Hollywood legend Fay Wray, best known for playing the shrieking damsel in distress in the 1933 original classic King Kong, died Sunday of natural causes, The Associated Press reports. She was 96. Wray apparently passed away quietly in her sleep at her Manhattan apartment, said Rick McKay, a friend and director of the 2003 documentary Broadway: The Golden Age, the last film she appeared in.
Wray had a long and satisfying career, in which she appeared with such stars as Ronald Colman, Gary Cooper and Spencer Tracy. Her other films included The Four Feathers, The Texan, One Sunday Afternoon and The Unholy Garden.
But she was forever destined to be linked with the rampaging giant gorilla in movie fans’ minds.
“I used to resent King Kong,” she once said in a 1963 interview. “But now I don’t fight it anymore. I realize that it is a classic, and I am pleased to be associated with it.”
The Empire State Building–the infamous skyscraper that King Kong scaled while holding tight to the petite Wray–will dim its lights for 15 minutes Tuesday in honor of the actress, a building spokesman told AP.
Wray wrote in her 1988 autobiography,On the Other Hand: “Each time I arrive in New York and see the skyline and the exquisite beauty of the Empire State Building, my heart beats a little faster. I like that feeling. I really like it!”
Wray quit working in 1942 to be a wife and mother, AP reports. Her first husband was John Monk Saunders, who wrote such air films as Wings and The Dawn Patrol. After a divorce, she married Robert Riskin, the writer of It Happened One Night, Lost Horizon and other Frank Capra films. In 1950, Riskin suffered a stroke and died five years later.
Returning to work in 1953, Wray appeared mostly in motherly roles in youth-oriented films like Tammy and the Bachelor and Summer Love. In 1979, she played opposite Henry Fonda in a TV drama, Gideon’s Trumpet.
Wray is survived by daughter, Susan, from her first marriage to Saunders, and two children, Robert and Vicky, with Riskin.