Monday, February 21, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Teen film star Sandra Dee dies at 62

LOS ANGELES — Actress Sandra Dee, the blond beauty who attracted a large teen audience in the 1960s with films such as "Gidget" and "Tammy and the Doctor" and had a headlined marriage to pop singer Bobby Darin, died yesterday. She was 62.

Ms. Dee died at 5:57 a.m. at the Los Robles Hospital & Medical Center in Thousand Oaks, said Cynthia Mead, nursing supervisor.

She died of complications from kidney disease after nearly two weeks in the hospital, said Steve Blauner, a longtime family friend. Blauner said Ms. Dee had been on dialysis for about four years.

"She didn't have a bad bone in her body," he said. "When she was a big star in the pictures and a Top 5 at the box office, she treated the grip the exact same way she treated the head of the studio. She meant it. She wasn't phony."

The family expected to hold private funeral services.

At Universal Studios, Ms. Dee was cast mostly in teen movies such as "The Reluctant Debutante," "The Restless Years," "Tammy Tell Me True" and "Take Her She's Mine."

Occasionally, she was able to do secondary roles in other films, such as "Imitation of Life," "A Portrait In Black" and "Romanoff and Juliet."

She also co-starred with another young, blond heartthrob, Troy Donahue, in "A Summer Place."

Ms. Dee was born Alexandra Zuck on April 23, 1942, in Bayonne, N.J. She decided on an acting career at age 5 and by 12 had become one of the country's top models and cover girls.

At the height of her fame, Ms. 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 historian Leonard Maltin once said of her.

In 1960, after a one-month courtship, Ms. Dee married Darin in Elizabeth, N.J. A son, Dodd Mitchell, was born to the couple the following year.

In 1965, with her divorce from Darin dampening her teen appeal, Ms. Dee was dropped by Universal.

"I thought they were my friends," she said in an interview that year with The Associated Press, referring to her former bosses. "But I found out on the last picture ('Man Could Get Killed') that I was simply a piece of property to them. I begged them not to make me do the picture, but they insisted."

Ms. Dee made an independent film, "Rosie!" (1968), starring with Rosalind Russell, but her movie career dwindled after that.

Her name was resuscitated in 1978 with the film "Grease," which featured the song "Look At Me, I'm Sandra Dee" mocking her squeaky-clean image. But Ms. Dee didn't mind, Blauner said.

"She always had a big laugh about it. She had a great sense of humor," he said.

Blauner said her favorite films were the ones she made with Darin. Despite their divorce, Darin remained the love of her life, Blauner said.

In a March 1991 interview with People magazine, Ms. Dee said she was sexually abused as a child by her stepfather and pushed into stardom by her mother. Ms. Dee, who turned to pills and alcohol, said she hit bottom after her mother died in 1988.

"I couldn't function," she told People, adding that she began drinking more than a quart of scotch a day as her weight fell to 80 pounds. She said she stayed home almost constantly for three years.

Ms. Dee credited her son with helping her turn her life around. She began seeing a therapist regularly and hoped to land a job on a TV series.

While the real-life Sandra Dee, mostly out of the public eye, battled her private demons, the archetypal "Sandra Dee" lived on as the perfect prom date, the sweet and virginal throwback to a more wholesome era.

"In the '50s, you know, it was the blond sorority queens and cheerleaders, it was the era of Debbie Reynolds, Doris Day and Sandra Dee," iconoclastic feminist scholar and writer Camille Paglia noted in a 1991 Washington Post interview. "... And now, the cover of People magazine, Sandra Dee comes out of hiding 20 years later to reveal she was abused by her stepfather, she was a drug addict, she was anorexic. This is so unbelievable, because Sandra Dee to us was like this model of what we should be."

Ms. Dee's marriage to Darin, who died at age 37 in 1973, has been in the spotlight recently thanks to "Beyond the Sea," Kevin Spacey's movie paean to the singer and teen idol. In that movie, Kate Bosworth plays Sandra Dee.

Spacey, who played Darin in the film, has said Ms. Dee approved of the movie. "She called me ... and said she loved it," he said last year.

Ms. Dee's survivors include her son, Dodd Darin of Malibu, Calif., and two grandchildren.

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company


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