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Stella Stevens, ‘The Nutty Professor’ actor, dies at 84 after Alzheimer’s battle

A blond woman wearing a black sleeveless dress stands in front of a bar.
Stella Stevens appears at a Stern’s department store in New York on Jan. 8, 1968.
(Jack Kanthal / Associated Press)
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Stella Stevens, the 1960s Hollywood starlet known for starring in “The Nutty Professor” with Jerry Lewis and opposite Elvis Presley in “Girls! Girls! Girls!,” has died. She was 84.

The “Poseidon Adventure” actor died Friday in Los Angeles after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease.

Stevens’ son, actor-producer-director Andrew Stevens, confirmed his mother’s death and told The Times that Stevens had been in hospice “for quite some time with stage seven Alzheimer’s.”

Andrew Stevens was her only child. She is also survived by three grandchildren, Amelia and Aubrey Stevens, both 20, and Samuel Stevens, 25.

“Alzheimer’s is an insidious disease which affected not only my mother, but my grandmother and great aunt,” Stevens told The Times on Friday via email. “Hopefully my mother’s work will be remembered for her collaborations with some of the entertainment industry’s biggest icons.”

Stella Stevens and Bob Kulick have sold their longtime home in Beverly Crest for $1.25 million.

March 16, 2015

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Stevens got her first taste of the spotlight when she was cast in a theatrical production of “Bus Stop” while attending Memphis State University. She played Cherie, the character Marilyn Monroe portrayed in the 1956 movie of the same name. A local journalist took notice and gave her a rave review in the newspaper.

She soon left her job at Memphis’ largest department store, Goldsmith’s, and with stars in her eyes arrived in California where she signed with 20th Century Fox.

“The head of publicity at Paramount basically made me a worldwide sex symbol,” Stevens told Film Talk in 2017. “He had me doing a lot of layouts with photographers — indoors, outdoors, here and there — being seen in different places, going to the best restaurants, meeting with wonderful actors and directors … those were the golden years of Hollywood. It was a very exciting time.”

A woman and a man in evening attire sit a table
Stella Stevens, left, and Robert Vaughn attend a Hollywood event in 1960.
(Uncredited / Associated Press)

The former Playboy centerfold always thought of herself as more of a comedian than a sex symbol, though. In 1992, she sat down with cable-TV host Skip E. Lowe to discuss her career. “I haven’t always played sexy roles,” she said. “I have played nuns, and I have played mother superiors, where sex may have been there, but it was covered with a habit, you see.

“I play NBC’s first madam [in ‘Flamingo Road’]. I graduated from hooker to madam. Where else can you go? I played a lot of hookers . . . I am basically a comedian, I always have been, and so the sex has always been comedy sex.”

Over the course of her career she starred in films opposite Lewis, Presley and Dean Martin. In January 1960, she was Playmate of the Month and went on to win a Golden Globe Award for new star of the year the same year. She had more than 140 acting credits and also worked as a film producer, director, and writer.

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