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How Did Susan Elizabeth Rotolo Die? The Sad Death of Bob Dylan’s Muse

how did susan elizabeth rotolo die? suzy rotolo in an interview
Suze Rotolo, friend of Bob Dylan in 2009 (two Years before she died). Photo taken in Antwerp (Belgium). Image by Eddie Janssons on Wikimedia Commons.

Many hadn’t heard her name for years, but when the news broke that Susan Elizabeth Rotolo, aka Suze Rotolo, died in 2011, it seemed all immediately remembered the days she spent as girlfriend to the great Bob Dylan. What many forget, though, is that it was just a tiny period of her life, and there’s so much more to remember about the beautiful artist. 

Who was Susan Elizabeth Rotolo, and how did Susan Elizabeth Rotolo die? Find out that and more below. 

How Did Susan Elizabeth Rotolo Die?

Susan Elizabeth Rotolo’s cause of death was lung cancer. 

It is unclear for how long, prior to Rotolo’s death, that she was fighting the disease. 

When Did Susan Elizabeth Rotolo Die?

Susan Elizabeth Rotolo died on February 25, 2011. 

She was survived by her husband, son, and sister. 

How Old Was Susan Elizabeth Rotolo When She Died?

Susan Elizabeth Rotolo was 67 when she passed away. 

Where is Susan Elizabeth Rotolo Buried?

According to Find a Grave, Susan Elizabeth Rotolo was cremated after being declared deceased, and her ashes were given to her surviving family members following Rotolo’s funeral service. 

Susan Elizabeth Rotolo’s funeral was a private affair, and not many details are known. 

Who Inherited Susan Elizabeth Rotolo’s Money?

At the time of Susan Elizabeth Rotolo’s death, it is estimated that her years of artistry developed a net worth of approximately $200,000. It is assumed that her inheritance was split among her survivors, including her husband, son, and sister, as neither Susan Elizabeth Rotolo’s will nor the terms of Susan Elizabeth Rotolo’s estate have been divulged to the public.

Related: Bob Dylan’s Net Worth 

When was Susan Elizabeth Rotolo Born?

Susan Elizabeth Rotolo’s birthdate was November 20, 1943. She was born at Brooklyn Jewish Hospital in New York. 

Susan Elizabeth Rotolo’s Zodiac sign was Scorpio. That means she was focused, brave, balanced, and faithful. It also indicates that she was ambitious, intuitive, passionate, and independent. 

Where was Susan Elizabeth Rotolo From?

Susan Elizabeth Rotolo grew up in Sunnyside, Queens, New York.

Where Did Susan Elizabeth Rotolo Live?

Susan Elizabeth Rotolo spent the majority of her life living in New York City, having been born there and passed away there. 

Susan Elizabeth Rotolo’s Ethnicity

Susan Elizabeth Rotolo was of Italian-American descent. 

How Did Susan Elizabeth Rotolo Become Famous?

Susan Elizabeth Rotolo, aka Suze Rotolo, is best known for being the girlfriend of legendary singer and musician Bob Dylan from 1961 to 1964. Their relationship was so iconic that, to this day, despite their marriages to other people following their split, Rotolo remains the answer to questions like “Who was Bob Dylan’s muse?” and “Who was Bob Dylan’s greatest love?” 

The pair was introduced by Rotolo’s sister, Carla, during a Riverside Church folk concert as she was a folklorist’s assistant. Dylan wrote of his first meeting with Rotolo in his memoir, Chronicles, Volume One. 

“Right from the start, I couldn’t take my eyes off her. 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,” he wrote. “Meeting her was like stepping into the tales of 1001 Arabian Nights. She had a smile that could light up a street full of people and was extremely lively, had a kind of voluptuousness – a Rodin sculpture come to life.” 

Rotolo was said to have influenced much of Dylan’s early songwriting, and she became even more famous as the woman walking with him for the cover of his 1963 The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan album, taken by Don Hunstein, a Columbia Records studio photographer. 

Where was the Freewheelin’ picture taken? It was taken in February 1963 as the couple walked down Jones Street, which was just down the street from the apartment where they lived at the time. 

Despite their high-profile relationship, Rotolo later revealed that the relationship became stressful as Dylan grew in popularity. 

“Bob was charismatic: he was a beacon, a lighthouse; he was also a black hole. He required committed backup and protection I was unable to provide consistently, probably because I needed them myself,” according to her obituary in The Guardian. “I could no longer cope with all the pressure, gossip, truth, and lies that living with Bob entailed. I was unable to find solid ground. I was on quicksand and very vulnerable.” 

Still, she remained an influence on Dylan for such songs as “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright,” “Tomorrow is a Long Time,” “Boots of Spanish Leather,” and “One Too Many Mornings.” 

“People say I was an influence on him, but we influenced each other. His interests were filtered through me and my interests, like the books I had, were filtered through him,” Rotolo is quoted as saying in the book Hoot! A 25-Year History of the Greenwich Village Music Scene. “It was always sincere on his part. The guy saw things. He had an incredible ability to see and sponge – there was a genius in that. The ability to create out of everything that’s flying around. To synthesize it. To put it in words and music.” 

Related: Best Late-Era Bob Dylan songs

bob dylan's net worth. how did susan elizabeth rotolo die?
BENICASSIM, SPAIN – JULY 13: Bob Dylan performs at FIB on July 13, 2012 in Benicassim, Spain. Festival Internacional de Benicassim. Image from Shutterstock.

Susan Elizabeth Rotolo’s Parents

Susan Elizabeth Rotolo was the daughter of American Communist Party members Joachim and Mary Rotolo. 

Mary Rotolo was an editor and columnist for the Italian Communist newspaper, L’Unita del Popola. At the same time, her father was a union organizer and artist before passing away when his daughter was just 14 years old. 

Susan Elizabeth Rotolo’s Siblings

Susan Elizabeth Rotolo is known to have at least one sibling, whom she is survived by, her sister, Carla. Carla Maria Rotolo was born in 1941 and followed her little sister in death in 2014.

Who was Susan Elizabeth Rotolo Married To?

While Susan Elizabeth Rotolo had a high-profile relationship with Bob Dylan, she ultimately married Enzo Bartoccioli, an Italian film editor, in 1967, whom she met while studying in Perugia. They remained married until her death. 

Susan Elizabeth Rotolo’s Children

Susan Elizabeth Rotolo’s son, Luca, was born from her marriage to Bartoccioli. He is now a guitarist in New York. 

Luca was almost not her only child, however. Sadly, Rotolo’s split from Dylan stemmed from a 1963 pregnancy that resulted in her seeking an abortion. Unfortunately, their relationship was unable to survive it, and they broke up soon after. Dylan’s affair with Joan Baez and the hostility from Rotolo’s family also contributed. Dylan later wrote a song about the ordeal, “Ballad in Plain D,” which he later apologized for. “I must have been a real schmuck to write that. I look back at that particular one and say, of all the songs I’ve written, maybe I could have left that alone.” 

Related: 27 Fascinating Facts About Bob Dylan


Despite being known for being Bob Dylan’s girlfriend, Susan Elizabeth Rotolo had a career as an artist and activist, working full-time in the office of the Congress of Racial Equality when the pair first met. She was also a part of the anti-nuclear group SANE. 

Later, she studied art at the University of Perugia in Italy for six months in the latter half of 1962 and worked as an illustrator and painter following her marriage to Bartoccioli. Her final years were spent creating book art and performing as a member of the street theater group Billionaires for Bush. Her political upbringing continued to influence her as well, participating in a protest at the 2004 Republican National Convention in Manhattan. 

Rotolo would later publish her memoir, A Freewheelin’ Time: A Memoir of Greenwich Village in the Sixties, on May 13, 2008. In it, she described her want not to be overshadowed by her and Dylan’s relationship, writing, “The sixties were an era that spoke a language of inquiry and curiosity and rebelliousness against the stifling and repressive political and social culture of the decade that preceded it. The new generation causing all the fuss was not driven by the market: we had something to say, not something to sell.”  

Related: Is Bob Dylan Overrated?


As we reflect on the life of Susan Elizabeth Rotolo, one thing is clear. Although she may have tried to separate herself from one of the greatest songwriters of all time, there is no denying that Bob Dylan will always be what comes to mind first when you hear her name. That will never be a bad thing, though. It’s because of that relationship, while obviously painful, that fans of the “Blowin’ in the Wind” singer were gifted some of his most classic songs. The relationship was iconic and will always be one that fans remember. 

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Written by Katie Peterson

Katie Peterson received her bachelor's degree in English from the University of Saint Mary in Leavenworth in 2015. She has worked in journalism since 2015, beginning as production assistant and eventual head staff writer of the Fort Leavenworth Lamp newspaper in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. Currently, she is a multimedia journalist with the Diocese of Nashville's Office of Media and Evangelization where she writes, does photography, and edits for several types of content, including the Tennessee Register, Catholic Awakenings, and She has also worked as a freelance journalist with the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas's newspaper, The Leaven, since 2016.
In her spare time, Peterson enjoys reading, spending time with her pup, Sadie Lynn, singing and songwriting.


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