Gunter Sachs: Playboy and husband of Brigitte Bardot who helped put Saint-Tropez and St Moritz on the jet-set map

When the German multi-millionaire playboy Gunter Sachs began romancing the French screen idol Brigitte Bardot in May 1966, he didn't do things by halves. After he arranged for a helicopter to drop hundreds of red roses over La Madrague, her Côte d'Azur property, the then most desirable woman in the world certainly paid attention. "It's not every day a man drops a ton of roses in your backyard," Bardot later wrote in Initiales BB, her autobiography. Her sex kitten role in And God Created Woman, directed in 1956 by her first husband Roger Vadim, had already put Saint-Tropez on the map but her relationship with Sachs, covered in great detail by paparazzi and reporters, transformed what had been a sleepy Mediterranean fishing harbour into a must-visit destination for the jet set.

Bardot and Sachs married in Las Vegas on 14 July 1966, a highly symbolic date – Bastille Day – for a union between two high-profile celebrities from former warring countries, sealed with a priceless "tricolore" wedding ring, yet neither party seemed fully committed to the relationship, and they divorced in October 1969. Bardot sold the ring but, in a grand gesture typical of someone with his moneyed background, Sachs managed toacquire it again and present it to his former wife, whom he remained fond of. The former actress was said tobe devastated on hearing the news that he had committed suicide at his home in Gstaad.

Born in 1932 in Mainberg, Germany, he was the scion of two rich industrial families, the car maker Opel on the side of his mother, Eleanor, and the manufacturers of motor parts Fichtel & Sachs on the side of his father, Willy Sachs. His father was a member of the Nazi Party and was arrested and investigated at the end of the Second World War but allowed to resume his business activities. Sachs was educated at the Lyceum Alpinium, the exclusive international boarding school in Zuoz, near St Moritz. He spoke several languages and studied mathematics and economics to prepare for a career as an industrialist.

In his twenties, he dated Soraya Esfandiary, who had been the second wife of the Shah of Iran, before marrying Anne-Marie Faure in 1956. The death of his first wife, due to an anaesthesia error during an operation following a car accident in 1958, and the suicide of his father the same year, acted as the catalyst for the continuation of a playboy lifestyle that made him a fixture of magazines like Paris-Match and Bunte throughout Europe. A handsome man with striking blue eyes, he escorted a succession of dazzling women including Britt Ekland and Aristotle Onassis's ex-wife Tina.

A friend of Vadim's, Sachs became a Saint-Tropez regular, renting a property from Bardot's parents before he even knew Brigitte, and then buying a seashore villa named La Capilla that was designed like a chess set. His parties on the French Riviera became as legendary as the ones held by the record mogul Eddie Barclay, who shared his fondness for white trousers. Sachs eventually met BB through her younger sister Mijanou – Marie-Jeanne – at Gassin, a picturesque village high above Saint-Tropez.

"I'd already known and loved many men, I'd had passionate affairs,"Bardot wrote in her autobiography. "But that evening, I was hypnotised.I seemed to be flying, as if carriedby Gunter into a fairytale world Ihad never known and would never know again."

Still, she turned down his first proposal of marriage but relented when he literally showered her with roses. After the Vegas ceremony, the couple honeymooned in Tahiti before heading back to Europe. However, they always led separate lives and famously didn't have a key to each other's Paris apartments. "While we were married, all told, I don't think we spent more than three months together," Bardot said. "I cheated on Gunter, of course, and he was unfaithful too, a lot more than I was."

In December 1967, Sachs challenged Bardot about the nature of her relationship with the songwriter and producer Serge Gainsbourg, issuing a "him or me" ultimatum that led to the shelving of the original version of "Je T'aime... Moi Non Plus" featuring BB and Gainsbourg, after just one airing on French radio station Europe 1. Revoiced by Jane Birkin, the heavy-breathing single topped charts across Europe in 1969, while the BB version was unreleased until the mid-1980s.

Following his divorce from Bardot, Sachs married the Swedish model Mirja Larsson and opened fashion boutiques in the fashionable resorts he frequented. He periodically returned to St Moritz and became chairman of its Bobsleigh Club in 1969 – Turn 13 of the St Moritz-Celerina Olympic Bob run is named in his honour.

A keen sportsman and a bon viveur, he also founded the infamous members-only Dracula Club, with its distinctive bat logo – his yacht in the Med was also called Dracula – in St Moritz. He did so much to reinvigorate interest in the Alpine resort that the local police turned a blind eye when he staged impromptu car races on the frozen lake in the middle of the night. He became a Swiss citizen in 1976 and spent much of his time at Le Vieux Chalet, his residence in Gstaad.

Sachs had always been interested in astrology, noting that he had overlooked the fact that Bardot and he had incompatible star signs when they married. In the mid-1990s he set up an Institute for the Empirical and Mathematical Examination of the Possible Truth of Astrology in Relation to Human Behaviour which studied data from the official statistics office in Switzerland. He published a book on the subject that became a bestseller in Germany and was translated into English as The Astrology File: Scientific Proof of the Link Between Star Signs and Human Behaviour (Orion Books). "In every case, there were significant results, way beyond what is explicable through mere coincidence," he said when promoting the book, whose profits he gave to his wife's charity for children.

A philanthropist, keen photographer and art collector, he built a considerable modern art collection, including works by his friends the Surrealist painter Salvador Dali and the Pop Art legend Andy Warhol, who portrayed him in his colourful trademark silk-screening style. Sachs enjoyed photographing female nudes and created surreal pictures, which he exhibited, and also made documentary films.

He also wrote a frank autobiography in which he reflected on the deaths of his first wife, of his brother in an avalanche, his father's Nazi connections, and his marriage to Bardot. "A year with Bardot was worth 10 with anyone else," he remarked.

Sachs was believed to have suffered from Alzheimer's. "The loss of mental control over my life was an undignified condition, which I decided to counter decisively," he stated in a farewell note released to the media by his family.

Fritz Gunter Sachs, photographer,author, philanthropist and industrialist: born Mainberg, Bavaria, Germany 14November 1932; married 1956 Anne-Marie Faure (died 1958; one son), 1966 Brigitte Bardot (divorced 1969), 1969 Mirja Larsson (two sons); died Gstaad, Switzerland 7 May 2011.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: You will also work alongside their seasoned sa...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Property Manager

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you looking for your first step into...

Recruitment Genius: Mechanical Design Engineer

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This innovative company working...

Recruitment Genius: Car Sales Executive - OTE £36,000

£12500 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This established Wakefield Deal...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
11 best bedside tables

11 best bedside tables

It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

Italy vs England player ratings

Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

An underdog's tale of making the most of it

Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat