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Fonda Memoir Tells 'Life So Far'

After a 15-year absence from movies, one of the most celebrated actresses of our time will soon be back on the big screen. Jane Fonda stars in a new comedy as Jennifer Lopez's mother-in-law. Monster-in-Law opens in U.S. theaters on May 13.

At 67, Jane Fonda says this is the happiest time of her life. She looks back on that life in a new memoir. My Life So Far takes readers on the journey of a woman who became as adept at reinventing herself as she was at creating movie characters. In her new book, Jane Fonda comes to terms with all of her real-life roles and tries to atone for a youthful political gaffe that many military veterans still find impossible to forgive.

Jane Fonda -- actress, activist, fitness guru, philanthropist and author, was born the daughter of Hollywood legend Henry Fonda and New York socialite Frances Seymour. She had all the accoutrements of a privileged childhood, yet her home life was less than nourishing. She describes her father as aloof and difficult to please and her mother as remote and so unstable she took her own life when Jane was just 12 years old. Ms. Fonda says the trauma of that loss manifested itself in her lifelong quest to be perfect.

"And of course, nobody's perfect, but kids don't know that and so you grow up thinking you're not good enough," she says. "You think that if you don't have a boyfriend, then later a husband, that you don't exist, that you're not validated. And so, boy, you'll do anything."

Jane Fonda starved herself to stay thin and tried to define herself by the expectations of her romantic relationships. Not surprisingly she says, none of her marriages lasted. She was married and divorced, 3 times -- to French film director Roger Vadim; to political activist and former state senator Tom Hayden; and to media mogul Ted Turner. Still, she says, she has no regrets. "All of the men in my life were wonderful and I learned a lot from them."

However, in the last 4 decades Jane Fonda's professional life has seen some stunning successes. One of the most sought-after young film actresses of the 1960s, she gained acclaim for such movie hits as the comedy Cat Ballou, Neil Simon's Barefoot in the Park and the cult science fiction fantasy, Barbarella. She earned her first Academy award nomination in 1968 for the depression-era drama, They Shoot Horses Don't They; and won her first Oscar for her portrayal of a call girl in Klute in 1971.

Her second Oscar came 7 years later for Coming Home, the story of a paraplegic Vietnam veteran. She says her inspiration to produce and star in the film grew out of her outspoken opposition to America's military involvement in Vietnam.

It was on an anti-war trip to North Vietnam that Ms. Fonda says she allowed herself to be photographed posing on a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun -- the same kind used to shoot down American flyers. The incident earned Ms. Fonda the derisive nickname, "Hanoi Jane," and to this day, it fuels the anger of many Vietnam veterans and U. S. servicemen. She admits it was "a complete lapse of judgment."

Jane Fonda says she never intended for the photograph to be taken, and she continues to publicly apologize for an incident she describes as her biggest regret. "And I'll go to my grave regretting it," she says. "That image betrayed everything that I had done the previous 2 years - working with soldiers, representing the G.I. movement, entertaining the troops. And I am very, very sorry to have done things that may have hurt or made the soldiers feel betrayed -- I'm sorry."

Jane Fonda continued her social activism through the 1980s, teamed with husband Tom Hayden. To help fund his non-profit political organization, The Campaign for Economic Democracy, she developed a workout video that inspired the fitness-conscious to feel the burn. Jane Fonda's Workout, earned the actress millions of dollars. It revolutionized the fitness industry, and remains the top-selling home video of all time.

Around this time Jane Fonda found a movie project that would give her an opportunity to work with her father, Henry Fonda. On Golden Pond was a story that closely resembled the actress's own difficult father-daughter relationship and won the elder Fonda his only Academy award shortly before his death in 1982.

Today, Jane Fonda lives in Atlanta, Georgia, her adopted home since her marriage to Ted Turner, in 1991. She has turned her passion to helping to prevent teenage pregnancy and in 1995 founded the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Pregnancy. Her new book, My Life So Far is currently Number 1 on the New York Times Best Seller List of non-fiction books.

She began writing the book 5 years ago when she says, "I realized that I had a story to tell. And that if I could be honest enough about it, that it would help people." The actress adds that it has helped her learn the value of being able to admit when she is wrong: "You can't blame. It can be better when you grow older if you're willing to admit mistakes and learn from them. Getting old can be really awful, but it depends on how you do it. And you have to start when you're still young and healthy to 'do old' right." But she also believes that "it is never too late to change," and hopes her book will inspire readers.