"Emmanuelle," the story of a sexually adventurous young model and her husband on a trip to Thailand, 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. "Emmanuelle" ultimately grossed $100 million 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.
The French picture spawned seven film sequels -- four of them starring Kristel -- and TV movie spinoffs. But while the original "Emmanuelle" catapulted the actress to international fame, she never became a household name in America.
Kristel died in her sleep Wednesday night in the Hague following a long battle with cancer, her talent agency, Features Creative Management, said in a statement Thursday. Her last film role came two years ago in the foreign drama "Two Sunny Days," which marked her first acting project since 2002. She also attended the Tribeca Film Festival in 2006, where her short animated film "Topor et Moi" was given a special jury prize.
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