Actress Stella Stevens, who enjoyed a 50+ year career in motion pictures (including Jerry Lewis’ The Nutty Professor and the disaster film The Poseidon Adventure) and television, has died at age 84 after an extended battle with Alzheimer’s disease.
She was born Estelle Eggleston on October 1, 1938 in Yazoo City, Mississippi. She made her film debut in 1959’s Say One for Me, a musical starring Bing Crosby, winning the Golden Globe that year in the category of New Star of the Year — Actress.
Between 1959 and 2010, she appeared in 60 movies, including Elvis Presley’s Girls! Girls! Girls! (1962), alongside Dean Martin in the Matt Helm spy spoof The Silencers (1966), the horror comedy Arnold (1973), Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold (1975), alongside Burt Reynolds and Ryan O’Neal in Nickelodeon (1976), Eye of the Stranger (1993), Molly & Gina (1994), The Long Ride Home (2003) and her final role, Megaconda (2010).
Stevens made her television debut in 1960, appearing on Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Johnny Ringo, Hawaiian Eye, Bonanza, Riverboat and General Electric Theater. Dozens of guest appearances and TV movies would feature the actress, culminating in a 2006 episode of Twenty Good Years.
She was Playboy‘s Playmate of the Month in January 1960, and also appeared in 1965 and 1968 pictorials, and was number 27 in the magazine’s list of 100 Sexiest Stars of the 20th Century.
Of one of her more famous roles — one of the initial survivors of The Poseidon Adventure — she stated that they all knew they were working on something special. “There was no question about it,” she said. “And, when I got the script and saw that I died six pages before the end, I remember saying to my agent, ‘The fat lady gets a nomination, whomever they get to do it.’ [But] as agonizing as it was, it was a lot of fun. It was a little scary going underwater, but we had men there in the tank with us. Ronald Neame was our director, and he was a wonderful, supportive, inventive, clever, sweet dear man. No matter how hard the work was, we gave him our all and more. There was never enough we could do for him.”
Stevens was married to Noble Herman Stephens from 1954 to 1957, the two of them parenting a son, Andrew Stevens (who would go on to be an actor as well). Her partner (beginning in 1983) was guitarist and record producer Bob Kulick, who, after she was moved into a long-term Alzheimer’s care facility in Los Angles, visited her frequently until his death in May of 2020.