Bettie Page, dead at 85

She had a good run, although part of her life was marred by mental illness and religion. Now an icon of the sexual revolution is gone.

I’m rather curious to know how many readers here have never heard of her before — this could make me feel very old.


  1. Bachalon says

    You’d be surprised how many young people are familiar with her.

    All of my friends and I am. None of us is older than 25. We could be an exception, though.

  2. imflyboy says

    She was iconic. Super sexy without being trashy, something some of our current stars don’t seem to get.

  3. Fred Mounts says

    There was a movie that came out about her a few years ago, so that might help. The Notorious Bettie Page, starring Gretchen Mol.

  4. Badjugger says

    I see the movie was mentioned. I enjoyed it quite a bit. At 48, sadly I was unaware of her until seein the movie. She seemed to be a bit of a refreshingly free spirit.

  5. Joe M says

    She was a huge influence on me. She’s one of the main reasons I took up photography. During a time when talking sex, even a little, was taboo, she showed that a woman could be beautiful, happy, seductive, sexy, bawdy and innocent all at once. She will be missed.
    btw, as far as age goes, I’m 44 so it’s not only senior citizens who know Bettie. Go look on some forums for photographers or models, and you’ll quickly see the impact she had.

  6. Tulse says

    Super sexy without being trashy

    Depends on what one sees as “trashy” — she did bring S&M to popular attention (not that there is anything wrong with that).

  7. Nomen Nescio says

    i’m considerably less than half her age, yet i’ve known of (and admired) her work for nearly half my life. you’ve no reason to feel older than me, at least not on this account.

  8. says

    Bettie Page was amazing. In every photo I’d ever seen of her, she just radiated a happiness and joy that was incredibly sexy.

    Of course, I’m 47 so I’m pretty old.

  9. stevogvsu says

    I most certainly do know Bettie Page P.Z. The Dick Whitney pictures of her are some of the sexiest image ever in my opinion and I’m 21.

  10. BGT says

    39 here, and I do know who she is. I have a book about her that was a sort of biography/pictorial history. I will unashamedly add that I have a few reprints of her as well. :-)

  11. ryanm says

    I’m 25, and unfortunately I didn’t know who she was. Then again, I’m gay, so if I ever did hear about her, it was probably totally lost on me. Sexy girl, nonetheless.

  12. says

    Bettie has a hairstyle named after her. She was the brunette antidote to the blonde bombshell. I think she’s classic. So no worries on the being “old” for knowing who she is. Half a zillion baby goff and emo girls have her hair.

    I’m told that this was the last public photo of her…in 2003. If so, she looked pretty good for somebody who had hit 80. (Dyed hair or not.)

  13. Ashley says

    I was born in 1986 and I know who she is. :-D Bummer she got all religious and killed her career.

  14. says

    I doubt if Bettie Page was as famous in the fifties as she became in the 80s and 90s. All of the original work I’ve seen her do was really cheap fetish films and photography club photos. I think she might have been the original model for the Vampira comics.

    She became a big influence later on other models who copied her look. Just check out the girls playing poker in this photo:

    Isn’t that two of the Bettie Page looks?

  15. ZacharySmith says

    I first heard about Betty Page several years ago. Saw some old photos and was absolutely enchanted!

    It may please you, PZ, to know that in the eclectic, hip, liberal town of Royal Oak, Michigan (just minutes away from my former my former residence) there was a gift store that sold all sorts of retro stuff – cardboard cut outs of James Dean, reproduction vintage lunch boxes (The Jetsons, Lost in Space, etc) and other such goodies.

    Betty Page memorabilia was in abundant supply. T-shirts, posters, photos, refrigerator magnets, you name it.

    This is the same store where I bought my “Dogma” Buddy Christ figure. It now stands prominently displayed next to my Tales of Glory Jesus doll.

  16. Diana says

    There is a line of fairly hip accessories featuring Bettie Page that are popular with young people: metal lunch boxes, tank tops, etc. So a lot of young people know her as sort of a pop icon.

  17. says

    The woman is an American icon, everyone here in the colonies should know her. At least she didn’t die on December 10th, after loosing Richard Pryor on my birthday 3 years ago…

  18. says

    I found out about Bettie Page probably through Harlan Ellison, when he raved about the comic The Rocketeer in the ’80s, when I was in high school (a character in Rocketeer was based on her). One of my best friends was a comic book nerd and the comics shops had lots of Bettie merch everywhere. A middle-aged guy I worked with was astonished I knew who Bettie Page was. I said, “I’m an 18-year-old guy who hangs out in comic books shops. Of course I know who Bettie Page is!” Many years later I got in trouble working in a bookstore when I ordered a beautiful book on her to stock; the oh-so-sensitive staff were quite taken aback by her fetish gear. They had no idea who she was. I’m hoping today they’re getting lots of orders for that book…

  19. mcshemp says

    If it makes you feel any better about the age thing PZ, I’m in my late 20s and I know who Bettie Page is. A lot of my peers are big fans.

  20. electricbarbarella says

    35 here and I not only know who she is, but do Betty Boop as well and I adore them both. :)


  21. Don Smith, FCD says

    I know who she is, but then I’m the same age as you are and that probably doesn’t help with the feeling old bit.

  22. Efogoto says

    Cheesecake artist Olivia did some Betty Page inspired work, which was how I learned of her years ago.

  23. Mark says

    33 here and I knew of her. Probably from the 35th anniv issue of playboy but I did watch the movie with Gretchen Mol.

  24. ppb says

    I heard about her first from my 23 year old daughter. I think I was too young to know about her the first time around and too old to catch her revival.

  25. deang says

    I was born in ’65, so she’s a little before my time, but since I hung out with rockabilly revivalists and other postpunk subculture types in the 80s, I learned about her around 20 years ago from people obsessed with 1950s pop culture. She was one of the 50s women rockabilly girls would try to dress like. I still haven’t seen the movie about her that came out a couple of years ago.

  26. Kassul says

    Despite being a youngin’ I knew Bettie Page. Heard about her through multiple sources by now. A psychology of human sexuality class, a friend, and a webcomic(Questionable Content, the main character’s mother is described on the cast page as “Marten’s mother, who was a former fetish queen a la Bettie Page and went by the stage name Veronica Vance…”)

  27. Chris N says

    I’m 24 years old and consider (young) Bettie Page to be one of the hottest women to ever walk the Earth. Sexy, yet not whorish, as is all to often the case today.

  28. MC says

    I live in Seattle and there’s a house along the I-5 corridor that has a giant painting on one side that looks like Bettie Page. It always makes me think of her at least.

  29. Runolfr says

    Betty is still remembered and revered at Dragon*Con, which hosts an annual Betty Page Look-Alike contest, so you are not alone.

  30. ggab says

    The legendary Dave Stevens is responsible for her more recent fame. He’s the artist that did the Rocketeer comics, and several pin-up illustrations of her.
    He had thought that she died years before (as was the rumour at the time). When he found out that she was still around, and not in good health, he decided to spend a significant amount of his time taking care of her.
    Unfortunately, he passed away from cancer recently (far too young).
    Perhaps she had a hard time with him gone. He had been taking care of her for quite some time.

  31. AlanWCan says

    So she was well and truly schizophrenic when she was born again and hooked up with Billy Graham? That’s a pretty common story. mental illness…new found religion. Funny that.

  32. negentropyeater says

    Born in 1964, French, her name rang a bell but I didn’t know what she was famous for.

  33. says

    40 years old, and I was aware of her. Her photos are fascinating — the combination of sexuality, innocence, and joy has probably never been matched so perfectly.

  34. Ragutis says

    Don’t feel old, PZ. I’m 37 and not only know who Bettie was, but knew that today would’ve been Frank Sinatra’s 93rd birthday. (Listening to him w/Tommy Dorsey now, actually)

    As you said though, reaching 85 and being an influence and icon for several generations is a pretty good score to end the game with.

    And yeah, I’m sure a lot of the younger set know about her, at least indirectly, by her influence on Dita Von Teese, nu-burlesque and the various aspects of retro, goth, and punk subcultures.

  35. Cruithne says

    I discovered Betty Page through the comic books of Dave Stevens, comics like The Rocketeer.
    Sadly, Dave also passed away earlier this year at the tragically young age of 52.

  36. AL Jeremy says

    Do I know who she is? Let’s see, I have a metal Bettie Page lunch box sitting above my computer. I also have a Bettie Page alarm clock that someone gave me for my birthday some years ago. Then there’s the calendar from 1975 (my birth year) where Page is the June (my birth month) photo that my mom’s boss gave me last year.

  37. senecasam says

    I’m older than I’d like to admit – and a big fan of Bettie Page.

    She was the epitome of sexy.

  38. jj says

    24 here – I remember about 3 years ago I bought my girlfriend a the time a Zippo lighter with Betty Page on it, she loved her, probably more than me.

  39. catta says

    28 years old, and have had photos of her on my wall for nigh on ten years. Not knowing who she was (or even thinking she was a fictional character) isn’t so much a sign of youth, I think. It’s more likely to be a result of her not allowing any photographs after her retirement. In current celebrity culture, that pretty much is the same as not existing, being dead or being entirely fictional.

  40. Mike Rondeau says

    I’m 31 and I heard of here when I was around 8.I found a picture of here in my dad’s room. I have been a fan since.

  41. Azdak says

    Old? Nah. Just up on your pin-up trivia. If you remember Dorothy Stratten’s death, then you’re old. Jayne Mansfield’s? Ancient.

  42. Azdak says

    Oh, and I should state, for the record, that I carefully chose my criteria in #68 so as to ensure that I still feel young — at the expense of some of you, to be sure.

  43. Joseph Peacock says

    Here in Las Vegas, we have a Bettie Page store in one of the malls. I’m not sure if it’s a chain, or if there are any others around the world. The store sells all kinds of pin-up materials, paraphernalia, kitsch, memorabilia, anything they can sell that’s Bettie or pinup themed. It’s a pretty cool place, but I know I look like an out-of-place weirdo going there.

  44. Fiat Lex says

    Heck, I’m 25 and I know who she is, and so did most of the people I went to high school with. Mostly because her photos are still super-sexy but retro enough that people’s parents didn’t throw them out. :)

    I still have a cigarette case with a Bettie Page print on it, in fact. She was a beautiful and admirable icon.

  45. Dr. Strangelove says

    The movie about Bettie from director Mary Harron and writer Guinevere Turner (“I Shot Andy Worhol” and “American Psycho”). Very good movie for those are interested in the lovely pin-up. The dvd has a good commentary track and a little 15min documentary on pin-ups. My library had a copy of it. Good Stuff.

  46. ShadowWalkyr says

    I’ve known about Bettie Page since I was in my early teens (so, about twenty years now), but it was several years before I put the name to the image. And until I read your article, I didn’t know a thing about her history.

  47. JJR says

    This 37 year old certainly knows who Bettie Page is; The original “American idol” if you will; America’s favorite pin-up girl. Too bad she “got religion” and went all god-botty in later life. Alas.

    Sort of like the career of writer John Dos Passos…I like the young, vibrant, socially aware & critical Dos Passos, and despise the older God-that-failed McCarthyite bastard he became.

  48. Peter McKellar says

    I’m 50 years old, but have know of the Betty Page icon since I used to flick through playboys and penthouses at the local newsagent – at age 15. Playboy had a resident artist that did classic drawings of her.

    Anyone that isn’t aware of the ephemera of these people hasn’t studied history except in the textbooks. Gypsy Rose Lee claims she dragged the world out of The Great Depression and Mae West is both bad and better. A silent screen siren last seen in The Whales of August, somewhat ravaged by age was Lillian Gish. She was beautiful in her youth – prior to those self-sensorship laws hollywood imposed.

    Betty should be up there with Marilyn and I suspect will “oustrip” her – she seems to hark back to Art Deco days and Cate Blanchett’s look in the last Indiana Jones movie borrows from Betty’s look.

    These icons all pre-date me – so I commend those in their 20s that have taken the trouble to research some of these people. Remember too that these individuals were generally more interesting and colourful than the monarchs and politicians we learn about in school – and in the long run at least as influential.

  49. Shamar says

    I’m only 26 and I am just dumbfounded by the number of people posting who don’t know much about who Betty Page was! She was a sexual icon in her day, and is still revered by many to this day as such. Betty Page, along with Alfred Kinsey and others were a huge part of the sexual revolution of the 60’s.

    Hell, I have a female friend who is younger than me that loves Bettie Page and collects every bit if Bettie Page merchandise that she can get her hands on.

    Have the rest of yall been living under a rock, or what?!?

  50. Patrick says

    She’s a fixture at our house. Magnets, pictures, posters, videos, etc and will continue to be. Shame she’s gone. Oh, we’re mid to late 20’s…

  51. Jadehawk says

    You’d be surprised how many young people are familiar with her.

    ditto. the entire psychobilly subculture is firmly grounded in the 50’s, and a lot of the clothing is based on her looks and style

  52. says

    I definitely know Bettie. A very important person in my field.

    Bettie was sex- positive before we had a word for what that was. She was a role model for fetish pride, for taking pleasure in bodies and in sex, for women proudly and cheerfully claiming their sexuality… way the hell before it was cool. She was shameless — not the wild, defiant, “fuck you and your shame” Jezebel sort of shameless (which I’m also fond of, don’t get me wrong), but the sort of shameless that doesn’t even see what there is to be ashamed of. She was always smiling and playful and full of radiant joy. (And even after she found religion and quit modeling, she never disavowed her erotic and fetish work or treated it like it was something to be ashamed of.)

    A great lady. She will definitely be missed.

    (Oh, and for the record: I’m 46, turning 47 this month.)

  53. Neil says

    It’s funny…my brain is a magnet for pop-culture b.s. I know names of characters from current television shows and the actors that play them, and I don’t even watch t.v.
    Bettie Page is way more than the usual pop-culture B.S. A joyful person who did great, campy work that still pushes buttons today. I love that such an innocent looking face can make so many people blush, even decades later.
    Needless to say, I’ve known of Bettie Page by image for most of my life, and by name since I stole my first Playboy at ten years old in 1983. One of the poster prints by Olivia is hanging, old and tattered, on my bedroom door.
    I thought knowing about Bettie Page was required knowledge, in the U.S. at least! If not, it should be!

  54. Lago says

    Betty put quite a few young boys through puberty, and ’til this day I still think she is one of the sexiest women I have ever seen…

    Does anyone have pictures of Betty after the fact, when she became born again and all that? I heard an interview with her once, but it was audio only as she forbid cameras. Her voice was as rough as an old dirt road, and it was a shock to think of her beauty and hear that voice. I believe she was a heavy smoker…

  55. says

    27 here; know her.

    People were pecking around it, but not explicitly. The Hot Topic retail chain had a huge thing to do with her pop culture revival, at least within the upper-middle-class ‘goth’ Generation Y demographic.

  56. says

    Can I use this as one more reason to feel old?

    As perhaps the youngest SciBling (by a few months, I think), I need every scrap of maturity I can get.

  57. GaryB says

    Sorry PZ, I was born in the ’50s and I’ve not heard of her. That may be because I’m Canadian and we’re usually a decade or so behind you guys.

  58. LisaJ says

    Sorry PZ, I was born in the ’50s and I’ve not heard of her. That may be because I’m Canadian and we’re usually a decade or so behind you guys.

    Hmmm, I’m Canadian too. Perhaps this is why I seem to be one of the only 20 somethings that have never heard of her. She sounds like a fantastic lady though, and it’s too bad that this is how I’ve first heard about her.

  59. Ragutis says

    Aw, Damn. Van Johnson has died as well. 92 is pretty impressive, though. Guess I’ll go look and see if I still have “Thrill of a Romance”, “A Guy Named Joe”, or “Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo” on VHS somewhere.

    (Esther Williams in that bare-midriff dress in ToaR… mmmmm mmm.)

  60. Nemo says

    I (39) was long familiar with her, though I was surprised to find out she only died today. My mother (72) said she never heard of her. (I decided not to explain her.)

  61. Kurt Greenwood says

    I think the amazing thing about Bettie Page is that, even after all these years, her pictures are still so hot that they make me want to play with myself – nobody else from back then has that effect on me.

  62. John Morales says

    Lago @88,

    Does anyone have pictures of Betty after the fact, when she became born again and all that

    Try google images; I found this at the first try.

  63. says

    Not only do I know who she is, I did a drawing of her, from a photo, when I was a senior in high school (1986).

    Let’s just say that copies of the drawing were very popular amongst my friends. ;-)

  64. David says

    Just when I think 2008 can’t get any worse, news like this pops up. I’m only 30, but I think you’d had to have led a WAY too sheltered life to never have heard of Bettie Page.

  65. Chakolate says

    I’d never heard of her, but I’d definitely seen her. Never knew her name.

    I’m a 56 y o female, if that matters.

  66. Robin says

    I’ve been well aware of Bettie for most of my adult life.

    And I’m a big ‘mo.

    But, even being a ‘mo, I can appreciate Bettie for what she was. Before she got all fucked up with religion, that is.

  67. Holydust says

    I’m pretty sure no one else has mentioned this, but Bettie was also known for her historic photo shoot with an African-American man on a beach. Until then, I believe there’d really been no biracial sexy photography (whatever the best terminology is!). She talked about it on a radio interview I heard with her about seven or eight years ago. It was sweet the way she talked about it. She really did have this amazing innocence that was just like, “I don’t see what the big deal is”. I think the way that her life went was just a sign of the times.

    She’ll always be an icon, not just for how she looked on film, but for her spirit and all the barriers she broke down. Few people have had such a profound effect on me.

  68. Jeanette Garcia says

    I found some magazines hidden in my parents dresser drawer. Their pages featured pinups, all kinds of scantily clad girls, but one stood out for me, Betty Page. I thought she was the most beautiful woman in the world, and although I was barely pubescent at the time, I longed to look just like Betty Page when I grew up. RIP Betty.

  69. Ryan F Stello says

    Amongst most of everyone here, I guess I’m a whippersnapper at 28, and I’ve heard of her.

    I was just a tinge saddened that no news agency ran a recent photo (thanks PixelFish #25, for the 2003 pic), but I guess everyone has that one thing in their life that will be referenced for the rest of your life.

    And what a thing that was. Grrr-aw!

  70. Jenny Ashford says

    I’m 36 and I’ve known who she was for ages. She’s always been something of a goth/rockabilly icon, especially with that black hair with the bangs that so many goth chicks do (including myself). I even have a calendar of her, and an alarm clock with one of Olivia’s airbrush portraits of her on it. My 23-year-old brother has a bowling shirt with her on it, and a poster of her holding a whip. She was such a beautiful girl and seemed happy and sweet from the short glimpses of her I’ve seen on old promo films by Irving Klaw. She will be greatly missed at my house! :-(

  71. says

    I discovered Bettie in the early 70’s when I saw an Irving Klaw photo in one of my dad’s Playboys. I thought, “holy shit! There’s a whole world I know nothing about!”

  72. Rallymodeller says

    Used to date a girl who had a big Bettie tattoo on her back. Looked kinda like bomber nose art. It was cool.

    Then she found god.


  73. DLC says

    Odd how a woman can go from sexual icon to religious nut like that. but still, she was definitely something to look at.

  74. LUFTRITTER says

    I’m 28 and I knew her thourough drawings in comics.

    Then a saw the photos. She was gorgeous. One of the most beautiful women that ever lived.

  75. brandon says

    Bettie’s, erm, corpus was amazing. I was unaware of her born-againish. But it’s a shame she’s gone.

  76. Crudely Wrott says

    So many references to how old or how young one is.

    Joy, beauty, happiness and unmistakable allure are (or in my twisted mind, ought to be) a ground state. Near the norm. To be otherwise is the exception.

    This lady has always been with us and she remains welcome as time goes by.

  77. Cliff Hendroval says

    50, knew of her, but only because of her cachet among retro-hipsters – certainly didn’t know about her while I was growing up.

  78. CortxVortx says

    My older brother had the Playboy magazine that featured her. I was 9 or 10 at the time. I will always remember those bangs.

  79. XymbionicX says

    Im 48 and had never heard of her, but I am from the UK and us brits dont do sex – the only thing we have that gets stiff is our upper lip lol

  80. JulesRynae says

    I was born in ’79 and I know who Bettie Page is – if anyone has never heard of her or seen her iconic posters, they have been living in a cave.

  81. says

    Bettie Page appears to have achieved a late life renascence. One of my college students (late teen or early tween) was sporting a T-shirt with a voluptuous female figure on it. I didn’t immediately recognize it, but I felt comfortable enough with the student to ask: “Is that a Vargas pin-up or a Petty girl?” He shook his head, perhaps a bit disappointed in me: “No, it’s Bettie Page.” I wasn’t playacting when I nodded my head, because I had certainly heard of her before, but I was surprised that my student was a fan. It seems clear that Bettie Page is an enduring icon.

  82. Nick Gotts says

    I’d never heard of her. Following PZ’s link, her life as a whole is a pretty sad story (being “born again”, three divorces, paranoid schizophrenia), and I don’t get what makes her “an icon of the sexual revolution”. Pin-up photos are almost as old as photography.

  83. Anonymous Coward says

    Don’t know her. But then, I live under a rock in the Netherlands. I won’t divulge my age, except to say that all the young people haven’t fully given up convincing me that I’m not old yet. Anyway, I watched a few clips and all I thought was ‘Was dat ‘t nou?’ I’m severely underwhelmed. She was not particularly sexy and to those of you who say she wasn’t trashy: well, I think she was, a bit more than slightly so.

  84. PennyBright says

    Heh. I’m another 30-something with a Bettie-crush. A lot of us younger folks are familiar with Bettie Page. We like Veronica Lake, too. Certainly everyone in my cohort in college (late 90’s) was familiar with Bettie. Veronica was a little less popular. Of course, we were also a bunch of queer alternative religious free-thinker types.

    Weirdly, I’ve encountered a fair number of older people (50+) who claim to never have heard of either.

  85. Ancient Brit says

    I hit 55 this year, and I’m pretty certain that I’d never heard of her until a few years ago, when I watched the movie The Notorious Bettie Page – but then I’m an ancient Brit, and we tend to forget our own history on a regular basis, let alone anyone else’s…

  86. says

    Betty was wonderful.

    I don’t think age is factor for knowing of her, as much as lifestyle is.
    Film majors/video store clerks, punk/rockabilly types, and pop culture junkies have worshipped her for years. Stores on South St. Philadelphia (where people went before Hot Topic), have sold merchandise featuring her since the 80’s.
    She’s an icon of American alternative culture.

  87. gburnett says

    Oh yes, I have a coffee-table book of her photos. She was a real breath of fresh air, even if she did develop a theonoma in her later years. Oh, and I’m 39, so I’m getting up there.

  88. Pockets says

    I know who she is (27) and when I first met my wife one of the things that struck me was her full size poster hiding behind the door.

  89. Rob Sparling says

    26 here and I’ve known who Bettie Page was for years. There’s a few great documentaries about her (HBO ran one a few years ago) and a decent Bio Flick called The Notorious Bettie Page starring Gretchen Mol. E! True Hollywood ran a piece on her that actually got her found again. Dark Horse Comics also has a graphic novel or two.

  90. amanda says

    hah, im 19 years old and ive heard of her, i love Bettie, i have pictures of her all over my room.