The Mysterious Life and Death of Actress Inger Stevens

Herbie J Pilato

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[The Classic TV Preservation Society]

[Author’s Note: This article is based on accredited media reports attributed to the sources mentioned and/or gathered through TheHollywoodReporter.com, and LATimes.com, among others.]

She seemed to fit the typical Hollywood star profile, but she was not the typical Hollywood star.

Blond, bright, and beautiful, Inger Stevens possessed a tantalizing appeal that was defined by both her above-average appearance and intelligence. Her personal life remained a mystery which, on one hand, merely lent to her allure. But on the other hand, she had emotional issues that were evident if only by the alleged taking of her own life by way of a drug overdose in 1970.

According to author John Austin's book, Hollywood Babylon Women (S.P.I. Books, 1994), in the early hours of April 30, 1970, Stevens' periodic roommate and companion, Lola McNally, found her on the kitchen floor of her Hollywood Hills home. When her friend called out to her, Stevens opened her eyes, raised her head, and tried to speak but was unable to say a word.

McNally told authorities that she had conversed with Stevens the evening before without any cause of concern. Stevens died in the ambulance en route to the hospital. At which point, medics removed a bandage from her chin that revealed a small portion of what appeared to be fresh blood oozing from a cut that appeared to be relatively fresh.

Los Angeles County Coroner Dr. Thomas Noguchi attributed her demise to "acute barbiturate poisoning."

It was a sad ending to the life and career of a promising actress and a sweet but clearly complex human being. As entertainment journalist Gary Brumburgh once documented in Classic Images Magazine (June 6, 2011), Stevens offered some insight into her psyche, saying, "Once I felt that I was one person at home and the minute I stepped out the door I had to be somebody else. I had a terrific insecurity and extreme shyness that I covered up with coldness. Everybody thought I was a snob. I was really just plain scared."

In her short career, however, Stevens made an impression, with guest appearances in TV classics like The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Route 66, and The Twilight Zone, the latter in which she appeared in two episodes: "Lateness of Hour" (originally airing 12-2-66) and "The Hitch Hiker" (1-22-60).

In "Hiker," she plays a young woman who, during a cross-country drive alone, becomes increasingly frantic when she sees the same man, thumbing for a ride, mile after mile. In the end, the woman realizes she's dead, and that the man, essentially, is the "Angel of Death," personified.

Ultimately, and in retrospect, that episode seems to cut a little too close to home for the actress in real life.

Fortunately, Stevens later accepted more upbeat roles, as in The Farmers' Daughter, which aired on ABC from 1963 to 1966. Loosely based on the 1947 feature film of the same name, Daughter also starred William Windom and Cathleen Nesbit.

Stevens also starred in feature films including Hang 'Em High, which starred Clint Eastwood, and was released in 1968.

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Herbie J Pilato is the author of several books about pop culture including THE 12 BEST SECRETS OF CHRISTMAS: A TREASURE HOUSE OF DECEMBER MEMORIES REVEALED, MARY: THE MARY TYLER MOORE STORY, TWITCH UPON A STAR, GLAMOUR, GIDGETS AND THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, DASHING, DARING AND DEBONAIR, and NBC & ME: MY LIFE AS A PAGE IN A BOOK, among others. He's also a TV writer/producer, and has worked for Reelz, Bravo, E!, TLC, and hosted THEN AGAIN WITH HERBIE J PILATO, the hit classic TV talk show (which premiered on Amazon Prime in 2019).

Los Angeles, CA
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