By Marie DeFreitas
Actress Sue Lyon, best known for her role in Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Lolita’, is dead at 73.
According to The New York Times, Lyon’s longtime friend Phil Syracopoulos said her health had been declining for some time. He confirmed her passing, but no exact cause of death was released. She died in Los Angeles.
When Lyon was just fourteen when she was chosen for the role of Lolita over 800 other girls. Prior to this, she only had experience with small roles on television shows. The 1962 movie, directed by Stanley Kubrick, is based on Vladimir’s Nabokov’s novel from 1955. The novel tells the story of a middle-aged college professor Humbert Humbert, (James Mason), who develops an inappropriate obsession with his 12-year old stepdaughter. Conflicted the scandalous plot and elegant prose, Lolita divided critics everywhere.
Lyon’s performance as Dolores Haze (‘Lolita’) won her a Golden Globe as the most promising newcomer-female in 1963.
“She’s a one-in-a-million find,” Kubrick said of Lyon at the time. He first saw the actress during her appearance on The Loretta Young Show. Quoting the character Humbert Humbert in the novel, Nabokov described Lyon as “the perfect nymphet,” according to Rolling Stone.
Following Lolita, Lyon later starred in several others films and tv shows. Most notably, the 1964 feature The Night Of the Iguana. Here she co-starred with Richard Burton, Ava Gardner and and Deborah Kerr. Some of her other films included 7 Women, Tony Rome, Evel Knievel and a horror movie titled Alligator.
Although Lyon saw success with these films, her career took a turn after her marriage to Cotton Adamson in 1973. Adamson was incarcerated on second-degree murder charges and their marriage only lasted one year. “Getting a divorce wasn’t something I wanted to do – it was something Hollywood wanted me to do,” the actress admitted — Lyon’s career never recovered, according to Rolling Stone. Lyon saw several other failed marriages after this.
The iconic movie poster for Lolita, pictures Lyon as Dolores wearing heart shaped shades and eating a red lollipop. The poster, a Bert Stern photograph, never appeared in the movie at all, but still remained the iconic image associated with the film.
Lolita, both novel and movies (a remake starring Dominique Swain and Jeremy Irons came out in 1997), still divided critics of the time. Although the 1962 film toned down some of the scandalous aspects of the book, Motion Picture Production Code was strict, and even changed other aspects like Lolita’s age to 15 years old. Lyon was not yet 16 when the movie premiered, so she wasn’t allowed to attend.
Many interviews show Lyon saying she had a good time time making the film. She said Mason and other co-stars were very easy going and made her feel comfortable. However, when the 1997 remake of Lolita premiered, Lyon seemed to regret her decision to be cast in the film. According to Rolling Stone, in rare statement after the 1997 Loltia remake had been released, Lyon told Reuters “I am appalled they should revive the film that caused my destruction as a person.”