Goodbye, Sylvia Kristel…Thanks for the Show

Sylvia Kristel

“I was a silent actress, a body. I belonged to dreams, those dreams you can’t ruin.”

Sylvia Kristel, soft porn legend, died on the 12th of October 2012 – she was age 60. She was most famous for her role in the Emmanuelle movies…and for being an exciter of my young lust.

During the apartheid era in South Africa, we didn’t just live apart from other races but us English were, to a fair degree, separated from the Afrikaners (who ran the country). The Afrikaans nation was strongly religious and that conservatism seeped through our nation like oil through sand. My mother was a fundamentalist, in love with that prostitute-loving, evangelist, Jimmy Swaggart.

SylviaWhat has that got to do with Sylvia, a Dutch girl who took her clothes off? Well, there i was, an insecure nerd who felt utterly lost and incapable in the presence of pretty girls (as girlfriends were banned by a domineering mother). In that situation, no one was going to properly explain raging, boyish hormones and wet dreams to me. No one was going to give thanks to that biology which put Humankind at the top of the food chain. Instead, sexuality was bewildering, wanted yet arriving with a dirty feeling.

However, my doctor, Jack Sweidon, was like family and he ran a very liberated household. His acupuncture skills were an anomaly in South Africa. His second wife was a spiritualist who held seances. His daughter was the utter definition of sex, perfectly pretty and comfortable in her skin (which was all she wore on occasion). I was watching TV in this house when our national broadcaster made the biggest booboo of all time i.e. technicians watching porn flipped the wrong switch and our country got a viewing unlike any other:) It was also here that I first got to to see Sylvia Kristel in her most famous movie, Emmanuelle (for which she only got $6000 but would move on to command $300,000 per film).

I only saw part of that VHS rental but that was enough to kidnap my breath and fuel my fantasies. Unlike most modern porn, that French film was erotic…and Sylvia Kristel was sensual; still a lady when all that was between her and me was her skin…and the glass of the television screen.

Sylvia KristelThat was the Eighties. I can only imagine what viewers thought when it first came out in 1974. And it wasn’t until the Nineties that I got to see it, and it’s sequels, in full.

Her entry into nudity was as unlikely as her death.

This winner of beauty pageants went to get a part in an advert but walked into the wrong room where they were auditioning for Emmanuelle. She said that when she was asked to take her clothes off, she did so without hesitation and, strangely, felt comfortable. She would go on to star in Private Lessons, the highest grossing independent movies of 1981.

At age 54, she won an award for directing the animated, short film, Topor and Me. She wrote the acclaimed book ‘Undressing Emmanuelle: A Life Stripped Bare’. She spoke four languages. She painted portraits and flowers. She was a mother… and she died of a stroke after battling cancer for more than a decade.

That this beauty and dream giver battled the ugliness of throat cancer, lung cancer and esophageal cancer is ironic and tragic.

She was as human as you and me.

Sylvia’s roles not only fueled fantasy but helped women in confined relationships to dream. Her grace helped me to realize that sex isn’t dirty. She was a liberator to many. Thanks, Sylvia.