Sylvia Kristel (Sylvia Maria Kristel)

Sylvia Kristel

Sylvia Kristel was born in Utrecht, Netherlands, the elder daughter of an innkeeper, Jean-Nicholas Kristel, and his wife Pietje Hendrika Lamme. In her 2006 autobiography, Nue, she stated that she was sexually abused by an elderly hotel guest when she was nine years old, an experience she otherwise refused to discuss. Her parents divorced when she was 14 years old after her father abandoned the family for another woman. “It was the saddest thing that ever happened to me”, she said of the experience of her parents’ separation. Sylvia Kristel began modeling when she was 17. She entered the Miss TV Europe contest in 1973 and won. Multilingual, she spoke Dutch, English, French, German and Italian fluently, and several other languages to a lesser extent. Kristel gained international attention in 1974 for playing the title character in the softcore film Emmanuelle, which remains one of the most successful French films ever produced. After the success of Emmanuelle, she often played roles that capitalised on that sexually provocative image, most notably starring in an adaptation of Lady Chatterley’s Lover (1981), and a nudity-filled biopic of the World War I spy in Mata Hari (1985). Her Emmanuelle image followed her to the United States, where she played Nicole Mallow, a maid who seduces a teenage boy, in the sex comedy Private Lessons (1981). Another mainstream American film appearance was a brief comic turn in the Get Smart revival film The Nude Bomb in 1980.

Although Private Lessons was one of the highest-grossing independent films of 1981 (ranking #28 in US domestic gross), Sylvia Kristel reportedly saw none of the profits and continued to appear in movies and last played Emmanuelle in the early 1990s. In May 1990, she appeared in the television series My Riviera, filmed at her home in Saint-Tropez and offering insights of her life and motivations in an interview with writer-director Michael Feeney Callan. In 2001, she played a small role in Forgive Me, Dutch filmmaker Cyrus Frisch’s debut. In May 2006, Kristel received an award at the Tribeca Film Festival, New York for directing the animated short film Topor and Me, written by Ruud Den Dryver. The award was presented by Gayle King. After a hiatus of eight years, she acted in the film, Two Sunny Days (2010), and that same year in her last acting role, she played Eva de Leeuw in the TV series The Swing Girls. In September 2006, Kristel’s autobiography Nue (Nude) was published in France. It was translated into English as Undressing Emmanuelle: A Memoir, by Fourth Estate, 2 July 2007 (ISBN 978-0007256952), in which she told of a turbulent personal life blighted by addictions to drugs, alcohol, and her quest for a father figure, which resulted in some destructive relationships with older men. The book received some positive reviews.

Her first major relationship was with Belgian author Hugo Claus, more than two decades her senior, with whom she had her only child, a son, Arthur (born 1975). She left her husband for British actor Ian McShane, whom she had met on the set of the film The Fifth Musketeer (1979). They moved in together in Los Angeles where he had promised to help her launch her American career. However their five-year affair would lead to no significant career break for Kristel but a relationship she describes in her autobiography as “awful – he was witty and charming but we were too much alike.” About two years into the relationship she began using cocaine. This proved her downfall, although at the time she thought of it as a “supervitamin, a very fashionable substance, without danger, but expensive, far more exciting than drowning in alcohol – a fuel necessary to stay in the swing.” She also says she was pregnant with McShane’s child, but lost the child when she fell. Interviewed in 2006 for the documentary Hunting Emmanuelle, she describes how, due to an expensive cocaine addiction, she made a number of poor decisions, including selling her interest in Private Lessons to her agent for $150,000; the film would gross more than $26 million domestically. After McShane, she married twice, first to an American businessman which ended after five months, and then to film producer Phillippe Blot. She spent a decade with Belgian radio producer Fred De Vree, until his death. A heavy smoker of unfiltered cigarettes from the age of 11, Kristel was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2001 and underwent three courses of chemotherapy and surgery after the disease spread to her lungs. On 12 June 2012, she suffered a stroke and was hospitalized in critical condition. Four months later, Sylvia Kristel died in her sleep at age 60 from esophageal and lung cancer. She was survived by her son, Arthur Claus, and her younger sister, Marianne. Sylvia Kristel is buried at her place of birth in Utrecht, the Netherlands.

More Images

  • Sylvia_Kristel_(1973) -

  • sylvia_kristel_gallery_100_9a_l -


  • September, 28, 1952
  • Utrecht, Netherlands


  • October, 18, 2012
  • Amsterdam, Netherlands

Cause of Death

  • esophageal and lung cancer


  • Utrecht Sint-Barbara Roman Catholic Cemetery
  • Utrecht, Netherlands

5692 profile views