Actress Jane Fonda has always been candid about her complicated relationship with her dad, Henry Fonda. But in a revealing new interview, the 80-year-old star opened up about her mom Frances Ford Seymour’s tragic 1950 suicide when Jane was just 12 years old.
“If you have a parent who is not capable of showing up, not capable of reflecting you back through eyes of love, it has a big impact on your sense of self,” Jane recently told Jess Cagle for PeopleTV of her mother’s battle with bipolar disorder before her death.
“As a child, you always think it was your fault… because the child can’t blame the adult, because they depend on the adult for survival. It takes a long time to get over the guilt,” she continued.
After Frances passed away, her husband, Henry, told the couple’s two children, Jane and Peter Fonda, that their mother had died of a heart attack. It wasn’t until years later that Jane uncovered the truth about Frances’ mental health battle and suicide.
“When I wrote my memoir [2005’s My Life So Far], I dedicated it to my mother because I knew that if I did… I would be forced to really try to figure her out. I never knew her because she suffered from bipolarity,” she said, adding that once she realized the truth, she went through Frances’ medical records to learn more about her mother.
“When you go through that kind of research… if you can come to answers, which I was able to do, you end up being able to say, ‘It had nothing to do with me.’ It wasn’t that I wasn’t lovable. [My parents] had issues. And the minute you know that, you can feel tremendous empathy for them. And you can forgive,” Jane said.
This isn’t the first time that Jane has publicly spoken out about losing her mother at a young age. “She suffered from mental illness, what would today be called bipolar [disorder]. When a parent isn’t around, the child assumes it’s her fault. And that’s what I did,” she told The Guardian in 2016.
“You have a choice: You can go through life believing you’re unlovable and feeling guilty about what happened, or you can try to understand that your parent was suffering from something and didn’t know how to heal,” the Grace & Frankie star added. “If you can look back and see it with understanding and with an open heart, then you can forgive. [In hindsight] it was the difficult things that could have broken me that went on to teach me the most.”
If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255.