France's most famous brothel 'Madame' dies

NICE • Madame Claude, considered France's most famous brothel keeper, has died at the age of 92.

Her clients were said to include assassinated United States president John F. Kennedy, late Hollywood actor Marlon Brando, former Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi and the Shah of Iran.

Madam Fernande Grudet (her real name) passed away on Saturday in the Mediterranean resort of Nice after a long period in hospital.

During her peak in the 1960s, she presided over a stable of some 500 high-class prostitutes, who charged thousands a night.

Her brothel near the Champs-Elysees in Paris had a reputation as the most exclusive in the world.

"There was even a story about how the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) hired Madam Claude's charges to help keep up morale during the Paris peace talks," wrote Vanity Fair writer William Stadiem in a tell-all piece last year based on extensive interviews with Madame Claude that he conducted in the 1980s.

She had become a legend in Paris by the 1950s, using failed models and actresses for what she called her "Claudettes".

"She will take many state secrets with her. She was a legend," said former Paris police chief Claude Cances.

Mr Cances, who wrote a book on the vice trade last year, said Madam Claude was an informant for the police in the 1960s, which protected her from prosecution.

But she was eventually brought down on tax fraud charges "like Al Capone", he said, referring to one of America's most notorious gangsters.

She spent the last 15 years of her life surviving on a small pension on the French Riviera.

Actress Francoise Fabian, who played her in a 1977 film, told Vanity Fair that Madam Claude was "une femme terrible. She despised men and women alike. Men were wallets. Women were holes".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 24, 2015, with the headline 'France's most famous brothel 'Madame' dies'. Print Edition | Subscribe