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A sex symbol is a famous person of either gender, typically an actor, musician, model, teen idol, or sports star. The celebrity "star system"—the tabloid papers, paparazzi, and gossip talk shows—play an important role in creating and sustaining the public perception of which stars are viewed as attractive. These media industries are in turn sustained by a strong public demand for sexually alluring photographs or footage of celebrities, including both posed, scantily-clad publicity shots for magazines like Maxim and unauthorized beach or nightclub photos taken by paparazzi with telephoto lenses.

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Film

The film industry played an important part in the rise of sex symbols by disseminating images of beautiful people around the world. Early sex symbols in film were Victorian actress and singer Lillian Russell, Danish silent-film actress Asta Nielsen (nicknamed 'The Silent Muse') and 'It Girl' Clara Bow in the 1910s and 1920s. Theda Bara and Pola Negri, famed for their vamp roles, were also early female sex symbols. Rudolph Valentino was one of cinema's first male sex symbols.

Film's Golden Age sex symbols include 1930s stars Marlene Dietrich, Greta Garbo, Jean Harlow ("The Platinum Blonde"), Joan Crawford, Mae West, Errol Flynn, and Clark Gable; 40s and 50s icons included Rita Hayworth (nicknamed "The Love Goddess"), Veronica Lake, Ava Gardner, Lauren Bacall, Carmen Miranda (nicknamed "The Brazilian Bombshell") Jane Russell, Betty Grable, Bettie Page (in print and underground films), Pamela Green, Lana Turner, the three "Blond Bombshells": Marilyn Monroe, Jayne Mansfield, and Mamie Van Doren; Sophia Loren, Gina Lollobrigida, Brigitte Bardot, Audrey Hepburn, Kim Novak, Elizabeth Taylor, Marlon Brando, James Dean, Tony Curtis, Rock Hudson, and Cary Grant.

Important 60s and 70s sex symbols included Ursula Andress, Clint Eastwood, Frankie Avalon, Mark Hamill, William Shatner, Ann-Margret, Jacqueline Bisset, Cher, Barbara Bouchet, Jane Fonda, Sharon Tate, Goldie Hawn, Raquel Welch, Adrianne Barbeau, Bette Midler, Catherine Deneuve, Nichelle Nichols, Pam Grier, Ali MacGraw, Helen Mirren, Meryl Streep, Sean Connery, Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Burt Reynolds, Robert De Niro, Farrah Fawcett, & John Travolta.

In the 1980s, other significant sex symbols at one point or another during that period included Harrison Ford, Brad Pitt, Val Kilmer, Kim Basinger, Matt Dillon, Charlie Sheen, Bruce Willis, muscle man Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom Cruise, Michelle Pfeiffer, Mel Gibson, Meg Ryan, John Travolta, Patrick Swayze, Matthew Broderick, Robert Downey, Jr., Sean Penn, Kathleen Turner, Michael Jackson, Madonna, and Bo Derek.

As TV's influence grew during the last three decades there was a shift to TV stars becoming more famous: Pamela Anderson, Tiffani-Amber Thiessen, Carmen Electra, Farrah Fawcett, Lucy Liu, Valerie Bertinelli, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Mila Kunis and Don Johnson, all became sex symbols through TV.

More recent screen icons are Jessica Alba, Megan Fox, Angelina Jolie, Demi Moore, Scarlett Johansson, Drew Barrymore, Monica Bellucci, Marley Shelton, Halle Berry, Rebecca Romijn, Keira Knightley, Lindsay Lohan, Alicia Silverstone, Jennifer Aniston, Jennifer Lopez, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Cameron Diaz, Kim Kardashian, Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt, Orlando Bloom, Will Smith, George Clooney, Leonardo DiCaprio, Sean Bean, Zac Efron, Colin Farrell, Matthew McConaughey, Reese Witherspoon, Channing Tatum, Matt Damon, Jude Law, Charlize Theron, Christian Bale, Denzel Washington, Ewan McGregor, Brandon Routh, Jake Gyllenhaal, Heath Ledger, Robert Pattinson, Taylor Lautner, Hugh Jackman and Kristen Stewart.

Cartoons

1930's cartoon character Betty Boop is known as the first and one of the most famous sex symbol on animated screen. After Betty Boop, Jessica Rabbit, who was actually voiced by Kathleen Turner, is widely considered as the next biggest animated sex symbol.

Music

Rock & Roll and pop musicians were some of the first artists to become sex symbols. Past and older music sex symbols such as Michael Jackson, Prince, Madonna, Cher, Kylie Minogue, Marvin Gaye, The Beatles, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Mick Jagger, Grace Slick, Jim Morrison, Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix, Yngwie Malmsteen, Kurt Cobain,Sheena Easton, Debbie Harry, Steven Tyler, Sting, Janet Jackson, Tom Jones, Bruce Springsteen, and Rod Stewart set the stage for contemporary examples, such as Jennifer Lopez, Fergie, Gwen Stefani, Britney Spears, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Mariah Carey, Shakira, Cheryl Cole, Beyoncé Knowles, Lebanese singer Haifa Wehbe and well-built rappers such as 50 Cent, Flo Rida, 2pac and T.I.

Models

Many models and supermodels are widely known enough to be considered sex symbols. Some of today's sex symbols who have become famous as models include Twiggy, Marisa Miller, Lisa Snowdon, Cindy Crawford, Elle Macpherson, Naomi Campbell, Kathy Ireland, Gisele Bündchen, Christy Turlington, Ana Beatriz Barros, Laetitia Casta, Adriana Lima, Alessandra Ambrosio, Heidi Klum, Tyra Banks, and Kate Moss. Others include actresses Angelina Jolie, Jessica Alba, and, most recently, Megan Fox. Male models include Tyson Beckford and Marcus Schenkenberg.

Video games

Video games have had a few characters that are considered sex symbols, although their fame often does not extend into the mainstream. The most well-known example of this category would be Lara Croft, who has had several appearances in mainstream media. Nell McAndrew, who portrayed Lara from 1998 to 1999, appeared on Playboy on August 1999, although the magazine was prevented legally from displaying the name "Lara Croft" next to the model.

Other sex symbols with less notoriety in the mainstream include Rayne, the first video-game character that appeared in Playboy magazine, in the October 2004 U.S.marker edition as part of an article entitled Gaming Grows Up; and Nina Williams, voted "Hottest" Female Fighting Character Guinness World Records Gamers Edition 2008.

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