Actress Sylvia Kristel, the Dutch star of the hit 1970s erotic movie Emmanuelle, has died of cancer at age 60.
Her agent, Features Creative Management, said in a statement Thursday that Kristel died in her sleep Wednesday night. Kristel, a model who turned to acting in the 1970s, had been fighting cancer for several years.
Her breakthrough came in Emmanuelle, a 1974 erotic tale directed by Frenchman Just Jaeckin, about the sexual adventures of a man and his beautiful young wife, played by Kristel, in Thailand.
She went on to star in several sequels to Emmanuelle, as well as in Hollywood movies including Private Lessons in 1981.
In Hollywood, she sank into a world of drink and drugs. “I wish I could have skipped that part of my life, she said in a 2005 interview with Dutch newspaper De Volkkrant.
Her agent described her as one of the Netherlands’ biggest movie stars, with more than 50 international films to her name.
Among them were many erotically tinted films, including a 1981 adaptation — also directed by Jaeckin — of D.H. Lawrence’s novel Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Mata Hari, four years later.
She was honored in 2006 with a special jury prize at the Tribeca Film Festival for a short animated film she directed called Topor et Moi.
Kristel told De Volkskrant, “love dictated what I did,” saying her former partner, Belgian author Hugo Claus, persuaded her to star in Emmanuelle.
“He said, ‘Thailand, that’s nice, we’ve never been there and anyway the film will never come out in the Netherlands so you won’t put your mother to shame,’” Kristel said. “In the end, 350 million people saw it worldwide.”
Jaeckin, the director who is also a sculptor and has a gallery in Paris, said by telephone that he and Kristel maintained contact, calling each other every three to four months. But he said he hadn’t spoken with her since February.
“I am very sad … She was like a little sister,” Jaeckin said.
“We started together … Emmanuelle brought us big problems. We were a bit marked,” he said. “It was a highly contested film then and now it is a cult film.”
He said that he knew immediately that Kristel was destined for the leading role.
“When I saw her face, I was thunderstruck,” he said.
In an interview with the French Le Nouvel Observateur magazine, which has an online edition, Jaeckin explained that he went to the Netherlands to cast the role and, “I saw a quantity of very beautiful girls.” Then by chance he saw Kristel, who worked at the agency and was not in the casting call, and immediately knew ,”This is Emmanuelle.”
Kristel is survived by her partner Peter Brul and a son with Claus, Arthur Kristel. She is to be buried at a private funeral. Further details were not released.