Maria Schell (search), an icon of the German-speaking film world who achieved international fame before withdrawing into retirement only to return in dozens of memorable character roles, has died. She was 79.

Schell, sister of the actor Maximilian Schell (search), died Tuesday in her sleep in the town of Preitenegg, Mayor Franz Kogler said Wednesday.

Best known internationally for her role as the enigmatic Grushenka in Richard Brooks' 1958 movie "The Brothers Karamazov" (search), Schell starred in dozens of popular German language films in the 1950s. She later made hundreds of television appearances to become an idol to the postwar generation in Austria, Germany and Switzerland.

Recognition came early. She first stood in front of the cameras at age 16 in the Swiss film "Der Steinbruch," ("The Quarry.") Though a limited success, the film led Schell to turn to professional coaching.

She did not appear in another film until six years later, when she starred in Karl Hartl's 1948 production "Der Engel mit der Posaune." The film was known in an English-language version as "The Angel with the Trumpet," bringing Schell her first measure of world recognition.

She also started in "The Hanging Tree," (1959), and "Cimarron," (1960) and dozens of other productions in supporting roles.

Retirement in 1963 was short-lived, with Schell returning to acting just five years later. Her later roles included Nazi architect Albert Speer's mother in the 1982 television production "Inside the Third Reich."

Born to a Swiss writer and an Austrian actress, Schell had three siblings -- among them, younger brother Maximilian.

"Men come and go, but you cannot lose a brother," she would later say of her close relationship with Maximilian. But publicly, she was most associated in the 1950s with Austrian actor O.W. Fischer -- together they starred in a series of frothy love stories that captured the hearts of the postwar German-speaking generation.

In major recognition of her talents, Schell was recognized for best actress at the Cannes film festival in 1954 for her portrayal of Helga Reinbeck in "Die Letzte Bruecke" ("The Last Bridge.")

Her two marriages ended in divorce, the last one in 1988 after 22 years with Austrian actor and director Veit Relin.

Schell last appeared publicly in February 2002 at a presentation of the film "Meine Schwester Maria," ("My Sister Maria,") produced by Maximilian, when she was greeted by minutes-long applause from the audience. Her last years were spent isolated from public view -- close associates said she surrounded herself in her home in southern Carinthia province with television sets for video replays of her own favorite starring roles.

In addition to Maximilian, survivors include son Oliver, from her first marriage, and daughter Marie-Theres from her second.

Kogler, the mayor of Preitenegg, said Schell would be buried in the town on Saturday.