Sandra Dee, the blonde teen queen who starred in Gidget and was once married to singer Bobby Darin, died Sunday at age 62.
She passed away at 5:57 a.m. at the Los Robles Hospital & Medical Center in Thousand Oaks, Calif., nursing supervisor Cynthia Mead told the Associated Press. The actress died of complications from kidney disease, said Steve Blauner, a family friend who represents Darin’s estate. She had been in the hospital for nearly two weeks and had been on dialysis for four years.
“She didn’t have a bad bone in her body,” Blauner told the AP. “When she was a big star in the pictures and a top five 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.”
Dee, born Alexandra Zuck, started her career as a teenager when she starred in Until They Sail in 1957 and worked consistently through the late 1960s. Signed to Universal Studios, the former model was cast mostly in teen movies such as The Reluctant Debutante, The Restless Years, and Tammy Tell Me True.
In 1960, after a one-month courtship with Bobby Darin, Dee, who was a native of New Jersey, married the “Mack the Knife” singer in Elizabeth, N.J. The following year, the couple had a son, Dodd Mitchell.
Though Dee was forever known as a cultural icon for her all-American sweetness and beauty, her mainstream success didn’t last long. By 1965 she was divorced from Darin, which hampered her innocent teen appeal – and she was dropped by Universal.
“I thought they were my friends,” Dee said in an interview with the AP at the time. “But I found out on the last picture (A Man Could Get Killed) that I was simply a piece of property to them.”
Dee’s name was resuscitated in 1978 when the film Grease became a huge hit, featuring the song “Look At Me, I’m Sandra Dee.” The song, sung by Stockard Channing in the film, mocked Dee’s good-girl image, but she didn’t mind, Blauner said. “She always had a big laugh about it,” he said.
Despite her stardom, Dee did not have an easy life. In an interview with PEOPLE in 1991, she said she was molested as a child by her stepfather. Dee, who abused pills and alcohol, said she reached her lowest point after her mother died in 1988.
“I couldn’t function,” she told PEOPLE, adding that she drank more than a quart of scotch a day and at one point weighed only 80 pounds. Dee credited her son with helping her get her life back on track.
Last year Dee was once again in the spotlight when Beyond the Sea, a biopic about Darin starring Kevin Spacey, hit the big screen. Blue Crush star Kate Bosworth portrayed Dee in film.
Spacey, who consulted with Dee about making the movie, said the actress adored it. “She called me … and said she loved it,” he said last year.
The family is expected to hold private funeral services.