Page, whose later life was marked by depression, violent mood swings and several years in a state mental institution, died Thursday night at Kindred Hospital in Los Angeles, where she had been on life support since suffering a heart attack Dec. 2, according to her agent, Mark Roesler.
Decades later, those images inspired biographies, comic books, fan clubs, websites, commercial products -- Bettie Page playing cards, dress-up magnet sets, action figures, Zippo lighters, shot glasses -- and, in 2005, a film about her life and times, "The Notorious Bettie Page."
Then there are the idealized portraits of her naughty personas -- Nurse Bettie, Jungle Bettie, Voodoo Bettie, Banned in Boston Bettie, Maid Bettie, Crackers in Bed Bettie -- memorialized by such artists as Olivia de Berardinis.
"I'll always paint Bettie Page," De Berardinis said Thursday night . "But truth be told, it took me years to understand what I was looking at in the old photographs of her. Now I get it. There was a passion play unfolding in her mind. What some see as a bad-girl image was in fact a certain sensual freedom and play-acting - it was part of the fun of being a woman."
"The origins of what captures the imagination and creates a particular celebrity are sometimes difficult to define," Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner said Thursday night. "Bettie Page was one of Playboy magazine's early Playmates, and she became an iconic figure, influencing notions of beauty and fashion. Then she disappeared. . . . Many years later, Bettie resurfaced and we became friends. Her passing is very sad."
In an interview 2 1/2 years ago, Hefner described Page's appeal as "a combination of wholesome innocence and fetish-oriented poses that is at once retro and very modern."
According to her agents at CMG Worldwide, Page's official website, www.BettiePage.com, has received about 600 million hits over the last five years.
"Bettie Page captured the imagination of a generation of men and women with her free spirit and unabashed sensuality," said Roesler, chairman of the Indianapolis-based CMG Worldwide, who was at Page's side when she died. "She was a dear friend and a special client and one of the most beautiful and influential women of the 20th century."
A religious woman in her later life, Page was mystified by her influence on modern popular culture. "I have no idea why I'm the only model who has had so much fame so long after quitting work," she said in an interview with The Times in 2006.
She had one request for that interview: that her face not be photographed.
"I want to be remembered," she said, "as I was when I was young and in my golden times. . . . I want to be remembered as the woman who changed people's perspectives concerning nudity in its natural form."
Bettie Mae Page was born April 22, 1923, in Nashville. She was the oldest girl among Roy and Edna Page's six children. Her father, an auto mechanic, "molested all three of his daughters," Page said in the interview.
Her parents divorced in 1933, but life didn't get any easier for Bettie.
"All I ever wanted was a mother who paid attention to me," Page recalled. "She didn't want girls. She thought we were trouble. When I started menstruating at 13, I thought I was dying because she never taught me anything about that."
After high school, Page earned a teaching credential. But her career in the classroom was short-lived. "I couldn't control my students, especially the boys," she said.
She tried secretarial work and marriage. But by 1948 she had divorced a violent husband and fled to New York City, where she enrolled in acting classes. She was noticed on the beach at Coney Island by New York police officer and amateur photographer Jerry Tibbs, who introduced her to camera clubs.
Page quickly became a sought-after model, attracting the attention of Irving Klaw and his sister, Paula, who operated a mail-order business specializing in cheesecake and bondage poses.