Henry Fonda (AP Photo / Marty Reichenthal)
Henry Fonda – who died 30 years ago on Aug. 12, 1982 – was one of Hollywood's great actors, with a career that stayed strong for almost half a century.
After several years on the stage and a gradual entrance to the movie biz, Fonda first hit it big with what has become an iconic role: Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath. For the film adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning John Steinbeck novel, Fonda almost didn't get the role; producers wanted heartthrob Tyrone Power to play the Depression-era farmer's son who migrates with his family from Oklahoma to California in search of work. But thankfully for Fonda (and for us) he was given the opportunity. His strong performance earned him an Oscar nomination and helped make the highly-acclaimed film a classic.
After The Grapes of Wrath Fonda rarely wanted for work. Even a three-year stint in the Navy during World War II ("I don't want to be in a fake war in a studio," he said before joining up) didn't hurt his career. Shortly after returning home, he was back in action with movies like War and Peace, co-starring Audrey Hepburn.
But with all his cinematic success, through a long career that rarely slowed down, Fonda never won an Oscar… until his very last film. On Golden Pond premiered less than a year before Fonda's death and it was a triumph, a major hit that won him the Academy Award for Best Actor (his costar, Katharine Hepburn, won Best Actress, too, and Fonda's real-life daughter Jane was nominated for her supporting role). At 76 he was the oldest Best Actor winner, and the performance was widely considered his greatest role – a fitting way to cap an acting career that stands among the all-time best.
Written by Linnea Crowther