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Celebrity

'World's Most Famous Madam' Dies at 92

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Laurent Rebours/AP

Madame Claude, a French madam whose client list reportedly included JFK, Marlon Brando and Muammar Gaddafi, has died at 92.

Claude’s CV is a singular one: A former French Resistance fighter who got her start as a businesswoman selling bibles door-to-door, she managed a brothel near Paris’s famed Champs Elysees that at one point had a roster of over 500 women. According to a 2014 profile in Vanity Fair, she counted the CIA among her clients; the agency apparently procured women through her brothel “to help keep up morale” during peace talks in Paris.

Born Fernande Grudent, Claude (allegedly) once said of her life’s work that, “There are two things that people will always pay for, food and sex … I wasn’t any good at cooking.” Her brothel’s client list was certainly diverse, and she revealed some of its depths to Vanity Fair. JFK asked for “a Jackie look-alike ‘but hot;'” Aristotle Onassis and Maria Callas made requests that apparently made her blush. And Rex Harrison and Marlon Brando were among the Hollywood royalty that visited Claude’s establishment.

Prosecuted for “tax-related issues” in the 1970s, she spent time in Los Angeles and was found guilty of pimping at one point in the 1990s, though she never served time. She moved to Nice, France, later in life, where she died in a hospital.

Claude “despised men and women alike,” French actress Francoise Fabian, who portrayed the madame in a 1977 film, told Vanity Fair, and that disregard manifested in her apparent tendency to embellish or falsify details about her life, like that she’d been raised in a convent and spent time in a concentration camp, claims that were challenged by a 2010 documentary about her life.

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

“There’s no shame being associated with a professional on the order of Madame Claude,” socialite and writer Reinaldo Herrera told Vanity Fair. Most women would like to have a past.”