Remembering Gunter Sachs, Brigitte Bardot and St. Tropez

Sachs was a ’60s playboy helped make the French Riviera resort of St. Tropez a playground for rich and beautiful celebrities

Billionaire, Opel heir, philanthropist, documentary filmmaker and renowned art collector Gunter Sachs shot himself in the head last month in his home in the exclusive Swiss Alpine restort Gstaad.

He was the third husband of Brigitte Bardot, whom he married July 14, 1966, in an eight minute ceremony in Las Vegas. 

The day after they met, he flew his helicopter over her villa in St. Tropez and dropped a hundred red roses.  

"It was love at first sight," he said. "I met her in a restaurant and when we spoke, it was as though lightning had struck. I knew the minute I saw her that I was going to marry her."

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

Bardot, who became famous for her steamy nude scene in "And God Created Woman," is an animal activist. Sachs had donated generously to her foundation.

I remember when Sachs and Bardot fell in love. My ex-husband Ron and I were permanent fixtures in St Tropez in the late '60s, as I would come down after modeling in Paris while Ron, who was an artist, would seek out rich art collectors like Sachs, who became one of Ron's collectors. 

We did business under the sun and on the beaches of St. Tropez. 

Leslie and David Newman and Sallie and Robert Benton were on these beaches fresh from Newman and Benton's success of having written "Bonnie and Clyde," which the French called Bunnie and Cliide. Raquel Welch was dancing in the disco the Vroom Vroom Room, but never ever went topless though just about everyone else did. Sam Spiegel and Roman Polanski were on the Plague Moorea and the beach of Club 55, and here we met Sachs and the ravishing Bardot.   

Sachs invited Ron and me on his yacht, the Amazon. 

At sea we rendez-voused with a yacht owned by Johnny Van Newman, an American who had a car dealership. After we all had had beaucoup du vin, Van Newman began shooting real live torpedoes at Sachs's yacht. 

This was after Sachs had visited the island of Porquerolles, known for its "tutti nudi" beaches, and set fire to it. Van Newman and Sachs were playing war at sea. Suddenly Sachs began to sail away from Van Newman.  

"I was swimming out from the boat after lunch," Ron recalled. "And Gunter started to leave while I was still in the water. You were great. You jumped off the boat so they had to stop and get us both. Super model girl."

Ron laughed.  "David and Leslie Newman were with us, and some of the French fellows we knew."

In the '60s and '70s Sachs was a high-profile member of the "jet set" and once boasted of "never having worked a day in his life."

At the age of 66 in an interview Sachs declared, "The golden age when an elite breed of professional pleasure seekers fascinated the world is over. There were only twelve playboys in the world, not more. They were charming and spoke languages and behaved well with women. I think today most of the fun has gone. To go with a girl to Tahiti was incredible. Now everybody goes to Tahiti. This generation can do anything, but it is less fun."

The manner of Sachs death was the same as his father, Willy Sachs, the Nazi member and honorary SS officer who died in a hunting hut in 1958. Sachs shot himself at his chalet in Gstaad because he couldn't live with a brain disease that was affecting his memory: Alzheimer's.

He felt that he had been suffering from this hopeless illness and that he was losing his memory, ability to think and to communicate clearly. He left a note saying, "The loss of mental control over my life was an undignified condition which I decided to counter decisively."