Farewell to the notorious Sue Lyon (10 July 1946 – 26 December 2019) – most infamous for playing the nymphette titular character in Stanley Kubrick’s 1962 film adaptation of the troubling Vladimir Nabokov novel Lolita.
The casting of unknown starlet Lyon was considered problematic (the role was offered to Tuesday Weld first), partly because Lolita was meant to be 12-years old and Lyon – a poised and sophisticated 14-year old during filming – was obviously older. (Although to be fair, there was no way the Motion Production Code in place at the time would have permitted an actual 12-year old playing the part).
Lyon continued to act post-Lolita (her final acting credit was in 1980. I know I saw her in the 1964 adaptation of Tennessee Williams’ Night of The Iguana years ago) but never again with comparable impact. (You could argue that was also true of Lyon’s spiritual precursor – Carroll Baker in Babydoll). Eventually she drifted into obscurity. And Lyon’s personal life sounds insane, encompassing near-fatal car crashes, rumoured mental health problems and five stormy marriages (including one to a convicted felon, then in prison for second-degree murder and robbery!).
The enigmatic Lyon withdrew into complete seclusion in later years and was reportedly estranged from her children. In one of the few relatively recent photos of her to surface, she looks totally unrecognizable and almost Morticia Addams-like. (Lyon's contemporary Tuesday Weld, too, has become a recluse and apparently now struggles with mental health issues).
The Lolita persona Lyon created in the early 60s still haunts popular culture: when Lana Del Rey first appeared in 2010, she made stylish references to Lyon’s heart-shaped sunglasses and lollipops in her early publicity shots. Rest in peace, Sue Lyon.
/ All photos of Lyon from a photo session by Bert Stern. Below: Lana Del Rey paying homage in 2010 /