Pinup legend Bettie Page has died after being taken off life support following a heart attack in early December.
Born in Tennessee in 1923, Page was “discovered” in 1950 after having her picture taken on Coney Island by an amateur photographer. She quickly became a popular model with “camera clubs” and soon found herself appearing in various men’s magazines of the era, but her real leap to fame came as the first bondage model, appearing as both a dominatrix and a submissive in images and films with S&M themes of domination, slave training, spanking and more. Unlike the stag films of the day, however, Page’s early films and photos didn’t include any actual nudity or explicit sexual content.
From there, Page gained small roles on television and in off-Broadway plays, and in January 1955 became an early Playmate of the Month for what was still a relatively new Playboy magazine. That same year, she was chosen as “Miss Pinup Girl of the World,” and while by that point she was frequently posing nude, she continued her refusal to participate in sexually explicit material.
But in 1957, Page suddenly withdrew from public life. She converted to Christianity in 1958 and worked for several groups including the Billy Graham Crusade, but her private life was turbulent. She was married three times, each ending in divorce, and following a violent confrontation with her landlady in the late 1970s was diagnosed with schizophrenia and spent ten years in a mental institution in California. When she was released in 1992, she was reportedly surprised to discover that she had become a pop culture icon; fortunately, with the help of Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner and others, she was able to assert some control over her work via the CMG Worldwide agency, and earned “respectable income” from it.
“When I turned my life over to the lord Jesus I was ashamed of having posed in the nude,” she said in a 2007 interview with Playboy. “But now, most of the money I’ve got is because I posed in the nude. So I’m not ashamed of it now. But I still don’t understand it.”
Bettie Page was 85 when she died. To learn more about her life, her work and her impact, go to her official website at BettiePage.com.