LOS ANGELES — Bettie Page, the 1950s secretary-turned-model whose controversial photographs in skimpy attire or none at all helped set the stage for the 1960s sexual revolution, died Thursday. She was 85.
Page suffered a heart attack last week in Los Angeles and never regained consciousness, her agent Mark Roesler said. Before the heart attack, 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."
Page, who was also known as Betty, attracted national attention with magazine photos of her sensuous figure in bikinis and see-through lingerie.
Her photos included a centerfold in the January 1955 issue of then-fledgling Playboy magazine, as well as controversial 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.
In the 21st century, 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. Page herself took part in the 1998 documentary Betty Page: Pinup Queen.
Her career began in 1950 when she took a respite from her job as a secretary in New York for a walk at Coney Island. An amateur photographer, 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, 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.
Moralists denounced the photos as perversion, and Sen. Estes Kefauver of Tennessee, Page's home state, launched a congressional investigation.
Page quickly retreated from public view.
Her turbulent life included early molestation by her father, she said, followed by three failed marriages, her photo career, a full-time job working for evangelist Billy Graham, a mental breakdown and 20 months in a mental hospital after being diagnosed with acute schizophrenia.
Cajoled into an autograph-signing session in the '90s, she sold thousands of autographs for hundreds of dollars to a new generation of fans.