Sylvia Kristel, star of Emmanuelle, dies

Emmanuelle director Just Jaeckin: 'Sylvia was a sister to me'

Dutch actress Sylvia Kristel, who starred in the 1974 erotic French film Emmanuelle, has died aged 60.

"She died during the night during her sleep," her agent, Marieke Verharen, told the AFP news agency.

The actress, who had cancer, was admitted to hospital in July after suffering a stroke.

Emmanuelle, which told the story of a sexually promiscuous housewife, spawned numerous sequels and played in a cinema on the Champs-Elysees for 11 years.

Released in 1974, the soft-focus French film was one of the first erotic movies to be shown in mainstream cinemas.

Kristel herself attributed its success to the changing censorship laws of the era.

"In a lot of countries the light went on, and that contributed very much to the success," she said.

In the UK, however, the film was eventually given the restricted X-rating, having suffered heavy cuts. The unedited version did not appear in the country until 2007.

Kristel went on to star in several Emmanuelle sequels, as well as more mainstream films - many of which, like Lady Chatterley's Lover and Mata Hari, played on her reputation as an erotic film star.

Sylvia Kristel at the Cannes Film Festival The actress caused a sensation at the 1977 Cannes Film Festival

Born in Utrecht, Holland, in 1952, Kristel grew up with her younger sister Marianne in Room 21 of The Commerce Hotel, which her parents owned.

Convent-educated, she fled her strict Calvinist upbringing for Amsterdam as a teenager, 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, Belgian author Hugo Claus.

Contemporary review of Emmanuelle

There have been movies influenced by other movies, and directors influenced by other directors, but Emmanuelle may be the first movie influenced by magazine centrefolds.

What makes the film work is the performance of Sylvia Kristel... [who] projects a certain vulnerability that makes several of the scenes work.

The performers in most skin flicks seem so impervious to ordinary mortal failings, so blase in the face of the most outrageous sexual invention, that finally they just become cartoon characters. Kristel actually seems to be present in the film, and as absorbed in its revelations as we are.

Roger Ebert, writing in the Chicago Sun-Times, January 1975

She had already appeared nude in the film Because of the Cats, when she stumbled into the audition for Emmanuelle, having been sent to a casting call for a soap powder commercial next door.

Speaking to The Evening Standard in 1994, she said she had no problem convincing director Just Jaeckin of her suitability for the part.

"He asked me to take my dress off," she said. "Luckily it was an easy dress to take off.

"It had spaghetti straps which I just slipped over my shoulders and it just fell off. I carried on talking and smoking in the nude. I was not inhibited at all. I'd done nude modelling and he thought I was very graceful."

Set in Thailand, the film was based on the erotic novel by Emmanuelle Arsan. It told the story of a bored wife, who had followed her diplomat husband to Asia, and filled her time with romantic trysts.

On release, Emmanuelle inevitably caused controversy. It was banned in Paris, where it was supposed to have its premiere, for six months. But it also made Kristel a star.

She spent seven years in Hollywood, appearing in such films as The Concorde: Airport '79, and Private Lessons.

But the actress, whose parents were both alcoholics, soon found herself addicted to drink and drugs.

Sylvia Kristel The actress had no regrets about being associated with Emmanuelle. "It's hard to find a better character," she said in 2001

"I sometimes needed a shot before doing certain scenes," she said. "It definitely comforted me and gave me courage. But then it turned out that I almost couldn't start a day without a drink."

By this time she had left Claus, with whom she had a son, for British actor Ian McShane. Their relationship was volatile. In her autobiography, she described it as "awful - he was witty and charming but we were too much alike".

Further relationships followed. She wed American millionaire Alan Turner, who ended their marriage after five months, telling Kristel he had made a terrible mistake.

Her second husband, would-be director Philippe Blot, persuaded her to bankroll his films. They were disastrously received.

Kristel said she left the marriage with $400 (£247) to her name.

"If I'd known then what I know now, I probably wouldn't have gone ahead with any of the relationships I was involved in, with the exception of Hugo," she told the Daily Mail in 1993.

She stopped appearing nude on screen in the 1980s because her son, Arthur, was being "teased at school", but returned to the Emmanuelle series in 1994, in a direct-to-video sequel where she appeared, fully-clothed, reminiscing about the exploits of her younger alter-ego.

After leaving America, she retreated to the South of France to paint, specialising in female portraits and pictures of roses. She was diagnosed with both throat and lung cancer in the early 2000s and fought the disease over the last decade.

Her agent declined to say whether Kristel died at home or at hospital, but said her funeral would be private.

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