One of the greatest tragedies in actress Jane Fonda‘s life lead to one of her greatest triumphs. The now-80-year-old icon lost her mother Frances Ford Seymour to suicide when she was just 12-years-old, and the events that lead up to the heartbreaking moment will forever be one of Jane’s greatest regrets.
In her HBO series, Jane Fonda in Five Acts, she revealed the last time she was supposed to see her mother. She had just returned from treatment at the Craig House psychiatric hospital in Beacon, New York, and Jane didn’t want to see her. “She had convinced the people at the institution she was getting well and they let her come home with a nurse,” Jane explained. “My brother and I had been upstairs playing jacks. Grandma called for us to come down and I wouldn’t go. I said to Peter, ‘You go, I’ll let you win if you go down. I’m not going.’”
Her mother managed to sneak a razor back with her, and took her own life that night, which was her 42nd birthday. Jane’s father, Henry Fonda, told her she died of a heart attack. “Dad dropped the news, then went back to New York and did his play. That was dad,” she said. She didn’t learn the truth until one year later, while at boarding school. “I found out in a movie magazine. It said the ex-wife of Henry Fonda had cut her throat,” she explained.
While the death came as a shock to Jane, she was not un-used to her mother’s instability and sadness. “My mother was a very complicated woman. Very, very beautiful woman. But she always seemed sick,” Jane remembered. “We would sit in the living room and I’d hold her hand and it would be trembling. And I didn’t want her to feel bad so I’d make mine tremble, too.”
Jane seems to believe that her father drove her mother to madness, as he was “not kind” while she was his wife, and things only got worse when the family moved to Connecticut for him to do Mr Roberts on Broadway. “That was where her mental health was really deteriorating,” said Jane. “I didn’t know it at the time, but the sister of the stage manager was seven years older than me and my father had fallen in love with her. It was a difficult time for my mother. I remember sitting at dinner table, and there were tears pouring down my mother’s face. Then, I remember one afternoon, her being taken to a hospital.”
Despite the great pain and suffering the loss caused a young Jane, she was able to channel her confused emotions into acting on-screen, becoming one of the most successful and famous actresses ever. She rose to fame in films like Cat Ballou, Barbarella, Klute, and Barefoot In The Park, thanks to that energy. Still, it can’t be easy to relive such a tragedy, and we wish her strength in this tough time.