August 09, 2004 03:00 PM

Fay Wray, best known for playing opposite the tallest, darkest leading man in Hollywood in the 1933 classic King Kong, died in her Manhattan apartment on Sunday. She was 96.

Although the blonde beauty made more than 90 other movies – none approaching the popularity of Kong – she was forever linked as the beauty that killed the beast in the giant ape’s famous fall from the top of the Empire State Building.

When Wray published her autobiography in 1989, she called it On the Other Hand, in reference to her scenes in Kong’s hand.

Born in Alberta, Canada, Wray moved to Hollywood as a child, and entered silent pictures – Westerns, mostly – at the age of 16.

She was married three times; first, from 1928-39, to writer-director John Monk Saunders, who was the father of a daughter, Susan. That marriage ended in divorce after, she said, he had drugged her, sold their house and disappeared (temporarily) with their child.

Wray was then widowed twice, first after her marriage to famed screenwriter Robert Riskin (they wed in 1942 and had a son and a daughter; he died in 1955), and then after her 1970-91 marriage to Los Angeles doctor Sanford Rothenberg.

She effectively retired from the screen after marrying Riskin, who is best remembered for writing Frank Capra’s movies, including the Oscar-winning It Happened One Night. Wray is survived by her three children.

Meanwhile, the Empire State Building – which King Kong scaled with Wray in his hands – will dim its lights for 15 minutes on Tuesday in honor of the actress.

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