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German playboy Gunter Sachs kills self at 78

Legendary German-born playboy Gunter Sachs, a former husband of French bombshell Brigitte Bardot, killed himself at his Swiss chalet due to sickness, his family said Sunday.

He was 78.

His relatives released a suicide note to Swiss media written by the swinging sixties celebrity and photographer in which he explained he took his life because of an illness he dubbed "A".

"The loss of mental control over my life was an undignified condition, which I decided to counter decisively," the letter signed by Sachs said. He called it the "no hope illness A", Swiss news agency SDA reported.

Sachs added that he had always regarded any "threat" he would face "as the only criteria that would lead me to bring my life to an end".

He outlined symptoms such as forgetfulness that appeared to be consistent with a condition like Alzheimers.

His son Rolf Sachs confirmed the death to German celebrity magazine Bunte, and the German news weekly Focus said he had shot himself on Saturday.

Sachs was a veteran of the go-go 1960s who helped make the French Riviera resort Saint Tropez a playground for rich and beautiful celebrities, such as film star Bardot, who was said to be devastated by the news.

"We called Gunter Sachs's private secretary who confirmed the suicide to us, but we have no details on the circumstances," an official at Bardot's animal rights foundation told AFP.

The source said Bardot "has been informed and is devastated. She had kept close ties with Gunter Sachs, who was a guest when we celebrated 20 years of the foundation".

Sachs, who was born in southern Germany, took Swiss citizenship in 1976.

His Vieux Chalet home which overlooks the Swiss resort of Gstaad was guarded by two security agents on Sunday, an AFP photographer said.

A billionaire philanthropist and art collector, Sachs was the grandson of the founder of car giant Opel and the third of Bardot's three husbands.

A few hours after meeting her for the first time he had a helicopter fly over La Madrague, her villa on the French Riviera, and shower it with hundreds of red roses.

"It's not every day that a man drops a tonne of roses in your yard," she later wrote.

The couple married a few weeks later on July 14, 1966, in Las Vegas. They divorced just over three years later.

Sachs had three sons and married a former Swedish model in 1969.

He lost his first wife to a medical error in 1958, the same year his father shot and killed himself.

"Gunter Sachs always knew how to enjoy life," wrote the respected Swiss newspaper Neue Zuercher Zeitung. "Those who knew him may very well believe that he wanted to end it quickly to cut short the suffering of old age."