Born: September 28, 1952; Died: October 18, 2012.
Sylvia Kristel, who has died aged 60 of cancer, was a Dutch actress who rose to international fame and notoriety almost 40 years ago as the star of the 1970s soft porn film Emmanuelle.
Emmanuelle, an erotic tale based on the novel by Emmanuelle Arsan, was directed by Frenchman Just Jaeckin and centred on the sexual adventures of a man and his promiscuous wife, played by Kristel, in Thailand. It was a massive box office hit and one of the first erotic films to be shown in mainstream cinemas. It was the highest-grossing film of the decade in France and played in a film theatre on the Champs-Elysees for a decade. But in the UK it was given a restricted X-rating after undergoing heavy cuts. The unedited version did not appear on screens here until 2007.
The former model went on to star in several sequels to Emmanuelle, as well as more mainstream films – many of which, such as Lady Chatterley's Lover, Mata Hari and Private Lessons. played on her reputation as an erotic film star.
One of three children, she was born in Utrecht and grew up in a hotel owned by her parents, who divorced when she was 14. She was educated at a convent school before leaving for Amsterdam, where she worked as a secretary and a waitress before becoming a model.
Aged 21, she won two beauty competitions – Miss TV Holland and Miss TV Europe – and, shortly afterwards, was encouraged to pursue acting by her boyfriend, Dutch author Hugo Claus.
The following year she was approached by the film producer Yves Rousset-Rouard, who had bought the rights to a 1950s novel called Emmanuelle. He cast her in the title role and paid her $6,000 (£3700). She negotiated a much bigger fee for the sequel, Emmanuelle 2, and went on to make films with Roger Vadim and Claude Chabrol, and co-starred with Gérard Depardieu in René La Canne (1976).
In 1977 she tried to launch a career in Hollywood and she left Claus, with whom she had a son, to begin a four-year affair with the British actor Ian McShane, best-known as the antiques dealer Lovejoy in the successful BBC television series, whom she met on the set of the film The Fifth Musketeer.
They lived together in Los Angeles, where Kristel took a cameo role as an air stewardess in Airport '79 but people preferred seeing her naked, and she was repeatedly typecast in the role of seductress, notably in The Nude Bomb (1980), Lady Chatterley's Lover (1981), Private lessons (1981) and Mata Hari (1985).
Her parents had been alcoholics and as Kristel's career declined her use of drugs, notably cocaine, and drink increased. She recalled: "I sometimes needed a shot before doing certain scenes. It definitely comforted me and gave me courage. But then it turned out that I almost couldn't start a day without a drink."
After she split up with McShane (she described their relationship as "awful – he was witty and charming but we were too much alike"), Kristel moved to St Tropez.
She stopped appearing nude on screen in the 1980s because her son was being teased at his school and wed American millionaire Alan Turner, who ended their marriage after five months. Her second husband, would-be director Philippe Blot, persuaded her to bankroll his films and she lost what was left of her money.
After retreating to the south of France she took up painting before moving to a small apartment above a cafe in Amsterdam. A heavy smoker, she was diagnosed with both throat and lung cancer a decade ago. After her second marriage she lived with a Belgian radio producer, Freddy De Vree, who died in 2004. She is survived by Artur, her son from her relationship with Claus.
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