Mandy Rice-Davies dies at 70; key figure in British political scandal

Mandy Rice-Davies, key figure in Britain's Profumo Affair of 1960s, dies at 70

Mandy Rice-Davies, whose cheeky testimony enlivened a sex scandal trial that rocked Britain's government and aristocracy in the 1960s, died Thursday. She was 70.

The cause was cancer, according to a statement from her London publicist, the Hackford Jones agency.

Rice-Davies, who denied being a call girl but admitted to having affairs with wealthy suitors who provided support, was 18 when she played a key role in what came to be known as the 1962 Profumo Affair.

The scandal focused on her roommate, Christine Keeler, who had simultaneous affairs with cabinet minister John Profumo and Soviet diplomatic attache Yevgeny Ivanov, leading to charges that bedroom talk might have breached national security.

Profumo, married at the time, resigned in disgrace, and Steven Ward, an osteopath convicted of living off immoral earnings, committed suicide.

Rice-Davies, a stylish model and nightclub dancer with a bouffant hairdo, stole the show at Ward's trial with her frank, irreverent comments that tickled the nation. She named the upper-crust William Astor, known simply as Lord Astor in the British press, as one of her lovers who incidentally paid rent on her apartment. When the judge noted that Astor denied having sex with her, Rice-Davies replied: "He would, wouldn't he?"

The line became such a popular catch-phrase that it got Rice-Davies into the Oxford Dictionary of Quotations.

In the 1989 film "Scandal," based on the Profumo Affair, she was portrayed by Bridget Fonda.

While most of the people involved in the scandal were deeply affected in a negative way — Keeler, for example, became reclusive and reportedly destitute — Rice-Davies used it as a springboard to subsequent careers, including acting. She told interviewers she was sorry the scandal happened, but wasn't about to dwell on it.

"I have never been sorry for myself," Rice-Davies said in the London Telegraph. "I'm of the existential school. I did it and that's it."

She was born Marilyn Rice-Davies on Oct. 21, 1944, in Pontyates, Wales. She described having two loves as a child — her pony and the medical missionary Albert Schweitzer, who founded a hospital in Africa. At age 12, the Telegraph said, she wanted to emulate him.

"I wanted to hug lepers, hug trees and to join him if I could," she said. "But then I did some research and changed my mind."

At about 15, she quit school and worked at a department store in Birmingham, England, where she sometimes modeled clothes during tea time.

Seeking a more glamorous life, she took off for London, where she got a job dancing at a club in Soho that catered to an upper-class clientele. It's where she met Keeler, also a dancer.

"We may have been poor, but our lives were rich with admirers and possibilities," she told the Express in 2006. "I was young and in love with the bright lights. I didn't expect my life to end up so highly colored."

In the wake of the scandal, Rice-Davies parlayed her newfound fame into a show business career. "I went around the world singing in clubs," she said in a 1969 Los Angeles Times interview. "I was quite highly paid — but more for my recent embarrassment and the notoriety than any singing abilities I had."

She was engaged at one point to a French count but married Rafael Shaul, an Israeli flight attendant who also owned a club. Ever the entrepreneur, she used her still-famous name to open a series of Mandy's discotheques in Israel. She also had an interest in a clothing business and dabbled in acting.

"I love the conception and the birth of the project, and I don't mind nursing it along for a few months, but then I tend to leave it like an orphan in the rain," she told People magazine in 1986.

The marriage, which produced a daughter, also didn't last — she and Shaul divorced in 1971.

Rice-Davies' second marriage, to Frenchman Charles LeFevre in 1978, lasted only a few months.

She was a popular guest on British talk shows, and continued to act. On stage, she had a small part in a Tom Stoppard satire about political scandals, "Dirty Linen." And she appeared in a few movies, including the 1986 "Absolute Beginners." She was also in a 1994 episode of the British sitcom "Absolutely Fabulous."

She married a third time, to businessman Ken Foreman in 1988, and the couple divided their time between multiple homes. She summed up her life after the Profumo Affair as "one slow descent into respectability."

According to the Telegraph, Rice-Davies is survived by her husband and daughter.

david.colker@latimes.com

Twitter @davidcolker

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