LOS ANGELES - Bettie Page, 85, the 1950s secretary-turned-model whose photographs in skimpy attire or none at all helped set the stage for the 1960s sexual revolution, died yesterday.
Ms. Page suffered a heart attack last week in Los Angeles and never regained consciousness, her agent, Mark Roesler, said. Before the heart attack, Ms. Page had been hospitalized for three weeks with pneumonia.
"She captured the imagination of a generation of men and women with her free spirit and unabashed sensuality," Roesler said. "She is the embodiment of beauty."
Ms. Page, who was also known as Betty, attracted national attention with magazine photographs of her sensuous figure in bikinis and see-through lingerie that were quickly tacked up on walls in military barracks, garages and elsewhere, where they remained for years.
Her photos included a centerfold in the January 1955 issue of then-fledgling Playboy magazine, as well as sadomasochistic poses.
The latter helped contribute to her mysterious disappearance from the public eye, which lasted decades and included years during which she battled mental illness and became a born-again Christian.
After resurfacing in the 1990s, she occasionally granted interviews but refused to allow her picture to be taken.
"I don't want to be photographed in my old age," she told an interviewer in 1998. "I feel the same way with old movie stars. . . . It makes me sad. We want to remember them when they were young."
The 21st century indeed had people remembering her just as she was. She became the subject of songs, biographies, Web sites, comic books, movies and documentaries. A new generation of fans bought thousands of copies of her photos, and some feminists hailed her as a pioneer of women's liberation.
Gretchen Mol portrayed her in 2005's
The Notorious Bettie Page
and Paige Richards had the role in 2004's
Bettie Page: Dark Angel
. Ms. Page herself took part in the 1998 documentary
Betty Page: Pinup Queen
Her career began one day in October 1950 when she took a respite from her job as a secretary in a New York office for a walk along the beach at Coney Island. An amateur photographer named Jerry Tibbs admired the 27-year-old's firm, curvy body and asked her to pose.
Looking back on the career that followed, she told Playboy in 1998: "I never thought it was shameful. I felt normal. It's just that it was much better than pounding a typewriter eight hours a day, which gets monotonous."
Nudity didn't bother her, she said, explaining: "God approves of nudity. Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, they were naked as jaybirds."
In 1951, Ms. Page fell under the influence of a photographer and his sister who specialized in S&M. They cut her hair into the dark bangs that became her signature and posed her in spiked heels and little else. She was photographed with a whip in her hand, and in one session she was spread-eagled between two trees, her feet dangling.
Moralists denounced the photos, and Sen. Estes Kefauver of Tennessee, Ms. Page's home state, launched a congressional investigation.
Ms. Page quickly retreated from public view, later saying she was hounded by federal agents who waved her nude photos in her face.
After going to Bible school, she worked for evangelist Billy Graham's ministry.
"She had a very turbulent life," Todd Mueller, a family friend and autograph seller, said. "She had a temper to her."