The skin

Goldfinger's revenge: Myth or reality

A dead woman in James Bond’s bed completely painted gold. A world-wide famous scene. A question left unanswered: Is gold life-threatening?

The scene in the James Bond classic Goldfinger only lasted 3 minutes, long enough to make American actress Shirley Eaton famous around the world. And all she had to do was lie on her belly silent and motionless – pretending to be a corpse. However, the body  looked spectacular: she was naked and completely painted in gold paint. 

Probably almost everyone knows this scene from Goldfinger. The millionaire fraudster and gold trader Auric Goldfinger, played by Gert Fröbe, killed the beautiful woman in a perfidious way to take revenge on Bond – after she betrays Goldfinger and helps Bond to win in a card game. 

Skin asphyxiation - death from full-body painting?

What seems to have concerned the public more than this bizarre murder, was the explanation given by Bond for her death: “skin suffocation”. Bond’s playmate died from skin asphyxiation caused by being completely painted in gold. Supposedly, cabaret dancers have passed out on stage for the same reason. The gold coating was said to be dangerous and a certain area on the back must remain unpainted so that the skin could still breathe. 

The producers of Goldfinger were also convinced of this. It is reported that a medical team was present during the shooting and made sure that nothing happened to the actress.

So, what’s the truth in this story? Does the skin really breathe?

Yes, it does. And would you suffocate if your body is completely covered in gold paint or another air-impermeable substance? No way. 

In fact, we do absorb life-giving oxygen through our skin. But only one percent of it. This shouldn’t surprise you, but unlike worms, for example, we breathe through our mouth and nose. Even though, there would probably be some unpleasant consequences if we would completely block our skin’s pores. For example, we wouldn’t be able to sweat and this would cause a higher risk of the body overheating. The paint also has to be safe for body painting and should not contain toxins or allergens, which would obviously have negative effects. Yet, nobody can be killed by suffocation via this route. 

Hopefully this sobering scientific perspective doesn't destroy the myth enjoyed by those hard-core Bond fans. Speaking of myths: conspiracy theories haunt the world about this topic as well. Some contemporaries were convinced that the actress actually died tragically while working on this cult scene – just like Goldfinger's personal assistant, Jill Masterson. Yet, if this were really the case, the question left unanswered was how, then, did Shirley Eaton manage to play in another eight films afterwards...