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Whatever Happened To Bridget Fonda?

The 1990s was an era of "It girls." There were so many of them that the term kind of lost all meaning after a while. Even so, there were some who truly earned the moniker, particularly in the first half of the decade. Bridget Fonda is one such example. Not only did she come with a very famous name attached, but she racked up several hit movies in quick succession and you couldn't turn your head without seeing her on a magazine cover.

However, the latter half of the decade saw Fonda's star power begin to fade. After a few roles in the early-2000s, she completely dropped out of public life and has rarely been seen or heard from since. Why did she leave acting — and celebrity life in general — behind, and what has she been up to in the decades since her last screen credit? A combination of professional and personal hurdles played a large part in Fonda shifting to a more private way of living, but it wasn't all doom and gloom that led to the decision. 

Is Fonda's exit from Hollywood a permanent one? She weighed in on that question not too long ago. Read on to find out what she said and what she's been up to since she's been gone.

She felt pressured to live up to her famous name

The Fonda family's screen acting legacy began with the late Henry Fonda, who began his career in the mid-1930s and had an impressive resume that includes such classic films as "The Lady Eve," "12 Angry Men," and "The Grapes of Wrath," to name but a few. His career stretched all the way into the '80s, when he won an Oscar for his final film, 1981's "On Golden Pond." By this point, two of Henry's children — Peter Fonda and Jane Fonda — had carved out their own successful Hollywood careers. Peter was nominated for a best original screenplay Oscar for 1969's "Easy Rider," which quickly became a cult classic.

To say that Peter's daughter Bridget Fonda — who shared the screen with her dad in "Easy Rider" — had a lot to live up to legacy-wise would be an understatement. It's a fact her dad made very clear to her, likening what she had to overcome in terms of the Fondas that had come before her to climbing Mount Everest four times — one for each of the previous Fonda actors, and then again for herself. Fonda admits that she often struggled with the pressure, telling The Guardian, "Everyone expected me to be good, automatically." Whether she ever truly lived up to the lofty expectations of her last name is up for debate, but it's clear that Bridget never stopped being keenly aware of the large shadow that loomed over her thanks to her famous family.

Box office receipts and critical praise began to dry up

After some minor roles in the 1980s, Bridget Fonda landed a part in 1990's "The Godfather Part III." More substantial supporting roles followed, and 1992 saw Fonda headline her first major studio production, the psychological thriller "Single White Female." Critics were lukewarm, but it was a hit at the box office, making almost five times its budget from the domestic market alone. With that, Fonda had established herself as a bankable lead. The same year also brought Fonda one of her first critically-acclaimed film roles by way of Cameron Crowe's "Singles." Over the next few years she featured in a number of major films that were either critical darlings or box office winners — sometimes both. However, as the '90s drew to a close, Fonda's fortunes faded.

The 1999 horror comedy "Lake Placid," in which she starred opposite Bill Pullman, failed to recoup its $35 million budget domestically, and critics weren't kind to Fonda. In its review, CNN said that the film was "not the least bit frightening, and the entire undertaking generates maybe one decent laugh. That is, if you don't count Fonda's chronic inability to act." The 2000s got off to a bad start for Fonda when the live-action/stop-motion animation hybrid "Monkeybone" bombed hard at the box office, making just $7.6 million from a $75 million budget. The Henry Selick film starts out great but falls apart only a few minutes in. Things went from bad to worse for Fonda around the new millennium, and her career never really recovered.

Fonda passed on starring in an award-winning TV series

History is full of fascinating stories about actors who almost played iconic roles or TV shows that actors refused to be a part of. Many such examples have often been discussed, but some are far less known. Falling in the latter camp is that fact that a decision by Bridget Fonda to pass on a certain role would have meant a very different career trajectory for not only her, but for one Calista Flockhart, as well.

"Ally McBeal" creator David E. Kelley originally offered Fonda the titular role on the legal dramedy. Fonda did read the script, her publicist confirmed, but she never went as far as auditioning and ultimately passed to focus on her film career. Of course, the '90s were a very different time and there was a far greater divide between "movie actors" and "TV actors" than there is now. Television was seen as a major step down from Hollywood in those days, so it's not shocking that Fonda didn't entertain the idea. But did she come to regret her decision?

Speaking to the New York Post while promoting her ill-fated horror comedy film "Lake Placid" back in 1999, Fonda went into detail about the whole "Ally McBeal" saga. "I'm not kicking myself for having passed on 'Ally McBeal,' even though it's a huge hit," she said. "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."

She made one final acting push in the early 2000s

Despite the 2000s getting off to an awful start in terms of critical reception and box office takings, Bridget Fonda wasn't quite ready to give up on acting just yet. Her Hail Mary came in the form of a crime movie about a Chinese intelligence agent trying to thwart a mob boss from his country who has been operating in France: 2001's "Kiss of the Dragon." Fonda starred alongside Jet Li in the Paris-set film, which was written and produced by Luc Besson.

Besson had crossed paths with Fonda almost a decade earlier — she starred in 1993's "Point of No Return," the American remake of Besson's hit French film "La Femme Nikita." Sadly, this reunion wouldn't be a particularly happy one in terms of response. "Kiss of the Dragon" did better business at the box office than the other films Fonda featured in around that time, but it still wasn't a huge moneymaker, and critics were split on it.

Fonda would make one more theatrical film — "The Whole Shebang," also a 2001 release — before she disappeared from the big screen entirely. At this point, she changed her tune about TV and accepted a recurring role in Showtime's "The Chris Isaak Show" as well as a starring role in Hallmark's two-part miniseries "The Snow Queen," which came out in 2002. Unfortunately, "The Snow Queen" (which remains Fonda's last screen credit to date) was no "Frozen."

A serious car accident was a turning point

Charting the timeline of Bridget Fonda's retreat from acting and public life requires looking at more than just a filmography that stops completely after 2002. It also necessitates examining events that happened off screen: In particular, the fact that 2003 saw Fonda badly injured in a serious car crash. In February of that year, Fonda's publicist Nancy Seltzer confirmed that the actor had been taken to hospital due to back injuries sustained when her Jaguar went over the side of a Pacific Coast Highway embankment. She was the only person in the car, and no other vehicles were involved. It is believed that she lost control due to the road being wet from heavy rains. She suffered "a slight fracture of two thoracic vertebrae," Seltzer said in a statement (via BBC).

Though she made a full recovery, Fonda lost out on what could have been a career-boosting role as a result of the accident. It turns out that Fonda had been cast in a recurring role on ABC's "The Practice," which had been running since 1997 and had picked up a bunch of awards along the way. The role likely appealed to Fonda all the more because "The Practice" was a David E. Kelley show — years after turning down "Ally McBeal," Fonda was getting another chance to work with the respected writer and producer. Sadly, she joined a long list of actors who had to be replaced as a result of an injury.

Fonda started focusing on being a wife and mom

In November 2003, around nine months after leaving the hospital following her car accident, Bridget Fonda married musician and composer Danny Elfman. "Fonda's father Peter walked her down the aisle to the sounds of a 20-person choir," People reported. The couple is said to have met during the production of 1998's "A Simple Plan," for which Elfman wrote the music. The Minnesota-set crime thriller remains Fonda's most critically acclaimed film, with a Certified Fresh score of 90% on Rotten Tomatoes.

Fonda and Elfman have always been extremely private about their relationship, and it's not known when their romance actually began or when they got engaged. It wasn't until their wedding that much was known about the couple at all. They welcomed a son named Oliver in 2005, and "Fonda decided to stay out of the spotlight and retire from acting" at the stage, People adds. The couple would occasionally make public appearances together — mostly related to projects Elfman was involved in — but those also got increasingly rare as time went on.

She throws a big family bash every Christmas

In 2009, Bridget Fonda made what would be her last official public appearances as of this writing. In August of that year, she attended the Los Angeles premiere of Quentin Tarantino's WWII epic "Inglourious Basterds" with her husband, and she also appeared at the L.A. premiere of "Taking Woodstock" alongside Elfman and her stepdaughter Mali, one of two children Elfman has from a previous marriage. These events would be the last time that Fonda was publicly photographed in a non-paparazzi capacity for a long time. However, this wasn't actually the last we saw of Fonda before she dropped off the map entirely.

In December 2009, Bridget's aunt, Jane Fonda, shared a post on her website about attending a Christmas party at the home of Bridget and her husband. The post revealed that Bridget hosted an annual holiday bash for her extended family, with a different theme every year (2009's theme was "Cuba"). There were numerous pictures from the party included in the post, including several of Bridget. Those images would end up being the most recent pictures that the public saw of Bridget for many years.

Fonda mourned her father's death in private

In 2019, Peter Fonda died from complications related to lung cancer. He was 79 years old. As is common when a celebrity with famous relatives passes away, many wondered if Bridget Fonda might break what was then 10 years of public silence to make a statement on the death of her Oscar-nominated father, but she didn't. Instead, a statement on behalf of the entire Fonda family was issued.

"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," the statement read (via People). "And, 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."

The only person to release an individual statement was Jane Fonda, Peter's sister. "I am very sad. He was my sweet-hearted baby brother," she told Deadline. "I have had beautiful alone time with him these last days. He went out laughing." Bridget herself didn't say anything publicly about her father's death at the time and, as of yet, she has not done so, choosing to mourn and remember him privately. 

She moved from bustling L.A. to Santa Barbara

Try as someone might to live a quiet life away from the prying eyes of photographers, living in Los Angeles — the epicenter of not only the movie and television industries but American celebrity culture in general — makes that incredibly difficult. It is to Bridget Fonda's credit that she managed to live in L.A. for as long as she did while not so much as being caught on camera going to and from the grocery store. Still, despite how adept they had become at keeping their lives private, Fonda and her husband Danny Elfman eventually decided that L.A. wasn't where they wanted to spend the bulk of their time.

When the lockdowns of the COVID-19 pandemic forced the Fonda/Elfman clan to spend more time at their Santa Barbara ranch, they realized that they actually preferred staying there. Even as things opened back up, the family decided to make quieter Santa Barbara their primary home and to sell their L.A. mansions. They owned back-to-back homes in the Hancock Park area, buying the smaller of the two in 2015 after having lived in the property behind it for years. In December 2020, the bigger of the two (which was once described as "Tim Burton-esque" by The Wall Street Journal) went for $8.75 million after just a few months on the market.

She avoided being publicly photographed for 12 years

Following her appearance at the premiere of "Inglourious Basterds" in 2009, Bridget Fonda wasn't publicly photographed in any way for an impressive 12 years, nor did she engage in any interviews, make any public statements, or join any social media platforms. Her long run of dodging the press came to an end in 2022 when a paparazzi spotted Fonda running errands with her son Oliver and their dog. Fonda appeared to be looking at the camera in at least one of the shots, indicating that she was aware of the photographer, but she didn't interact with or otherwise acknowledge them in any way.

Fonda was snapped going about her business on two more occasions in 2023, once in April and again in October. The latter occasion was Fonda's first known public appearance since Danny Elfman was sued by multiple women over disturbing allegations of sexual misconduct. One of the women alleges that Elfman subjected her to "sexual assault, gender violence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, sexual harassment and negligence" between 1997 and 2002, said The Hollywood Reporter. Fonda has not spoken about the allegations publicly, though a rep for Elfman denied them, saying: "His legal team is assessing all options and he will vigorously defend these claims in court."

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).

She broke years of silence to confirm she's done with acting

When Bridget Fonda was spotted in Los Angeles in April 2023, she actually interacted with the paparazzi who noticed her, speaking publicly for the first time in over a decade. The photographer asked the question that all fans of the retired actor wanted to know the answer to: Would she ever consider returning to Hollywood. Per the Daily Mail, she initially responded with a simple "no," but when pressed a little — and being reminded by the photographer of her "iconic career" — Fonda insisted that she was done acting. "I don't think so. It's too nice being a civilian," Fonda said to the camera with a smile.

This was a short but sweet insight into how Fonda feels about her life now versus the one she left behind. Looking back at interviews from her Hollywood heyday, it's clear that she was never really comfortable in Tinseltown. "What is it with my low self-esteem?" she asked herself in one interview (via the Independent). "I'm trying to be happy with my career. I think I should give myself a break, but I've got this bug that rides me. 'You should be doing better.' Every time I work, I'm frustrated with my physical inability to catch up to my mental picture."

It seems that, in the end, Fonda realized that this wasn't a healthy mindset and that some things are more important than fame. Walking away from Hollywood as a Fonda can't have been easy, but she was ready to walk her own path, and she deserves respect for that. If you still want a Fonda fix, why not check out our list of Jane Fonda's most memorable movie roles.