Christine Keeler, a London showgirl whose simultaneous relationships with British war secretary John Profumo and a Soviet military attache produced the country’s most notorious political scandal of the 1960s, died Dec. 4 at a hospital in Farnborough, England. She was 75.
Her son Seymour Platt announced the death on his Facebook page, noting that the cause was chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
The Profumo Affair, as it became known, has echoed through the years as one of the era’s most lurid tabloid scandals, with hints of espionage, Cold War politics, class prejudice and sexual hypocrisy.
The case has stayed in the popular imagination in the form of theatrical plays, including a musical by Andrew Lloyd-Webber, a feature film and dozens of books — three of which were written by Ms. Keeler.
The Profumo Affair made the strikingly beautiful young woman from the British provinces a London celebrity and a perennial staple of headlines and gossip. A nude photograph of Ms. Keeler straddling a chair in 1963 became one of the decade’s most famous images.
She was often described as the call girl — a term she adamantly rejected — who brought down Britain’s ruling Conservative government. Profumo, a rising political star who held the cabinet post of secretary of state for war, saw his career go down in flames.
He and Ms. Keeler met in 1961, when she was taking a dip in a swimming pool at the estate of a British lord. He was 46, married and wearing a dinner jacket; she was 19, free-spirited and wearing a smile.
They began an affair that lasted several months. At the same time, Ms. Keeler was seeing other men, including Yevgeny Ivanov, widely believed to be a Soviet spy.
Profumo, who was married to film actress Valerie Hobson, tried to conceal his affair with Ms. Keeler. But in 1962, another of her jealous lovers, Johnny Edgecombe, opened fire on the front door of the house where Ms. Keeler was living.
When she failed to appear as a witness at Edgecombe’s trial, people began to wonder why. The full extent of the scandal came to light in 1963.
After the press learned that Ms. Keeler was keeping company with a Soviet spy, there was concern that she had been wheedling state secrets from Profumo during pillow talk. She said she had to devise clever ploys to keep her romantic (and geopolitical) rivals from bumping into each other.
The disgraced Profumo resigned his cabinet post and his seat in parliament. The scandal also led to the 1963 resignation of Britain’s Conservative prime minister, Harold Macmillan.
“Christine was no spy,” her onetime lover, Edgecombe, said years later after he served a seven-year prison sentence. “She was far too scatterbrained. She was a party girl. A gorgeous-looking woman who liked men, liked sex and liked to be the center of attention.”
Ms. Keeler and a friend, Mandy Rice-Davies, who died in 2014, acquired a cheeky kind of notoriety, known for their looks and their airy dismissal of stuffy social standards.
When Lord Astor, the nobleman in whose swimming pool Ms. Keeler had been cavorting, denied that he was involved with the teenage Rice-Davies, she quipped in court, “Well, he would, wouldn’t he?”
Wherever she turned, Ms. Keeler found herself caught up in legal trouble. She was convicted of perjury in the assault trial of another of her onetime lovers, a man named Lucky Gordon.
She found her connection to high society through a well-connected osteopath named Stephen Ward. In 1963, Ward went on trial for living off the “immoral earnings” of Ms. Keeler and Rice-Davies — a charge denied by all three.
“This is a political revenge trial — someone had to be sacrificed, and that was me,” Ward said at the time. Near the end of the trial, he took an overdose of sleeping pills. He was found guilty, then died days later without regaining consciousness.
The story of Profumo, Ward and Ms. Keeler was portrayed in director Michael Caton-Jones’s 1989 film “Scandal,” in which Ms. Keeler was played by Joanne Whalley.
“You talk to Christine, and it all happened the day before yesterday,” the film’s screenwriter, Michael Thomas, told the New York Times. “She says Ward’s the only man she ever loved, and you believe her. It’s a love story between two people who were the weapons of each other’s destruction.”
Christine Margaret Keeler was born Feb. 22, 1942, in Uxbridge, England. Her father left the family when she was young, and she grew up with her mother and stepfather in an abandoned railroad car in rural Berkshire, England.
She lived in such fear of her stepfather, she said, that she kept a knife under her pillow. She left home for London when she was 15.
Over the years, she said she had liaisons with the Beatles’ Ringo Starr and actors Warren Beatty, Peter Lawford and George Peppard. Ms. Keeler co-wrote three autobiographical books and had two brief marriages, to James Levermore and Anthony Platt.
Survivors include a son from each marriage and a granddaughter.
Profumo, once considered a potential candidate for British prime minister, reconciled with his wife and quietly worked on behalf of the poor and downtrodden. He died in 2006.
In her later years, Ms. Keeler lived in poverty. She adopted the name of C.M. Sloane as she struggled to find work in advertising, in a school cafeteria and as a receptionist.
“I mean, it’s been a misery for me, living with Christine Keeler,” she told Britain’s Observer newspaper in 2001. “Even a criminal has the right to a new life, but they made sure I did not have that. They just didn’t stop calling me a prostitute for ever and ever and ever and ever. How can anyone live with that? I took on the sins of everybody, of a generation, really.”