A rare talent and beauty, Jane Fonda has sustained a thriving Hollywood career since the '60s, starring in countless classics, from Barbarella to Nine to Five. Now an octogenarian, Fonda has spent the past seven years starring in the popular Netflix series Grace and Frankie, alongside Lily Tomlin. The show, which centers on an unlikely friendship between two women who are polar opposites, has done what few series have: it's given a bold voice to women in their "third act" of life. Now, Fonda is opening up about how she navigates aging in real life—and shedding light on her health struggles over the years. Read on to find out what habit she says caused her to develop "a lot of cancer," and how her health woes lead to one particularly memorable fashion choice on the red carpet.
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Fonda says she never expected to live this long.
Fonda's enduring success as an actor gives her membership to a very small club of women in Hollywood: those whose careers have continued to thrive past their prime years as sex symbols. Aware that her story is near-anomalous in the industry, Fonda says she's grateful that her career is still in full tilt. "In a year, I'm making three movies. If you had told me that at 85 I'd be making three movies, I wouldn't have believed it," she told Vanity Fair in Apr. 2022.
In fact, Fonda says she never expected to live this long at all. "I never thought I would live past 30, so just the fact that I'm alive and thriving is a big surprise," she said during that interview. Fonda lost her mother to suicide and had a difficult relationship with her father, the actor Henry Fonda. She says this affected her self-esteem and fueled patterns of addiction, making her future feel uncertain as a young adult. In 2018, the Klute star told Ellen DeGeneres on her talk show that she always expected to "die lonely and probably from alcohol or something like that." She added: "The fact that I'm not an addict, and I'm 80 and I'm working—it's just a miracle to me."
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Now in her mid-80s, she's dealing with various health issues.
In a 2019 interview with Vogue, Fonda got real about aging and shared that many of her most pressing concerns are now related to her health. In addition to multiple bouts of cancer, the star contends with chronic pain from osteoporosis.
"The fact that I hurt a lot—my body hurts—is a surprise to me, and it's not because of all that working out," she shared. "It's genetic. My father [Henry] had it, my brother [Peter] had it. Your cartilage disappears and then it's bone on bone, and then 'ow'. But we live in a time where you can just get a new one." Fonda has had both hips replaced, as well as one of her knees.
She says one habit caused her to develop "a lot of cancer."
The star has also dealt with what she describes as "a lot of cancer." Most of it, she says, was the consequence of one habit of her youth: sun bathing. "I was a sun-worshiper. When I have a day off, I frequently go to my skin doctor and have things cut off me by a surgeon," she told Vogue. In 2018, she was seen sporting a bandage on her lower lip, having had a cancerous growth removed.
Besides surviving skin cancer, the star has also had surgery to remove a tumor from her breast. In fact, she says that one iconic fashion choice—her red carpet outfit for the 2016 Golden Globes—was specifically chosen to hide that she was recovering from that surgery."I get out of the car and I have the strange white dress with all the ruffles? That's because I'd just had a mastectomy and I had to cover my bandages," she told Vogue.
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Fonda says she finally feels "whole" in life.
Despite her "ongoing" health woes, the Monster In Law actor now views aging as a gift. While on Ellen, she reflected on her life in her mid-20s, saying, "I wouldn't want to go back to that for anything."
"For the bulk of my life, I would say up until my seventies, I spent my life like a double image, like a double exposure," she told Vogue. "As an adolescent, in order to fit in, I made sure no one—especially boys or men—could see who I really was; that I could get really angry, that I could not be pretty, that I could be tough. I went through life not whole. And when I left [third husband Ted Turner], I could feel myself moving back into myself. That is the main thing about the third act as I'm living it. I am no longer a double image."
Fonda told Vogue that today, she makes a point of being true to herself. "I didn't think I'd ever live this long—or feel that I'm whole… I feel very intentional about realizing that it's up to me how this last part of my life goes."
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