How Peter Fonda's LSD trip with the Beatles produced a classic John Lennon lyric

Randy Lewis, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

LOS ANGELES -- Had fate worked out just a bit differently, Peter Fonda might be remembered as one of the great figures of 1960s pop music rather than one of the standout actors of his generation.

As a young man trying to make his way in Hollywood in that turbulent decade, Fonda, who died Friday at 79, would have had to make a conscious effort not to intersect with the vibrant music community that was boiling up in and around Tinseltown at the time. It's a period when groups such as the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, the Doors, Arthur Lee & Love and many others were frequenting the plethora of clubs spotlighting pop music.

He also made the rounds of the parties attended by many of those same musicians and actors. At one, he famously uttered a statement that John Lennon wrote into the Beatles song "She Said She Said."

It transpired in the summer of 1965, when the Beatles had rented a house in Los Angeles on Mulholland Drive and invited Roger McGuinn and David Crosby of the Byrds over. Several of them dropped acid.

As Fonda recounted later about the episode, he arrived, also under the influence of LSD, and attempted to calm Beatles guitarist George Harrison, who feared he was dying.

"I told him there was nothing to be afraid of and that all he needed to do was relax," Fonda said. "I said that I knew what it was like to be dead because when I was 10 years old, I'd accidentally shot myself in the stomach and my heart stopped beating three times while I was on the operating table because I'd lost so much blood.


"John was passing at the time and heard me saying 'I know what it's like to be dead.' He looked at me and said, 'You're making me feel like I've never been born. Who put all that 1/8stuff3/8 in your head?'"

As Lennon recalled it, author David Sheff wrote in his book "All We Are Saying," "That was written after an acid trip in L.A. during a break in the Beatles' 1/8U.S.3/8 tour, where we were having fun with the Byrds and lots of girls. Some from Playboy, I believe. Peter Fonda came in when we were on acid and he kept coming up to me and sitting next to me and whispering, 'I know what it's like to be dead.'

"We didn't want to hear about that! We were on an acid trip and the sun was shining and the girls were dancing and the whole thing was beautiful and '60s, and this guy -- who I really didn't know; he hadn't made 'Easy Rider' or anything -- kept coming over, wearing shades, saying, 'I know what it's like to be dead,' and we kept leaving him because he was so boring! And I used it for the song, but I changed it to 'she' instead of 'he.' "

Additionally, well before Fonda rocketed to fame with his role opposite Dennis Hopper in the counterculture film classic "Easy Rider," the son of iconic Hollywood star Henry Fonda toyed with the idea of being a recording artist himself.


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