Actor who starred in the controversial 1962 adaptation of Nabokov’s novel as a 14-year-old never matched its impact in her subsequent career
Sue Lyon in Lolita, released in 1962. Photograph: Snap/REX/Shutterstock
Sue Lyon, who at age 14 played the title character in the 1962 film adaptation of Vladimir Nabokov’s controversial novel Lolita, has died at age 73.
Longtime friend Phil Syracopoulos told The New York Times she died on Thursday in Los Angeles. He gave no cause of death.
Director Stanley Kubrick reportedly selected the young and inexperienced Lyon to play Lolita – a 12-year-old in Nabokov’s book who enters into a relationship with a middle-aged literature professor – from among 800 aspirants. After her casting, Nabokov described Lyon as the “perfect nymphet”.
The older man obsessed with the girl he calls “Lolita” was played by English actor James Mason, who was 53 when the film was shot. Lyon’s performance won her a 1963 Golden Globe as most promising female newcomer.
Kubrick later said his battles with motion picture censors – who insisted he tone down the movie’s sexual underpinnings and huge age difference – were so fierce that he would not have made the film had he known.
Lyon was 15 when the movie premiered – too young to be allowed into the theatre to watch it. She was famously photographed sipping a drink at a nearby soda fountain during the premiere. The film’s iconic poster shows Lyon, looking up seductively over heart-shaped sunglasses and licking a red lollipop, under the legend: “How did they ever make a movie of LOLITA?”
Lyon went on to compile several other screen and television credits, including a role in John Huston’s The Night of the Iguana in which she played a young woman stuck in a small Mexican town who tries to seduce a disgraced Episcopal priest played by Richard Burton, and John Ford’s final feature film 7 Women, which was released in 1966. But she never again achieved the fame or notoriety that Lolita brought her. Lyon’s last acting role was in 1980 horror film Alligator, in which she played a reporter.
She was married five times; she blamed her brief marriage to convicted murderer Gary “Cotton” Adamson for severely damaging her career. Lyon is survived by a daughter, Nona.