Paris (AFP) - French investigators probing the death of controversial British photographer David Hamilton believe he committed suicide, just weeks after he was accused of rape, sources close to the inquiry said Saturday.
The 83-year-old, known for his widely published nude images of underage girls, was found dead in his Paris home on Friday with a plastic bag over his head, one source told AFP, adding: "There is nothing at this stage to suggest anything other than suicide."
Hamilton, who rose to fame in the 1970s and whose photography books sold millions of copies, had been drinking alcohol and another source said drug tests would be performed on the body as medication was found in the photographer's bathroom.
A neighbour raised the alarm after noticing that the door of Hamilton's apartment was half-open, and emergency services found him in cardiac arrest.
Hamilton had this week threatened to sue several former child models who had accused him of rape, saying he had previously been cleared of abuse.
The artist, whose work has long raised questions about where art ends and pornography begins, was at the centre of a torrent of allegations after a French radio presenter accused him of raping her when she was 13.
Flavie Flament, who modelled for Hamilton almost 30 years ago, published an autobiographical novel last month in which she described being raped by a famous photographer during a shoot.
Although she did not name Hamilton in "The Consolation", she used his photograph of her as the book's cover.
Flament, 42, later claimed to French media that it was Hamilton who had raped her after three other women contacted her with near identical allegations.
Flament alleged that Hamilton raped her in the shower of his apartment after spotting her in a nudist resort at Cap d'Agde in southwest France where she was on holiday with her parents.
Hamilton had confirmed that Flament had been his model, but denied the allegations, telling AFP just on Tuesday: "I have done nothing improper."
"Clearly the instigator of this media lynching is looking for her 15 minutes of fame by defaming me in her novel."
Flament's editor Karina Hocine told AFP Friday the radio presenter was "devastated" by the news of Hamilton's death.
"Naturally, we feel horrified and, at the same time, really disgusted that there was not enough time for justice to run its course," she added.
"The horror of this news will never erase the sleepless nights," Flament told AFP, reiterating her allegations.
- 'Lost paradise' -
Hamilton, who said that his work looked for the "candour of a lost paradise", was most famous for his kitschy calendars of young girls and his soft-focus erotic films including "Bilitis" from 1977.
He was born in London in 1933 and studied architecture as a young man, but it was in Paris where he started to work in fashion, having moved there aged 20 inspired by the impressionist painters.
He first worked as a designer at Elle magazine and then as an artistic director at the luxury Printemps department store.
With no formal training in photography, he found his calling at 33, seeking his models in the streets and on the beaches.
He became known for his trademark soft-focus "Hamilton blur".
His photos' subdued light and young female subjects -- often blonde, blue-eyed and crowned with flowers -- were fashionable in the 1970s and 80s but the style later became seen as outdated, and his pictures were considered disturbing by some.
Under the French statute of limitations, charges must be brought within 20 years for rape and 10 years for sexual abuse.
However, in a twist on Tuesday, the French minister for children's and women's rights asked Flament to lead a body which will look at whether to extend the statute of limitations.