Jane Fonda was raised with all that celebrity life had to offer — both its benefits and drawbacks. While Henry Fonda and Frances Ford Seymour, her parents, were widely admired, Jane was unaware of certain details such as their troubled relationship and her mother’s suicide.
Despite all this attention on her family, there were certain things young Jane was unaware of: her parents’ difficulties together and the tragedy of her mother’s passing away.
At the age of 11, Jane’s parents divorced. Frances, who had been diagnosed with depression, ended up in a mental institution shortly after; all she knew was that her mother was “away”.
One day, Frances Ford Seymour returned to the house briefly with a nurse. Jane recounted this event on “Oprah’s Master Class,” as she and Peter were playing cards upstairs at the time. When Jane was called downstairs to see her mother, however, she refused and would never see her again.
Jane later discovered that Frances had taken a razor from home and cut her own throat during a mental institution stay on her 42nd birthday.
Though Frances Ford Seymour committed suicide, Jane was told she’d died of a heart attack; however, Jane soon discovered the truth by reading a magazine article.
“One year after my mother died, I was sitting in study hall when a girlfriend passed me a movie magazine that revealed she had committed suicide,” Jane relates in the above video.
Jane recalls with sadness how this knowledge had caused great heartache for the young teen. “Had I gone downstairs and seen her that day she came home,” Jane laments, “maybe she wouldn’t have taken her own life – but that was my fault.”
Jane carried this guilt with her for many years. However, as an adult, she gained more insight into her mother’s struggles. “When the records from the institution where my mother committed suicide arrived,” Jane recalled, “it was such a big packet – I started shaking! When it arrived in my bed that night – so cold!” But then she began reading it – with joy!
Within the sea of medical reports lay a poignant discovery. Pages upon pages had been typed with handwritten notes in the margins; within these pages lay another shocking truth.
Jane recalls with emotion “one of the most significant lessons I learned is that [my mother] had been sexually abused.” With tears in her eyes, Jane continues to describe how everything fell into place.”
With this new insight, Jane felt her tough exterior soften. “I wanted to take her in my arms and apologize,” she recalls, adding with understanding: “Now I understand why things had been the way they had been.”
Jane was able to express compassion and sympathy for her mother while also forgiving herself for the suicide she experienced years earlier.
Jane admits with a soft voice, “I was able to forgive myself.” It had nothing to do with me.”
On Sunday, October 25, “Oprah’s Master Class” returns for its fifth season at 8 p.m. ET with guests including Ellen DeGeneres, Robert Duvall, Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson, Smokey Robinson, Jeff Bridges, James Taylor and Patti LaBelle as the upcoming masters.