Sylvia Kristel, who had been suffering from cancer and was hospitalized earlier this year following a stroke, died in her sleep Wednesday night in the Hague. She had been fighting cancer for several years.
“Emmanuelle,” the story of a sexually adventurous young model and her husband on a trip to Thailand. It became as big a worldwide sensation in the 1970s as E.L. James’ “Fifty Shades of Grey” has in recent months.
The softcore French film was that country’s highest-grossing release of 1974 and became so popular with female French moviegoers that Columbia Pictures decided to distribute the movie in the U.S.
Eventually “Emmanuelle” reached its popularity among 100 million people worldwide, according to the Internet Movie Database – an exceptional sum for any film of its day and very rare for one with an X rating.
Also Kristel became the leading star in a number of “Emmanuelle” sequels, including “Emmanuelle 2” and “Goodbye Emmanuelle,” Typecast in erotic films. She also starred in sexually charged titles such as “Private Lessons” and “Lady Chatterley’s Lover.”
Born in Utrecht, Holland, Kristel was sent to a religious boarding school as a preteen but launched a career as a model in her late teens. She won the Miss TV Europe competition in 1973. Here the actress caught the attention of “Emmanuelle” director Just Jaeckin, who cast her in the film that would define her career.
“When I saw her face, I was thunderstruck,” Just Jaeckin said in an interview with the French magazine Le Nouvel Observateur.
Kristel’s agent described her as one of the Netherlands’ biggest movie stars, with more than 50 international films.
Kristel was “a wonderful woman, very pure, very innocent,” Jaeckin told the AFP. “But the mark that Emmanuelle left on her was very hard for her.”
As it is known, moving to Hollywood in her late 20s, Kristel sank into a world of drink and drugs. “I wish I could have skipped that part of my life,” she told the Dutch paper.
Later the actress returned to the Netherlands and lived in Amsterdam, where she took up painting. Kristel said she never regretted making the films, but was surprised how it shaped others’ perceptions of her.
According to The Huff Post, 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.
Kristel had a stroke earlier this year after being treated for throat cancer, which she was diagnosed with in 2002. Also she had also been battling liver cancer.
Jaeckin 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.
They were good friends and Kristel became a sister for Jaeckin. “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 is survived by a son, Arthur, and her partner Peter Brul. The actress will be buried at a private funeral.