Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda have been friends for over 4 decades - here's a timeline of their friendship

Max Kalnitz
·9-min read
Lily Tomlin Jane Fonda
Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin together on "Jimmy Kimmel Live!" in 2020. Randy Holmes/ABC via Getty Images
  • Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin's four-decade friendship began on the set of "9 to 5" in 1980.

  • Fonda has said, "I have loved her since the moment I saw her."

  • Tomlin was arrested at a Fonda-led climate rally in 2019.

  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

Jane Fonda's and Lily Tomlin's relationship is the epitome of #friendshipgoals.

They have one of the longest-lasting female friendships in Hollywood and are known for being ferocious climate and equal rights activists.

Plus there's no denying their on-screen chemistry. From the first time they stepped in front of the camera together in the 1980 megahit "9 to 5" to their most recent project, Netflix's "Grace and Frankie," it's clear that Fonda and Tomlin excel when working together.

For no reason besides the fact that we absolutely adore these two empowering women, here's a timeline of Jane Fonda's and Lily Tomlin's friendship.

1977: Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin met backstage at a Los Angeles theater in 1977 - although Tomlin was a fan of Fonda's long before that.

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The two met backstage at one of Tomlin's shows. Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

In a 2017 interview with The Washington Post, Tomlin said she loved Fonda in the 1971 film "Klute."

"I've been a fan of hers since before I met her," Tomlin told the Post. "I had a 'Klute' hairdo when she did 'Klute.'"

They finally met when Fonda went to watch Tomlin's one-woman comedy show, "Appearing Nitely," at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles. Afterward, Fonda went backstage to meet Tomlin.

1980: Fonda and Tomlin co-starred in the movie "9 to 5" with Dolly Parton. "We laughed so much," Tomlin later recalled.

Jane Fonda Lily Tomlin Dolly Parton 1980 "9 to 5"
Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton. Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Fonda, who co-produced "9 to 5," told Stephen Colbert in 2017 that the original idea for the film was a much darker comedy. But after hearing Parton on the radio and seeing Tomlin's comedy show, she decided to take a more lighthearted approach.

"And what can I say, I was smitten, and I said, 'I don't want to make a movie about secretaries unless she's in it,'" Fonda told Colbert of Tomlin.

Fonda said it took a year to convince Tomlin and Parton to sign on to the project. By all accounts, it was worth it — "9 to 5" became an instant hit and Tomlin and Fonda forged what ended up being a lifelong friendship.

At a TED talk in 2015 with Fonda, Tomlin said, "We laughed so much; we found we had so much in common. Here [Jane] is, like Hollywood royalty; I'm like a tough kid from Detroit; [Dolly's] a Southern kid from a poor town in Tennessee. And we found that we were so in sync as women."

In her 2017 interview with the Washington Post, Tomlin added, "We've been friends ever since. We're friends because I just love her. I know Jane has my back whenever she can."

1986: Fonda and Tomlin were spotted together during a screening of the documentary about Tomlin's Broadway play, "The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe."

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Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin pose for a picture at the "Search for Signs" documentary in June 1986. Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Tomlin played 12 different characters in the Broadway play "The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe" and won a Tony Award for her performance in 1986. A documentary was made about the play the same year and a movie followed in 1991.

2000: Tomlin and Fonda were all smiles as they appeared side-by-side at the 20th anniversary of "9 to 5."

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Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda at the 20th-anniversary screening of "9 to 5." The LIFE Picture Collection via Getty Images

Tomlin and Fonda gathered with the cast of "9 to 5" to celebrate its 20th anniversary. The movie grossed $3.96 million during its opening weekend in 1980 and produced one of the most iconic soundtracks, Dolly Parton's "9 to 5."

2001: Tomlin cheered for Fonda when the Film Society of the Lincoln Center in New York City paid tribute to her.

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Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin sitting together during the Lincoln Center Gala Tribute to Fonda in May 2001. Diane L. Cohen/Liaison

The two friends have supported each other at special events, award ceremonies, and red carpet appearances over the decades.

2004: Fonda happily accompanied Tomlin to the Valley Community Clinic's Laughter is the Best Medicine Gala, which honored Tomlin.

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Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda, and Reba McEntire at the event. Barry King/WireImage

"I am fascinated by her," Fonda said of Tomlin during a 2019 appearance on Jimmy Kimmel's talk show. "She always says something really funny. I cannot believe the funny-bone that she has, and I have loved her since the moment I saw her."

2014: Fonda helped present Tomlin her Kennedy Center Honors.

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Jane Lynch, Reba McEntire, Jane Fonda, and Kate McKinnon at the 2014 Kennedy Center Honors. Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS via Getty Images

Fonda, Reba McEntire, Jane Lynch, and Kate McKinnon all hopped on stage during the 2014 Kennedy Center Honors to tell a few jokes, share some fond memories, and even sing in honor of their friend Lily Tomlin.

Fonda spoke of her longtime friendship with the comedian, saying she couldn't have made "9 to 5" without Tomlin and her "light touch."

2015: Season one of "Grace and Frankie" starring Fonda and Tomlin debuted on Netflix.

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Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin's hit show will end after its seventh season. Charley Gallay/Getty Images

"Grace and Frankie," Netflix's longest-running original series, explores the lives of Grace (Fonda) and Frankie (Tomlin) after their husbands fall in love with each other, leaving both of the women single. To help navigate their new lifestyles, the two women move in with each other and form a special bond that empowers them as the show progresses.

There have been six seasons of the hit show so far.

May 2015: The duo gave a hilarious TED Talk about the importance of female friendship.

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Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin together during a 2016 TED Talk. TED/YouTube

Along with host Pat Mitchell, Tomlin and Fonda discussed a number of topics including what makes longtime female friendships so important to a happy life, the difference between male and female friendships, feminism, and what they each look for in a good friend.

"I look for some who has a sense of fun, who's audacious, who's forthcoming, who has politics, who has even a small scrap of passion for the planet, someone who's decent, has a sense of justice, and who thinks I'm worthwhile," Tomlin said, as the audience laughed.

Fonda added, "I don't even know what I would do without my women friends. I mean it's, 'I have my friends, therefore I am.'"

November 2015: As she honored Fonda at the Vanguard Awards, Tomlin said, "She has integrated her commitment to social justice in every aspect of her life and we are all the better for it."

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Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda in 2015. Amanda Edwards/WireImage

In 2015, the LA LGBT Center honored Fonda during its 46th-anniversary Vanguard Awards gala. Of course, it tapped Tomlin to introduce Fonda and speak about her vigilance as an activist for climate change and equal rights.

"Jane's life as an activist has always been a part of work and the choices she makes as an artist," Tomlin said. "She has integrated her commitment to social justice in every aspect of her life and we are all the better for it."

2019: Fonda and Tomlin took on the internet's most-searched questions together.

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Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin in 2019. Presley Ann/Getty Images

Wired asked Fonda and Tomlin to answer some of the internet's most-searched questions about themselves and the results were, predictably, hilarious. While Fonda answered most of the questions about herself truthfully, Tomlin quipped back with some creative answers.

When asked what her full name is, for example, Tomlin replied, "Jane Fonda is my real name, I had to change it."

In response to "What is Lily Tomlin doing?" the comedian answered, "Working at Denny's, the night shift."

2019: Tomlin and Fonda starred in the documentary "Waging Change" about restaurant workers' fight for a fair wage.

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Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin in 2019. Tibrina Hobson/Getty Images

Abby Ginzberg's 2019 documentary "Waging Change" explores the female-driven campaign to increase the federal minimum wage from $2.13 an hour. In addition to other celebrities, Fonda and Tomlin appeared in the documentary to raise awareness about the challenges faced by restaurant workers trying to take care of themselves and their families while on minimum wage.

2019: Tomlin was arrested at Fonda's climate rally outside the US Capitol.

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Lily Tomlin smiles as she's escorted by police during Jane Fonda's climate rally in December 2019. EVA HAMBACH/AFP via Getty Images

In late 2019, Fonda moved to Washington, DC, "to be closer to the epicenter of the fight for our climate," USA Today reported. To raise awareness for the climate crisis, Fonda held a series of "Fire Drill Fridays" protests that called for the end of exploring new fossil fuels.

Tomlin joined Fonda during a protest outside the US Capitol on December 27, 2019, and was arrested for civil disobedience.

A few weeks later, the duo guest-hosted an episode of "Ellen" during which they joked about Tomlin getting locked up.

"Isn't it great that we're still having firsts?" Fonda asked Tomlin.

"Well, because of you, I got arrested for the first time," Tomlin replied, later adding: "I learned a lot in the slammer."

"You were in there for two hours," Fonda, who has been arrested five times, replied.

2020: Before the coronavirus pandemic forced Fonda's climate rallies online, she and Tomlin squeezed in one more demonstration in California.

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Tomlin and Fonda on stage at Greenpeace USA Brings Fire Drill Fridays To California at San Pedro City Hall on March 6, 2020. Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images

Tomlin helped Fonda bring her "Fire Drill Fridays" from Washington, DC, to California.

They wore matching red as they appeared outside San Pedro City Hall in Los Angeles.

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