Sandra Dee, the perky blonde epitome of teenage wholesomeness in films of the late 1950s and ’60s, died Sunday from complications of kidney disease. She was 62.
Dee was born Alexandra Zuck in Bayonne, N.J., on April 23, 1942. (Some sources say she was born in 1944.) She began modeling at age 12 and made her film debut in 1957 in “Until the Sail.”
She signed with Universal in 1958, starring in “The Reluctant Debutante.” U kept her busy as she proved to be equally adept at romantic comedy and melodrama. In 1959 alone she made “A Summer Place,” “Gidget” and “Imitation of Life,” among other films.
In 1960 Dee starred in “Come September” opposite a popular singer making his film debut. After a whirlwind courtship, the 16-year-old Dee married Bobby Darin, giving birth to their son Dodd the following year. Darin’s romance and marriage to Dee were chronicled recently in the film “Beyond the Sea,” starring Kevin Spacey as Darin and Kate Bosworth as Dee.
Dee and Darin went on to star in two other movies together, “If a Man Answers” (1962) and “Take Her, She’s Mine” (1965). In between, Dee took over the role of another spunky teen in “Tammy, Tell Me True” (1961) and “Tammy and the Doctor” (1963).
Dee and Darin divorced in 1967. Darin died in 1973 following open heart surgery.
At the height of her fame, Dee was arguably the biggest female teen idol of her time. “She was Gidget, and she was Tammy, and for a time she was young America’s ideal,” film critic Leonard Maltin once said of her.
In 1965, with her divorce from Darin dampening her teen appeal, Dee was dropped by Universal. She had difficulty transitioning to adult roles, appearing in small parts on TV series. Her last starring role was in low-budget film “The Dunwich Horror” (1970).
Dee’s name resurfaced in 1978 with the film “Grease” in the song “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee,” which mocks her squeaky-clean image.
In a March 1991 interview with People magazine, Dee said she was sexually abused as a child by her stepfather and pushed into stardom by her mother. Dee, who turned to pills and alcohol, said she hit bottom after her mother died in 1988.
Her last film credit was for the 1983 movie “Lost.”
Dee credited her son with helping her turn her life around.
In addition to her son, Dee is survived by two granddaughters.
The family expected to hold private funeral services.