LOS ANGELES - Legendary 1950s pin-up model Bettie Page died Thursday at a Los Angeles hospital, nine days after suffering a heart attack. She was 85.
Born Betty Mae Page in Nashville, Tennessee, on April 22, 1923, Page studied acting at George Peabody College and went on to become one of the world's most celebrated and influential sex icons.
A Playboy centerfold in 1955, Page made a major impact on fashion and fetishism through her pioneering S/M poses for bondage photographer Irving Klaw. Strictly underground at the time, these kinky 8mm film loops and photo sets made Page the object of cult adoration decades after they first circulated through mail-order catalogs and private collectors.
"I think that she was a remarkable lady, an iconic figure in pop culture who influenced sexuality, taste in fashion, someone who had a tremendous impact on our society," Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner told the Associated Press. "She was a very dear person."
Page withdrew from public view long before her image became part of mainstream pop culture. She retired from modeling in 1959, moved to Florida and became a born-again Christian.
Married and divorced three times, Page struggled with severe depression. In 1979, she was diagnosed with schizophrenia and spent 20 months in a California state mental hospital after attacking her landlady with a knife.
Beginning in the mid-'70s, Page became the subject of countless photo tributes, books, comics and documentaries but remained an elusive, mysterious figure until she resurfaced in the '90s. She spent her final years living in a one-bedroom apartment in Los Angeles.
Reflecting on her nude modeling career in a 1998 interview with Playboy, Page said: "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."
Actress Gretchen Moll portrayed Page in the 2005 Hollywood bio-pic The Notorious Bettie Page. Adult star Ava Rose played her in this year's Adam & Eve Pictures release Bettie XOXO.
Page is survived by her brother Jack Page of Nashville and sister Joyce Wallace of Blairsville, Ga.
A tribute to Page by TIME magazine critic Richard Corliss can be found here.