs for her lifetime achievement award– she will not make it to the awards ceremony, because she is protesting climate change outside the Capitol Building.
This is the same year that 16-year-old Greta Thunberg was named Time’s Person of the Year for leading a global movement of climate strikes protesting the same issue.
But Grace and Frankie star Jane Fonda’s history as an activist stretches back four decades. She has been both loved and hated for her dedication to her principles, but remains passionate about the issues she supports today as she was when she began her journey.
Today, we see activists marching the streets of America and the entire world on the single topic of climate change, but Fonda’s colorful journey is one to explore.
How did she become such a fearless crusader?
Jane’s first act of activism
As the daughter of Hollywood royalty (her dad was Oscar-winner Henry Fonda of 12 Angry Men, On Golden Pond), Jane grew up in the spotlight before owning it herself.
She built a career as a starlet and sex symbol by starring in films like The Chase and Barbarella, but though she was born in the shadow of her father’s success, Jane has always been determined to blaze her own path.
Jane made her first public display of activism during the Vietnam war, using her high profile to bring attention to the causes she was passionate about– and faced major backlash for doing so. Despite this, she forged a critically-acclaimed career, winning her first Oscar and refusing to star in movies that she didn’t feel held value for the public. This decision led to her second Oscar win, for a film about a Vietnam vet’s struggles.
Jane then branched out into comedies, starring in the hit movie 9 to 5 with close friend (and future Grace and Frankie co-star Lily Tomlin) and built a work-out video empire.
Then she announced her retirement. Things seemed over for Jane– but that was far from the truth.
Second act: learning from her mistakes
Jane Fonda became known as “Hanoi Jane” for her Vietnam activism and many say this was by far the most overboard she has ever gone to raise awareness of an issue she supports. In fact, this is where she started to gain enemies toward her activism.
In 1970, Jane was falsely arrested for drug trafficking and detained, although her bag contained only vitamins. It was a moment that would set the tone for her future protests and arrests.
Jane’s loyalty to the USA has been questioned for many years. Many see her alleged “Anti-War” protests as “Anti-American” because she seemed to blatantly speak against the U.S. Soldiers
In later years, Jane has reflected upon and apologized for posing in the iconic picture:
I will go to my grave regretting the photograph of me in an anti-aircraft gun, which looks like I was trying to shoot at American planes. It hurt so many soldiers. It galvanized such hostility. It was the most horrible thing I could possibly have done. It was just thoughtless.Jane Fonda to Barbara Walters
Second act: Growing from mistakes
The mistakes she made in her youth have led Jane to be more informed and to think more carefully and critically about the causes she supports.
Today, she is still out and about doing marches and “Fire Drills” to raise awareness of climate change, with support from other famous friends like Joaquin Phoenix and Ted Danson.
Jane has said in numerous interviews that she doesn’t care to get arrested as many times as it takes to make her point, while acknowledging that her privilege as a celebrity affords her the ability to do so. Spoken like a true activist.
Though critics of Fonda say she goes overboard with her statements and actions, those closest to her say that her activism is what keeps demons at bay and keeps her going and youthful.
It’s time for a third act
“I divided my life into three acts of 30 years each because every 30 years, I tend to change.”Jane Fonda, HBO
Jane emerged from retirement in 2005, reinvigorated by years of experience out of the celebrity world. In addition to acclaimed performances on the stage and in film, Jane and best friend Lily co-starred in 7 seasons of Grace and Frankie. The show follows two best friends whose marriages have abruptly ended due to their husbands’ infidelity, as is all about them rediscovering their joie de vivre.
As Jane told HBO, “At the beginning of my third act, I realized — holy sh*t — I don’t know who I am. I was 60 and thought, I have maybe 30 more years. Third acts are important and can pull the rest together. So, I went about studying myself, which meant studying my parents and grandparents. Those are the people who determine who you are — who you then spend the rest of your life healing from. One of the things I hope people come away feeling is a need to examine their lives.”
This is a profound personal development statement that rings true to most all people of any age and in any stage of life.
Through this realization, Jane has made peace with herself, ending her marriage and embracing her third act as a single woman.
I’m single, which makes me very happy.Jane Fonda, Vanity Fair
She has also gone deep into contributing to the following charities:
- Alzheimer’s Association
- Barbara Davis Center for Childhood Diabetes
- Elton John AIDS Foundation
- Heifer International
- Los Angeles LGBT Center
- Peace Over Violence
What we can learn from Jane
While not everyone agrees with Jane’s personal beliefs or motivations, we can all learn from her approach– fearlessly embracing her opinions and living in accordance with them, whatever the cost.
One of the rights we all hold dear is the right to speak our opinion, and to be heard. This is not a right to be heard if and only if you support one cause or the other, but a right that we all possess. We can see that Jane Fonda simply followed what her heart believed, and that can be interpreted many ways.
Jane’s story teaches us that our story doesn’t end when we are struggling or when we reach a certain age. Through each act of her life, she experienced highs and lows, made mistakes and learned from them.
In your second and third acts, you, too, can grow and adapt while still being true to the beliefs and convictions that make up the core of who you are.
I love mistakes because it’s the only way you learn. You don’t learn from successes; you don’t learn from awards; you don’t learn from celebrity; you only learn from wounds and scars and mistakes and failures. And that’s the truth.Jane Fonda, Flaunt Magazine