The Hague, Netherlands • At the time, Sylvia Kristel was worried about starring in the 1974 erotic movie "Emmanuelle," but consoled herself with the thought that few people would see her sexually charged performance.
That turned out to be wrong.
"I thought, ‘oh my goodness, this is not easy stuff,’" the Dutch actress once said in an interview. "I was nervous but then my boyfriend said, ‘Who’s going to watch this film? It will never pass censorship.’"
It did pass the censors and went on to become a classic of the sexually liberated 1970s, propelling Kristel to international stardom.
Kristel died of cancer in her sleep Wednesday at age 60, her management company announced Thursday. She had been fighting cancer for several years.
Kristel told the Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant in 2005 that her former partner, Belgian author Hugo Claus, had persuaded her to star in "Emmanuelle." The erotic tale directed by Frenchman Just Jaeckin examined the sexual adventures of a man and his beautiful young wife in Thailand.
"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."
Kristel was born into a family that ran a hotel in the central Dutch city of Utrecht and had a religious upbringing. Her striking beauty defined her career, however, sending her into modeling and then to the steamy "Emmanuelle."
She wasn’t even in the casting call when Jaeckin visited the Netherlands looking for a leading lady. He said when he saw her elsewhere at the casting agency he knew immediately that Kristel was destined for the role.
"When I saw her face, I was thunderstruck," he said in an interview with the French magazine Le Nouvel Observateue.
Kristel went on to star in several sequels to "Emmanuelle," as well as in Hollywood movies including "Private Lessons" in 1981.
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.
But moving to Hollywood in her late 20s, she sank into a world of drink and drugs.
"I wish I could have skipped that part of my life," she told the Dutch paper. She later returned to the Netherlands to live in Amsterdam, where she took up painting.
Kristel 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," the title a reference to the French illustrator and filmmaker Roland Topor.
Jaeckin, the director who is also a sculptor and has a gallery in Paris, said by telephone that he and Kristel had 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 controversial film then and now it is a cult film."
Kristel said she never regretted making the film, but was surprised how it shaped others’ perceptions of her.
"People don’t assume John Wayne shoots people and rides a horse on weekends," she told a Dutch interviewer. "People think I’m a nymphomaniac."
Kristel is survived by her partner Peter Brul and her son with Claus, Arthur Kristel. She will be buried at a private funeral.
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