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Sue Lyon, actress who portrayed Lolita in scandalous 1962 movie, dies at 73

Sue Lyon in 1964.
Sue Lyon in 1964. (Kent Gavin/Getty Images)

Sue Lyon, the actress who was forever tied to her teenage portrayal of the title role in 1962’s “Lolita,” died Dec. 26 in Los Angeles. She was 73.

The news was first reported by the New York Times, and no cause of death was immediately given. She was 73.

“How did they ever make a movie of ‘Lolita,’ ” asked the ads for the film, director Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov’s controversial novel about a man in his 40s who becomes obsessed with a young girl. James Mason, Peter Sellers and Shelley Winters also starred in the film.

“From the first, she was interesting to watch,” Kubrick was quoted as saying of Ms. Lyon in Look magazine. “Even in the way she walked in for her interview, casually sat down, walked out. She was cool and non-giggly. She was enigmatic without being dull. She could keep people guessing about how much Lolita knew about life.”

Suellyn Lyon was born July 10, 1946, in Davenport, Iowa. She was just 14 and had worked as a model, with only a few minor screen credits, when she was given the part in “Lolita,” reportedly beating out more than 800 other young actresses. She won a Golden Globe Award for most promising female newcomer for her performance.

In 1964, Hollywood columnist Hedda Hopper declared, “Sue Lyon is the arch prototype of an instant star.”

Ms. Lyon went on to appear in John Huston’s 1964 adaptation of Tennessee Williams’s “The Night of the Iguana” and John Ford’s 1966 drama “7 Women.” She continued to act steadily throughout the 1960s and 1970s in both film and television. Her last screen credit was in “Alligator” in 1980.

She worked as a cocktail waitress in the 1970s and largely disappeared from public view in the 1980s.

Ms. Lyon was married five times, to Hampton Fancher (a screenwriter on “Blade Runner”), Roland Harrison, Cotton Adamson, Edward Weathers and Richard Rudman.

Adamson was serving a prison sentence for second-degree murder and robbery in Colorado at the time of their marriage in 1973. When they divorced a year later, Ms. Lyon was quoted as saying, “I’ve been told by people in the movie business, specifically producers and film distributors, that I can’t get a job because I’m married to Cotton. Therefore, right now we can’t be married.”

She had a daughter from her marriage to Harrison.

In a 1967 interview with the Los Angeles Times promoting the film “Tony Rome,” starring Frank Sinatra, the 20-year-old Ms. Lyon said, “To be pretty and to stay pretty are two different things. You can’t take anything for granted, and it’s foolish to think you can. You have to think ahead of how to build health and happiness. You have to learn to avoid what is going to hurt you or someone else.”

— Los Angeles Times

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