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Culture

Romy Schneider: Movie Princess, Screen Legend, Tragic Star

German screen legend Romy Schneider would have been 70 years old on Tuesday, Sept. 23 had she not died tragically of heart failure in her Paris apartment in 1982.

Romy Schneider

Romy Schneider became a screen idol in life and a legend in death

No other German actress has made such an impact or has had so much written about her.

Romy Schneider became a massive star on the back of her trilogy of "Sissi" films, made in the 1950s, about Elisabeth, the Empress of Austria. In this starring role, Schneider caught the attention not only of German cinema but all of Europe. But her international fame really only took off after she began starring in the stylish French movies of the 1960s.

After fleeing the growing pressure in Germany, she moved to France and increased her fame through working with directors like Luchino Visconti, Claude Sautet, Claude Chabrol and Orson Welles.

"I tried to break out," she said of her self-imposed French exile. "Not just from the professional straitjacket I was in but also from that small world. I wanted to get away from the familiar things. I didn't want to always turn in the same circle and it was simply the chance of a new life, a new world….I needed that and have fully used it."

She enjoyed a brief flirtation with Hollywood during which she appeared in "Good Neighbor Sam", a 1964 comedy with Jack Lemmon, and 1965's "What's New, Pussycat?" co-starring Peter O'Toole, Peter Sellers and Woody Allen.

An idol for all times

Romy Schneider

Stylish and sexy, tough and embattled, Romy had it all

Her performances were embraced by audiences as many felt that she brought such humanity to her roles, reflecting at times the feelings of those paying to watch her perform. She became both the fairytale princess and the epitome of struggle in the revolutionary years of the 1960s.

Along with her films, Schneider's personal life was a great interest. Her relationships -- most notably to French actor Alain Delon -- were the stuff of tabloid heaven and her marriages, divorces and affairs only enhanced her growing status as a cinematic icon. Her untimely death at the age of 43 on May 29, 1982, secured her place in history and so began the Romy Schneider myth.

Schneider died of heart failure but many said that she actually died from a broken heart. The star began drinking excessively after the sudden death of her 14-year-old son David on July 5, 1981. David had attempted to climb the spiked fence at his stepfather's parents' home when he punctured his femoral artery. Schneider never really recovered from this tragic loss.

Suspicious death gives life to a myth

First photo of Romy Schneider and her newborn son Christoher in hospital, Dec. 1966.

Schneider never recovered from the death of her son David

It was suggested that Schneider had committed suicide by taking a lethal cocktail of alcohol and sleeping pills but an autopsy was never performed and she was declared dead as a result of a heart attack.

She left behind a legacy of some 60 films, some theater work and a string of television performances but mostly Romy Schneider's life, with its "sky-high applause and deep sorrow of death," made her the mythic star and screen legend she remains today.

Such was her life, her career and death that the idea of a 70-year-old Romy Schneider seems impossible to imagine.

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