Stella Stevens, the beloved 1960s star who dazzled on screen in The Nutty Professor and Too Late Blues, died Friday, EW can confirm. She was 84.
The actress and bombshell, who had been living in hospice care, died after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease, her son Andrew Stevens confirmed. Rock guitarist Bruce Kulick, brother of Stevens' late husband, Bob Kulick, also honored Stevens in a statement on social media.
"Legendary actress Stella Stevens, my brother's longtime partner, passed away this morning from a long illness. She is finally reunited with Bob today," Kulick wrote on Twitter. "She starred in many movies I love. It was very special for my family and I to know her personally. RIP Stella, 1938-2023."
Legendary actress Stella Stevens, my brother's longtime partner, passed away this morning from a long illness. She is finally reunited with Bob today. She starred in many movies I love. It was very special for my family and I to know her personally. RIP Stella, 1938-2023. pic.twitter.com/xO5gPSXIJf
— Bruce Kulick (@brucekulick) February 17, 2023
Born Estelle Eggleston, Stevens began her film career as a chorus girl in the 1959 film Say One for Me, a role which won her the Most Promising Female Newcomer award — alongside Tuesday Weld, Angie Dickinson, and Janet Munro — at the 17th Annual Golden Globes in 1960. Stevens garnered even more attention that year starring as Playboy's January Playmate of the Month and was later voted No. 27 of the 100 Sexiest Stars of the 20th Century by the outlet, according to her website.
Balancing her acting prowess with her sex-symbol status, Stevens went on to star in a string of films that featured her sharing the screen with other legends, including Elvis Presley in the 1962 musical Girls! Girls! Girls!, Jerry Lewis in 1963's The Nutty Professor, and Dean Martin in 1966's The Silencers. She famously recounted her "not-so-good" experience filming Girls! Girls! Girls! in a 2004 interview with Bright Lights Film.
"I was sent the script by Paramount to read. And I thought, 'Hm, he's from Memphis, and so am I. That's a good idea to put us together.' So I read the script. I wound up throwing it across the room! I thought, 'What a piece of s---. I'm not going to be in this,'" Stevens recalled. "I went back to Paramount and said, 'I'm sorry, but I'm not going to be in this.' And they said, 'Young lady, you are going to do this picture or be put on suspension, and you will not be able to work here or anywhere else — you will not be able to make any money.'"
Silver Screen Collection/Getty Stella Stevens
She added, "I was old enough to fight the studio and say, 'You're not going to put me in this piece of junk, and make me the girl that Elvis Presley dumps for another girl. That is not what I had in mind for my career.'"
In the end, Stevens accepted the role under the condition that she would star opposite Montgomery Clift — who was later replaced by Bobby Darin — in John Cassavetes' 1961 film Too Late Blues, in which she played an aspiring singer.
Her remarkable career in film and television spans over 50 years and includes credits in 1972's The Poseidon Adventure, 1975's Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold, 1980's Make Me an Offer, 2005's Pop Star, and on episodes of Wonder Woman; The Love Boat; Fantasy Island; Night Court; Murder, She Wrote; Highlander; and more. Stevens also directed two films: The American Heroine and The Ranch, the latter of which starred her son, Andrew.
Stevens is survived by Andrew and her three grandchildren: Amelia, Aubrey, and Samuel. Her website notes that director Henry Hathaway once said Stevens "was born to be in movies… and to drive men crazy!"