Sylvia Maria Kristel (28 September 1952 – 17 October 2012) was a Dutch actress who performed in over 50 movies, and was best known for playing the lead character in four of the seven Emmanuelle films.
Kristel was born in Utrecht, Netherlands, the elder daughter of an innkeeper, Jean-Nicholas Kristel, and his wife Piet. In her 2006 autobiography, Nue, she claimed to have been 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 fourteen 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.
Kristel began modeling when she was seventeen. She entered the Miss TV Europe contest in 1973 and won. Multilingual, she spoke Dutch, English, French, German and Italian. She 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. Her Emmanuelle image followed her to the United States, where she played Nicole Mallow, a maid who seduces a teenage boy, in the 1981 sex comedy Private Lessons. 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), 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 St 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, she played the mother of the Trio Lescano in the TV series The Swing Girls.