Sylvia Kristel, the actress who shot to worldwide fame in 1974 with her starring role in the raunchy Emmanuelle, has died at the age of sixty. She suffered a debilitating stroke earlier this year, and had also been fighting cancer.
The Dutch-born Kristel started out as a model before landing the lead role in Just Jaekin’s erotic drama Emmanuelle, which was soon to become a cult hit. The film’s titular protagonist was based on a character created by writer Emmanuelle Arsan in her 1967 novel Emmanuelle: The Joys of a Woman. The film centres on the exploits of a bored housewife (Kristel) as she engages in a series of casual sexual encounters. Unsurprisingly, Emmanuelle became one of the most popular and successful French films ever made, earning more than $300m at the box office, and screening at a cinema near the Arc de Triomphe in Paris for eleven years.
Although following her role Kristel enjoyed worldwide notoriety, her career never again reached the dizzying heights that Emanuelle took it to. She reprised her most famous role in a plethora of sequels, including Emmanuelle 2 and Goodbye Emmanuelle in the mid-seventies. She also enjoyed a short-lived spell in the US, taking roles in such films as The Nude Bomb and The Concorde…Airport ’79.
Kristel has admitted to being dogged by the shadow of her most famous role, and to struggling with cocaine and alcohol while in the US. During later years however, she seemed to accept her role in movie history with good grace; her work on the Emmanuelle films has been cited as groundbreaking, and a perfect encapsulation of the 1970s attitude towards free love and sexual experimentation.
Sylvia Kristel died peacefully in her sleep; she was, and will remain, one of the most recognisable icons of 1970s French cinema.