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France's brothel keeper to the rich and famous has passed away aged 92

It was alleged that her clients included John F. Kennedy, Marlon Brando and the Shah of Iran.

Fernande Grudet, best known under the alias 'Madame Claude', pictured in 1986.
Fernande Grudet, best known under the alias 'Madame Claude', pictured in 1986.
Image: AP Photo/Laurent Rebours

MADAME CLAUDE, CONSIDERED France’s most famous brothel keeper whose clients were said to include John F. Kennedy and Marlon Brando, has died, according to a death certificate seen by AFP today.

Real name Fernande Grudet, she passed away on Saturday in the Mediterranean resort of Nice at the age of 92 after a long period in hospital.

During her peak in the 1960s, she presided over a stable of some 500 high-class prostitutes, who charged thousands a night, and had a client list that reportedly included Moamer Kadhafi, Marlon Brando and the Shah of Iran.

“There was John Kennedy requesting a Jackie look-alike ‘but hot’. There were Aristotle Onassis and Maria Callas showing up with depraved requests that made Claude blush,” wrote Vanity Fair writer William Stadiem in a tell-all piece in 2014 based on extensive interviews with Madame Claude that he conducted in the 1980s.

Claude’s brothel near the Champs Elysees in Paris had a reputation as the most exclusive in the world.

“There was even a story about how the CIA hired Claude’s charges to help keep up morale during the Paris peace talks,” Stadiem wrote.

Claude had become a legend in Paris by the 1950s, using failed models and actresses for what she called her “Claudettes”.

“She will take many state secrets with her. She was a legend,” former Paris police chief Claude Cances told AFP.

Cances, who wrote a book on the vice trade last year, said Claude had been an informant for the police in the 1960s, which protected her from prosecution.

But she was eventually brought down on tax fraud charges “like Al Capone,” he said, and spent the last 15 years of her life on a small pension on the French riviera.

Claude fled to Los Angeles but returned to France in the 1980s. An attempt to return to the prostitution led to another spell in jail the following decade.

She was far from universally liked. Actress Francoise Fabian, who played her in a 1977 film and spent time with the madam to prepare for the role, was not kind in her assessment.

Claude was “une femme terrible. She despised men and women alike. Men were wallets. Women were holes,” Fabian told Vanity Fair.

“She was like a slave driver on a plantation in the American South. Once she took a girl on, the makeover put the girl in debt, because Claude paid all the bills, to Dior, Vuitton, to the hairdressers, to the doctors, and the girls had to work to pay them off. It was sexual indentured servitude.”

- © AFP, 2015

Read: ‘This Christmas Day there will be women in brothels around the country’

Also: First man arrested under new prostitution laws in the North

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