First adult film star Sylvia Kristel dies at 60

Sylvia Kristel
Sylvia Kristel

Sylvia Kristel, arguably the first adult film star, has died at the age of 60 after suffering a long battle with cancer.

"She died during the night during her sleep," her agent told the AFP. She was admitted to a hospital in July after suffering a stroke, though she was first diagnosed with throat and lung cancer roughly ten years ago.

The Dutch actress, born in Utrecht, Holland, made waves around the world as the star of 1974 erotic French film "Emmanuelle." In the controversial film she played the woman after which it was named -- a young model Emmanuelle, married to a much older man. The plot revolves around the couple as they move to Bangkok. Kristel's character then engages in a number of extramarital affairs as her husband doesn't seem to mind.

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The film garnered a major following, played for 11 years in a theater on the Champs-Elysees in Paris, and remains one of the most successful French films of all time. "Emmanuelle" also inspired a number of sequels in which Kristel also starred.

Kristel's performance in the "soft core" film even drew critical praise from Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert. He wrote in 1975: 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. [via the BBC]

Sylvia Kristel in 2008
Sylvia Kristel in 2008

Kristel appeared in nearly 60 titles over the years, including television movies. She admitted to drug and alcohol addiction and experienced her share of bad relationships, later saying if she had it to do over again, she would have never entered those relationships -- with the exception of early boyfriend, Belgian author Hugo Claus.

Having won a few notable beauty pageants by the time she was 21, Claus is the one who initially encouraged Kristel to become an actress. The couple had a son, Arthur, in 1975.

Somewhat ironically, Kristel was educated in a convent and had a strict, religious upbringing -- something she fled from as a teenager when she moved to Amsterdam.

A private funeral will be held for Kristel, according to her agent.