A woman of a certain age

JANE FONDA is still working out.

She will be 73 on December 21, so she’s no longer advocating that anyone be foolish enough to feel the burn — the battle cry of her original workout videos, first released in 1982, amid a flurry of spandex, leg warmers and big hair — but is instead urging ‘seniors’ not to spend all of their remaining time alive sitting on the sofa.

“People who are of a certain age tend to be ignored by the fitness industry, and being that I’m older and I’ve done a lot of research on what happens to a body when it gets older, I know that it’s essential that we stay active,” she recently told an interviewer. “It’s the worst thing that a person could do when they’re older is to say, ‘Why bother now? I’m older. I don’t need to.’ I’m on this crusade to get older people out of the chairs, off their couches, moving in a way that’s safe, easy and very doable, even if they’ve never done it a day in their lives. It’s never too late.”

She’s releasing Jane Fonda: Prime Time Fit & Strong on December 27. The focus of the fitness DVD is not so much on building up a sweat, as engaging with the body so that it remains healthy and active, even as it ages.

Jane Fonda is, however, not your average almost-73-year-old, either in attitude or appearance. “How do I still look good?” she responded to German newspaper, Bilt. “I owe 30% to genes, 30% to good sex, 30% because of sports and healthy lifestyle, with proper nutrition, and, for the remaining 10%, I have to thank my plastic surgeon.” (Famously anti-cosmetic surgery, she capitulated a few years ago and had a face lift, about which she was entirely honest.)

Providing 30% of her vigour is current squeeze, 68-year-old record producer, Richard Perry, whom Fonda was rumoured to be considering making husband number four, but she postponed the wedding as she was “too busy”.

Jane Fonda was 44 when she released her first workout video. She revolutionised the fitness industry by allowing people to exercise at home, unselfconsciously, with the aid of the telly. Before the first Jane Fonda Workout entered the public arena, just 24% of Americans regularly exercised; afterwards, the figure shot up to 47%. She has since released 23 workout videos and DVDs, 13 audio programmes, and five books (she’s working on a sixth, Prime Time: Creating a Great Third Act, which deals with ageing and is due out next year). Her fitness franchise had netted her around €517m, even though she has not released a new workout since 1995; she says that it was conducting the research for her book on ageing that motivated her to re-enter the fitness industry, because she felt older people were being overlooked.

It’s easy to forget that Jane Fonda is primarily a movie star, rather than a fitness and lifestyle guru. Before her 1980s incarnation as an aerobics advocate, she was associated with political causes, her liberal feminism ahead of its time and deeply unpopular in conservative America.

Born into the Fonda acting dynasty in 1937, in New York — her father was Henry Fonda, her younger brother is Peter Fonda, and her niece is Bridget Fonda — Jane and Peter’s mother committed suicide in 1950, which Jane dealt with by seeking psychiatric help. She was 12 when her mother died.

Four years later, having begun her career as a model — at which she was successful, twice gracing the cover of Vogue — she met Lee Strasberg, who encouraged her acting skills.

By the 1960s, she was starring in iconic roles like Barbarella, Cat Ballou and They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? and went on to win two Oscars in the 1970s for her roles in Klute and Coming Home. Determined to shake off her 1960s sex symbol image, she chose films that matched her growing political consciousness, resulting in critical acclaim for movies like 1979’s The China Syndrome.

Fonda’s vocal opposition to the Vietnam war and sympathy with the plight of the Vietnamese earned her the nickname Hanoi Jane in the US; she even named her son, Troi, after a Vietnamese resistance leader. She was also prominent in the civil rights movement, supporting the Black Panthers and Native Americas, and was subsequently involved in the emerging second wave of feminism. A vocal darling of the liberal left, she was feared and detested as ‘unAmerican’ by millions. She has since denounced Israeli treatment of Palestinians and opposed the invasion of Iraq, but has apologised to American Vietnam veterans, via the talk show host, Barbara Walters, not for her anti-war stance, but for her perceived insensitivity towards Americans who served in the war.

Fonda retired from film in 1990, but made a comeback 15 years later, with Monster In Law. Since then, she has continued to work as an actress, as well as writing an autobiography and continuing her campaigns for liberal causes. She has been married three times, to director, Roger Vadim, politician, Tom Haydn, and CNN mogul, Ted Turner. Her split with Turner, in 2001, was said to have been connected to her conversion to Christianity, a suggestion she has always denied.

Meanwhile, she continues to live her life as she believes she should, and says that it gets easier as you age. “You get a little wiser as you get older,” she said recently. “You’ve been there, done that. You know it’s not going to kill you. You’ve survived it before. You tend to make lemonade out of lemons, instead of mountains out of mole hills.” And fitness DVDs for oldies — motivated by her passion for lifelong good health, because it’s unlikely she needs the money.

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