Meryl Streep, Sally Field, Sandra Bullock, Lily Tomlin and Cameron Diaz were among the actresses saluting the 76-year-old Oscar winner, who accepted AFI's 42nd Life Achievement Award Thursday at Hollywood's Dolby Theatre.
Guests at the private ceremony – which is set to air as a special on TNT June 14 – included Chelsea Handler, Melanie Griffith, Felicity Huffman, Marcia Gay Harden, Rosario Dawson, activist Eve Ensler and Disney president Anne Sweeney.
Tomlin described Fonda as "an evolutionary agent for our species. She is a role model for the American modern woman," immediately correcting herself to broaden the scope to all women.
Celebrants lauded Fonda for her political activism and dedication to gender equality, which she translated to the screen in such films as 1978's Coming Home, 1979's The China Syndrome and 1980's 9 to 5.
Wanda Sykes, who wore a Barbarella costume and was carried onstage by a man dressed as a winged angel, called Fonda "my hero."
Diaz cited her as "a beautiful example of navigating a career in Hollywood." Field admitted she's been "trying like crazy" to follow in Fonda's footsteps.
Bullock told Fonda, "you live the life so many of us dream of." Streep, who said she still does Fonda's workout videos, described her as "a big sister [who] walked me into moviemaking."
Fonda's The Newsroom costar Jeff Daniels feted her with his guitar, singing a song with the refrain, "abs, buns and thighs."
Peter Fonda, who wore sunglasses perhaps to hide his emotions, choked up as he said, "Nobody has dreamed bigger and nobody has worked harder than my sister, Jane."
The honoree herself got misty eyed when her son, Troy Garity, spoke from the stage. "In film, in fitness, in politics, in family, Mom, you have succeeded," he said. The evening also included clips from Fonda's films and interviews with the actress.
Michael Douglas presented Fonda with her award, and she said she was "so happy to add another woman's name to the list." Previous recipients of AFI's highest honor include Barbra Streisand, Morgan Freeman, Mel Brooks, Bette Davis and Fonda's father, Henry Fonda.
A resplendent Jane Fonda, who thanked Vera Wang for her custom-made black and white gown, said that as she reflects on her career and the many creative geniuses she worked with, she wishes she would have asked more questions.
"Stay curious," she said. "Stay interested. It's much more important to be interested than interesting."