Lisa Loring, actress who played the original Wednesday Addams in The Addams Family – obituary

Lisa Loring as Wednesday Addams with her headless doll, Marie Antoinette - Collection Christophel/Alamy
Lisa Loring as Wednesday Addams with her headless doll, Marie Antoinette - Collection Christophel/Alamy

Lisa Loring, who has died aged 64 following a stroke, was an actress who played Wednesday Addams in The Addams Family, the 1960s American sitcom that ran for only two series but lodged itself in the public’s affections with its depiction of a macabre family with unearthly powers.

Based on the long-running cartoons by Charles Addams in the New Yorker, the show presented an antidote to the regular nuclear family, hinging on their unawareness that they lived life any differently. Lisa Loring set the template for future portrayals, by Christina Ricci in the film adaptations and Jenna Ortega in the current Netflix series Wednesday.

It was a rival to The Munsters, and in an interview given in her teens, Lisa Loring perceptively observed that her show, with its relatively sophisticated wit, had been the Marx Brothers to the slapstick of the Munsters’ Three Stooges; though she was not aware of it, her show’s producer and head writer, Nat Perrin, had worked with the Marxes and was a good friend of Groucho.

She was born Lisa Ann DeCinces on February 16 1958 in Kwajalein Atoll, now part of the Marshall Islands in the Pacific; her parents were both serving in the US Navy there, but they divorced soon after she was born. She grew up initially in Hawaii then later moved with her mother to Los Angeles.

By the age of three she was modelling, and her first acting job was in a 1964 episode of Dr Kildare. “I learnt to memorise lines before I could read,” she recalled. By then she had already won the part of Wednesday Addams, preferred to a 13-year-old hopeful because she looked more like Carolyn Jones, the actress who was to play her mother, Morticia.

Wednesday was a pleasant if suitably odd child, who kept a black widow spider and a lizard named Lucifer as pets and liked to play with her headless doll Marie Antoinette. Unlike many child stars, Lisa Loring had pleasant memories of her time in the spotlight: “It was like a real family: you couldn’t have picked a better cast and crew. Carolyn Jones, John Astin – Morticia and Gomez – they were like parents to me.”

Ted Cassidy, who played Lurch, the hulking butler, was “very sweet”, she said, if frustrated that he found work difficult to come by because of his size.

The Addams family on a day out with Lurch at the wheel - Allstar Picture Library Limited/Alamy
The Addams family on a day out with Lurch at the wheel - Allstar Picture Library Limited/Alamy

The Addams Family came to an end after 64 episodes, and for the rest of the 1960s and into the following decade Lisa Loring worked sporadically, in episodes of shows such as The Girl From U.N.C.L.E. and Fantasy Island. Between 1980 and 1983 she had a recurring role in the long-running daytime soap As the World Turns as Cricket Montgomery, a rebellious teenager who has an illegitimate child.

Later that decade she appeared in the slasher films Blood Frenzy, Savage Harbor and Iced, but subsequent roles were low-profile and fleetingly rare, and she worked as a make-up artist and for an interior design firm in Santa Monica.

Lisa Loring’s private life, meanwhile, cleaved to the archetype of the former child star for whom subsequent years prove difficult. Following struggles with substance abuse, she entered rehab in the 1990s. In 1991 she  discovered the body of her friend Kelly Van Dyke (the niece of Dick), who had taken her own life, and some time afterwards she tried to take her own with an overdose.

Her marital history was chequered. Her mother died of alcoholism when Lisa was only 14, and within a year she had married her childhood sweetheart, Farrell Foumberg; the union was brief but produced a daughter. In 1981 she married a soap actor, Doug Stevenson. They were together for slightly longer – two years – and she had another daughter.

Lisa Loring in 2015 - Bobby Bank/Getty Images
Lisa Loring in 2015 - Bobby Bank/Getty Images

Her third marriage proved to be more problematic. In 1986 she was working as a writer and make-up artist on the film Traci’s Big Trick, based on the legal troubles of the porn star Traci Lord, when she met the adult film actor Jerry Butler.

They married, but Lisa Loring was deeply unhappy that Butler continued to act in the porn industry. He resorted to working without telling her, and she divorced him in 1992.

In 2003 she married Graham Rich; they separated in 2008 and divorced in 2014.

Lisa Loring, whose death leaves John Astin (Gomez) as the last surviving member of the regular Addams Family cast, is survived by her two daughters.

Lisa Loring, born February 16 1958, died January 28 2023