LOS ANGELES >> Sylvia Miles, an actress and Manhattan socialite whose brief, scene-stealing appearances in the films “Midnight Cowboy” and “Farewell, My Lovely” earned her two Academy Award nominations, died Wednesday.
Miles was declared dead at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, her niece Holly-Jane Rahlens, told The Associated Press. She was 94. The cause was not immediately clear.
Miles was a veteran actress but not a widely known name when she appeared onscreen for about six minutes in 1969’s “Midnight Cowboy.” In her sole scene, she plays a brassy Manhattan woman who invites an aspiring male prostitute from Texas, played by Jon Voight, up to her penthouse for sex, but ends up taking money from him instead.
“You were going to ask me for money?” Miles’ character, Cass, says as she breaks into increasingly angry mock-tears. “Who the hell do you think you’re dealing with? … In case you didn’t happen to notice it, you big Texas longhorn bull, I’m one hell of a gorgeous chick!”
In 1975’s “Farewell, My Lovely,” which starred Robert Mitchum as detective Philip Marlowe, her screen time is only slightly longer as a down-on-her-luck entertainer who swaps information for a bottle of booze.
The fleetingly brief roles both got her Oscar nominations.
Her appearances in real life were just as memorable for those who came across her.
“She was pretty much the same person off screen as she was on screen,” Miles’ friend, fashion industry publicist Mauricio Padilha, said. “She was quite a character.”
Miles was born in, and became a lifelong resident of, Manhattan, where she was married and divorced three times and had no children. She is survived by her older sister, Thelma Rahlens.
Miles studied at The Actors Studio, making her name in a series of Off-Broadway roles starting in the 1950s, and moving on to movies in the 1960s.
Her film credits included 1972’s Andy Warhol-produced “Heat,” 1987’s “Wall Street” and its 2010 sequel “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” and 1988’s “Crossing Delancey.”
Her TV roles included guest appearances on “Miami Vice,” ”One Life to Live” and “Sex in the City.”
Miles was a competitive chess player, according to the New York Times, which twice featured her in its coverage of the game.
And she went, it seems, to nearly every party in New York for a time, becoming as beloved for her outgoing personality and flamboyant fashion sense than as for her acting.
“She shows up at premieres, screenings, receptions, teas and charity cocktail parties,” said a 1976 article in People magazine titled, “What would a Manhattan party be without the ubiquitous Sylvia Miles?”
“I get invited because I’m fun,” Miles told People at the time. “I have a good sense of humor. I look good. I’m not bad to have at a party.”
Even after the 9/11 attacks, when the city was in a state of fear and mourning for months, she was quick to start socializing again, attending a Broadway opening just over a week later.
“Honey, this is a known jungle to me,” she told the AP outside the play. “I am not afraid of anything. The animals in this jungle I can handle.”