LONDON — Christine Keeler, the central figure in the sex-and-espionage Profumo scandal that rocked Cold War Britain and brought down a Conservative government, has died at 75.
In a Facebook post, son Seymour Platt said Keeler died Monday at a hospital near Farnborough in southern England after suffering for many years from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
“My mother, Christine Keeler, fought many fights in her eventful life. Some fights she lost, but some she won,” he said. “She earned her place in British history but at a huge personal price. We are all very proud of who she was.”
Keeler was a model and nightclub dancer in 1963 when she had an affair with British War Secretary John Profumo. When it emerged that Keeler had also slept with a Soviet naval attache with ties to Russian intelligence, the combination of sex, wealth and national security issues caused a sensation and helped topple Britain’s Conservative government.
The married Profumo eventually resigned in disgrace after lying to the House of Commons about his relationship with Keeler. He threatened at the time to sue anyone who suggested there had been any inappropriate behaviour with her.
The stunning sex scandal shed light on a previously well-hidden world of sex- and alcohol-fueled orgies among Britain’s political elite.
A naked photo of Keeler straddling the back of a chair is among the most famous U.K. images of the 1960s. She spent the rest of her life trying to escape her unwanted notoriety.
Born in 1942, Keeler left school at 15 and shortly afterward started working as a showgirl on Greek Street in the heart of London’s Soho district, known at the time for its strip clubs and sleazy entertainment.
Keeler met men like Profumo after befriending a high-society osteopath, Dr. Stephen Ward, who introduced her to a number of powerful figures.
Ward eventually killed himself, taking an overdose of sleeping pills the night before he was convicted of some but not all charges related to immoral earnings. He died after the conviction without regaining consciousness.
Keeler was imprisoned for nine months after admitting perjury and conspiring to obstruct justice.
More than two decades later, she expressed regret in a 1986 interview.
“I was just a 19-year-old girl having a good time. I loved every minute of it. But if I had known then what was going to happen, I’d have run off and not stopped until I had reached my mum,” she said.
Keeler moved on after the scandal. She was married twice and had two sons.
“My life has been cursed by sex I didn’t particularly want,” Keeler said in a memoir written with journalist Douglas Thompson.