Kristel had been working as a model when she gained international attention, winning the Miss TV Europe contest in 1973. The following year, Jaeckin cast her as the lead in his groundbreaking softcore feature, EMMANUELLE. Though Kristel initially didn’t expect many to see the X-rated film, it became an enormous success, one that would continue to follow her for the rest of her life.
Kristel appeared in the official sequels to EMMANUELLE (many other franchises used the name but were their own entity), as well as similarly-themed softcore films. These included JULIA, LADY CHATTERLEY’S LOVER (also directed by Jaeckin), PRIVATE LESSONS (and its semi-sequel, PRIVATE SCHOOL) and MATA HARI.
Still, Kristel wanted to break away from the sexpot image. She tried to gain traction in more mainstream films, and at one point even refused to do nudity in films. Some of her more notable appearances included THE FIFTH MUSKETEER, THE CONCORDE… AIRPORT ’79, THE NUDE BOMB, THE NUDE BOMB, THE ARROGANT, RED HEAT (a women in prison film starring Linda Blair) and Christopher Coppola’s DRACULA’S WIDOW. Unfortunately, even some of the bigger productions failed to light up the box office. Kristel also ran into trouble when like many other young actresses, she developed an expensive cocaine habit in the mid-1970s.
Kristel rebounded after a while and even went beyond acting. In 2006, she won an award at the Tribeca Film Festival for directing the animated short film, TOPOR AND ME. She published her autobiography the same year.
Kristel was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2001. She had received numerous treatments over the past decade. She passed away in her sleep from lung and esophageal cancer. She was 60 years old.