It wasn’t long ago my attention turned to Bettie Page. It wasn’t the first time and it probably won’t be the last either because Bettie was a doll and may be one of the most influential pop-icons to be associated with Kingsport, TN (whether that’s true or not).

Bettie died last Thursday, December 11th from pneumonia in a Los Angeles hospital. She was 85 years old.

Born April 12, 1923, Bettie Page was the daughter of Walter Roy Page and Edna Mae Pirtle. She became famous as a fetish pin-up model in the 1950s.

Her dark raven hair, fair skin, bright red lipstick and curvaceous figure was certainly the fantasy of many a young man at the time too and her posters are still drop-dead sexy. Appearing in over 20,000 photos, one reviewer mentioned she was the fore-runner for every “Suicide Girl” since and even the foundation for fetish fashion.

What’s interesting about Bettie’s career is the confusion regarding her place of birth. I’m sure much of this is caused by conflicting Internet reports, but there are many reliable Internet sources that point to Page’s birthplace as Kingsport, TN. You’ll also find her name beside Nashville and I’m still not sure what’s true.

She more than likely has roots in Nashville because she received a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1944 from Peabody College, but there are the regular references to her “poor family” who moved around a lot and she even spent time in orphanages.

It’s cool to think that Bettie Page, one of pop culture’s most iconic models is a Kingsport native. As one of my friends quoted, it’s another reason to refer to our small East Tennessee hamlet as “The Model City.”

One of my favorite quotes that wraps up Bettie’s special magic and endearing appeal describes her look as a, “lethal combination of sweet apple pie, as well as dangerous forbidden fruit.” No anybody like that in K-town?

There’s not doubt we’re blessed with beautiful women here in East Tennessee and every time I head out across the country on a business trip, I’m reminded of this when I return. It’s a noticeable feature of our community – despite the average age of 42.7.

Bettie’s career is legendary. With the exception of Marilyn Monroe, she had her picture on more magazine covers than any model of the time and what’s surprising is how short-lived her career actually was.

She stated in an interview that she began modeling at 27. She appeared in the early editions of Playboy, a few movies, worked with Jackie Gleason shortly and then all of sudden vanished at the height of her career when she was 34.

I’m sure the mystery for this disappearance helped add to the mystique of her character, but Bettie’s decision to leave the entertainment business was a practical reason believing that she didn’t want to get old on camera.

Several biographies describe a life that included ill-fated marriages, a religious conversion (she worked for Billy Graham for a while) and a few mental episodes with included depression and an institution to add to her tragedy. Her later years were spent as a devout Christian, but she never apologized for her work.

Perhaps it was the resurgence of goth/punk fashion in the 1990s that resurrected Page’s ground-breaking work in the 1990s. That’s when her photos started showing resurfacing and most every goth had a Bettie Page look mixing leather, bondage and vampire-red lipstick into a work that has been mimicked across many a stage.

Her resurgence was also rekindled by High Hefner who encouraged her to exploit her work. It wasn’t long after that the Bettie Page brand was a world-wide phenomenon and a movie was made about her life staring Gretchen Mole in 1995 – “The Notorious Bettie Page.”

This dark angel’s death is a sad passing and this past week, many mourners spoke of her enduring style and character. Her status is eternally etched into the lexicon of sexy models and her grave is only a few steps from Marylyn Monroe’s. The LA Times reports that Robert Schuller commenced services at her graveside and even Hugh Hefner was on hand to say goodbye to the gorgeous icon.

Regardless of where her actual birthplace is, Betty is a Tennessean and that’s easy to hear in the Southern draw she has on a recent interview on this You Tube video. She offers an excellent epitaph for her death too in the statement, “I want people to remember me the way I was.”