- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Suze Rotolo was just 17 when one of the 20th century’s greatest poets and musicians became smitten.

“Right from the start I couldn’t take my eyes off her,” Bob Dylan wrote in his memoir. “She was the most erotic thing I’d ever seen. She was fair skinned and golden haired, full-blood Italian. The air was suddenly filled with banana leaves. We started talking and my head started to spin.

“Cupid’s arrow had whistled past my ears before, but this time it hit me in the heart and the weight of it dragged me overboard.”

Rotolo, a Greenwich Village artist and Dylan’s girlfriend and lyrical muse when he came to prominence in the early 1960s, died Friday. She was 67.

Rotolo, whose relationship with the singer lasted only a few years, died of lung cancer in New York City, said her agent, Sarah Lazin.

“The fact is that from early on, Suze’s left-wing politics had an impact on Dylan’s early writing,” said Rolling Stone contributing editor Anthony DeCurtis. “There’s no question that she became both an abstract muse and a very practical one. He has said that he would run songs past her.”

Rotolo, who remained an activist throughout her life, can be seen walking arm in arm with the singer on the cover of the ‘60s classic, “The Freewheelin Bob Dylan,” but DeCurtis thinks their relationship waned when she became overwhelmed by the worldwide fame that cascaded down on him as an icon of his era.

“While she always maintained great respect for Dylan, I think she felt a little bit entrapped by that,” he said. He noted that in later years, she used her husband’s surname and seemed to revel in her non-Dylan anonymity.

“I think there was a certain kind of element of obsession with Dylan that she found frightening and off-putting,” he said. “It got to be a drag.”

Rotolo is also believed to be the subject of a number of legendary Dylan songs, including “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” “Boots of Spanish Leather” and “Tomorrow Is a Long Time.”

A Dylan spokesman said Tuesday he was unavailable for comment.

Rotolo, who was born in the New York City borough of Queens, was raised in a left-wing household. She was working for the Congress of Racial Equality when she met Dylan and is credited with teaching him about the civil rights movement.

Rotolo later married film editor Enzo Bartoccioli; they had a son, Luca Bartoccioli.

In recent years she worked in a medium called book art, which she said was a “reinterpretation of the book as an art object.” She also taught a book arts workshop at the Parsons School of Design in New York City.

In 2004, she participated in a street-theater group called “Billionaires for Bush” and attended demonstrations at the Republican National Convention outside Madison Square Garden.

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