Audrey Hepburn was a Hollywood darling and fashion icon who won an Oscar for best actress for her very first feature length film, 1953’s Roman Holiday.
From there the young starlet went from strength to strength. With her iconic role as Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s defining fashion and femininity for decades to come.
Redefining the image of the Hollywood starlet with her innocence, Audrey also was an accomplished Humanitarian, becoming a UNICEF ambassador. It was on one of her trips to help bring aid to children in Somalia that Audrey began to feel a pain in her stomach.
She knew the end was coming, but that didn’t even put a dent in her light-hearted charm.
Desperate to spend the last of her life with friends and family at her orchard in Switzerland. Audrey raced against time and fought against the odds to get home.
Born in Belgium in 1929 to a Dutch Baroness and a British trader. Audrey Hepburn had a privileged early upbringing, traveling frequently with her family due to her father’s work.
However in 1935, Audrey’s father left abruptly; an event which she would describe as the most traumatic event of her life.
Audrey was sent to a boarding school in England until 1939 when Britain declared war on Germany and when she’s sent to the Netherlands. As her mother hoped that the Dutch would stay neutral during the war.
While at boarding school, the young Audrey had taken up ballet which she continued in the Netherlands, quickly demonstrating her innate talent and becoming a “star pupil”.
Her mother’s dreams were dashed when the Germans invaded and occupied the Netherlands in 1940. Audrey’s cushy childhood came crumbling down, but she was not deterred, performing dances to raise money for the Dutch resistance.
Towards the end of the war, there was a famine in the Netherlands where Audrey and her family were so hungry they were forced to eat tulip bulbs to survive. During this period Audrey developed a whole host of health conditions due to malnutrition, including acute anemia and lung issues.
After the war, Audrey and her family moved to Amsterdam where she carried on with ballet under the tutelage of famed instructor Sonia Gaskell. In 1948 she got her first taste of the spotlight in an educational travel film; Dutch in 7 Lessons, before winning a scholarship to study ballet in London.
She supported herself by working as a model part-time. Despite her talent, Audrey told she would never make it as a professional dancer due to the health conditions she’d developed during the war. It was at this point that she decided to focus on acting.
Audrey received critical praise for her on stage performance in the Broadway play Gigi. She garnered enough attention to be cast as the leading actress in Paramount’s 1953 Roman Holiday.
After seeing her screen test, director Willie Wyler so impressed that he cast Audrey Hepburn over the producer’s first choice of Elizabeth Taylor!
Roman Holiday went on to be a box-office success. With Audrey winning an Oscar for Best Actress, a Golden Globe and a BAFTA.
A star was born.
Audrey Hepburn continued to grace the silver screen while maintaining her stage career. Her performances included a 1954 Broadway production of Ondine, in which she played a water nymph who falls in love with a human.
Audrey did in fact fall in love with her co-star, Mel Ferrer and the two married later that same year in Switzerland. In 1960 Audrey gave birth to their son, Sean Ferrer.
Audrey’s star continued to rise, and in 1961 she appeared as the iconic Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s for which she nominated for another Oscar.
She continued a steady stream of well-received performances until 1967s Wait Until Dark. Which filmed while she’s in the middle of divorcing Mel Ferrer, who was one of the film’s producers. Even though she lost 15 pounds from the stress, she received her fifth and final Oscar nomination for Best Actress.
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After 1967, Audrey Hepburn stepped away from the spotlight to devote herself to her family.
Even though her marriage to Sean’s father, Mel Ferrer, ended in divorce, she soon remarried, tying the knot with Italian psychiatrist Andrea Dotti whom she met on a Mediterranean cruise in 1968.
In 1970 the couple welcomed Audrey’s second son into the world, Luca Dotti.
While Andrea and Audrey divorced in 1982, the actress, mother and humanitarian found lasting love with Dutch actor Robert Wolders, with whom she spent a peaceful series of years living mostly in Switzerland.
Audrey spent most of her time on her family and humanitarian efforts, becoming a Goodwill Ambassador of UNICEF in 1989.
Motivated by her own experience during the German occupation of the Netherlands during the second world war, Audrey was grateful to be able to give back. She recalled how she had received international aid during her time of need and wanted to do the same for others who needed it.
She traveled the world on humanitarian missions on behalf of UNICEF, including visits to Ethiopia, Turkey, Vietnam and Bangladesh. Wherever she went, she never hesitated to hug and comfort the children.
Audrey made only a few more appearances on the big-screen, including as an angel in Spielberg’s 1989 Always, in which she helps guide a pilot to the afterlife after his untimely demise.
Ironically, Audrey would soon have to face her own journey to the afterlife.
In 1992, while on a humanitarian trip to Somalia, Audrey Hepburn had started to have intense stomach pains. On her return, she was diagnosed with cancer of the appendix.
Given only three months to live by doctor’s Audrey admitted that she was afraid of the pain but not of death.
Audrey received the news from her elder son, Sean Ferrer.
“How disappointing,” she stoically replied.
Back in Los Angeles, she underwent surgery to remove the tumor, but by then it was already too late.
Wolders and Sean asked doctors not to tell Audrey the extent of her illness. But journalists bribed one of the hospital staff and published a detailed report of her condition.
Instead of focusing on herself, Audrey spent the remainder of her time and energy on those she cared about. She wanted to give as much hope to those around her, hope she desperately needed herself.
Audrey kept her son’s hope alive by sharing her dreams and plans for the future.
“She was sick in bed but talked about taking us all to Australia. It all because she had heard it was very beautiful. That dream was what kept us all going” her youngest, Luca Dotti remembers.
Audrey’s only regret? That she wouldn’t be able to continue helping others on behalf of UNICEF
“I want people to know that the largest part of humanity is suffering.”
Christmas was Audrey’s favorite holiday and she was desperate to spend what would be her final Christmas at La Paisible, her home in rural Switzerland surrounded by friends and family.
But due to her fragile help, this would prove to be a difficult journey. If she were to take a commercial flight from Los Angeles, there’s a good chance she wouldn’t make it.
Fortunately, Audrey Hepburn was someone who earned the love, admiration and friendship of those around her. This included the fashion designer Hubert de Givenchy, who described his relationship with her as “a kind of marriage.”
Givenchy and another friend, Bunny Mellon, organized a private jet filled with flowers for Audrey and longtime lover Robert ‘Robbie’ Wolders to return to Switzerland. The pilots descended extremely slowly and carefully to make sure that the pressure didn’t drop too quickly.
All the stops were pulled out to make sure that the iconic actress and devoted humanitarian returned home safely.
Once Audrey Hepburn finally arrived, she and her family were able to share a final Christmas together.
Audrey was in good spirits, asking Wolders to buy three winter coats which she gifted to Wolders, Givenchy and Sean respectively. “Think of me when you wear them,” she told three of the most important men in her life.
She spent that Christmas giving gifts to her loved ones to remember her by.
“I remember the important things that she left us with and the conversations that we had in the last few weeks,” Sean recalls. “She died at 63, which is young, but she had lived a very full life. I think 63 years as Audrey Hepburn would equal 120 years of experience for somebody else.”
When Hubert Givenchy went walking with Audrey in her orchard, he smelled apples and was later told that they were going to be donated to the Salvation Army, as they were every year. Even at the end, she was thinking of others.
‘It was the most beautiful Christmas I ever had,’ Audrey said. She passed away in her sleep on January 20th 1993 during the night.
The funeral took place a few days later and was attended by friends and family, including her two ex-husbands. Gregory Peck, her co-star from that fateful performance in Roman Holiday recited “Unending Love,” one of Audrey Hepburn’s favorite poems.
Now it’s time to hear from you.
Which one is your favorite Audrey Hepburn flick? Did it change the way you saw women in Hollywood?
Let us know in the comment section below.
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