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Sue Lyon, teenage star of Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Lolita,’ is dead at 73

Sue Lyon starred in Stanley Kubrick’s “Lolita.”
Sue Lyon starred in Stanley Kubrick’s “Lolita.”
(Joe Pearce)

Sue Lyon, the actress who was forever tied to her teenage portrayal of the title role in 1962’s “Lolita,” died Thursday in Los Angeles. 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. The movie was director Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov’s controversial novel about a man in his 40s who became 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 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.”

Born July 10, 1946, in Davenport, Iowa, Lyon was just 14 years old and had had only a few minor screen credits when, it is said, she beat out more than 800 other young women for the part in “Lolita.” For her performance, Lyon went on to win a Golden Globe award for most promising female newcomer.

Stanley Kubrick and Sue Lyon on the set of the movie “Lolita.”
Stanley Kubrick and Sue Lyon on the set of the movie “Lolita.”
(LACMA / Warner Bros.)
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In 1964, writing in the Los Angeles Times, Hedda Hopper declared, “Sue Lyon is the arch prototype of an instant star.”

Lyon would go on to appear in John Huston’s 1964 adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ “The Night of the Iguana” and John Ford’s 1966 drama “7 Women.” She continued to act steadily throughout the 1960s and ’70s in both film and television. Her last screen credit was in 1980’s “Alligator.”

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

Adamson was a convict for second degree murder and robbery in Colorado at the time of their marriage in 1973. When they divorced only a year later, 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.”

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Lyon had a daughter, Nona, from her marriage to Harrison.

Sue Lyon as “Lolita,” 1960.
Sue Lyon as “Lolita,” 1960.
(Bert Stern courtesy of Staley-Wise Gallery New York)

She receded from acting and turned away from public life in her later years.

In a 1967 interview with The Times promoting the Frank Sinatra-starring movie “Tony Rome,” Lyon, then all of 20 years old, 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.”


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