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Audrey Hepburn

“The best thing to hold onto in life is each other.” – Audrey Hepburn

Audrey Hepburn was born in Belgium on 4 May 1929. Her father, Joseph Ruston had served as a consul to the Dutch East Indies and so she lived all over Europethroughout her childhood as his work moved him and his family from one place toanother. She took an interest in dance at an early age whilst in Switzerland and when the family arrived in London in 1948, she began training as a ballerina.




Audrey’s mother was the Baroness Ella van Heemstra, a Dutch noblewoman who marriedAudrey’s father in Batavia in September 1925. Both had been married previously and as Joseph mistakenly believed himself to be descended from James Hepburn, the third husband of Mary, Queen of Scots he changed his surname to Ruston-Hepburn as he thought the name sounded more aristocratic.

Due to her parents’ positions, Audrey had a fairly sheltered and privileged upbringing, and due to the amount of moving around that the family did, she was fortunate enough to learn five languages including English and Dutch from her parents, and later some Spanish, French, and Italian.

However, money can’t buy happiness and in 1935 Audrey suffered what she described as the most traumatic event of her life when her father unexpectedly decided to turn his back on his family when he moved to London where he became deeply involved in the Fascist movement. He and Ella were officially divorced in 1938 but Audrey later reconnected with her father in the 1960s after locating him through the Red Cross in Dublin. Sadly, he continued to be emotionally detached, but even so, she supported him financially until his death.

At the beginning of the Second World War, Audrey lived with her mother in Arnhem, in the Netherlands as it was hoped that the Netherlands would remain neutral. However, after the Germans invaded in 1940, she started using a different name, going by Edda van Heemstra, as it was thought that having an English sounding name could cause problems.

The Nazi occupation of Holland was a very difficult time for Audrey and her family. She once said, “had we known that we were going to be occupied for five years, we might have all shot ourselves.”

Following the Allied landing on D-Day in June 1944, the daily conditions in Arnhem quickly deteriorated. After the difficulties of occupation, the Dutch were now having to deal with famine as the Germans blocked the supply routes which stopped food and goods from getting to them. Audrey suffered from malnutrition and as a result, developed acute anaemia as well as respiratory problems.

As a probable consequence of the suffering she witnessed during the Nazi occupation, Audrey developed a deep sense of compassion which led to her launching a second career as a humanitarian during the 1950s. She was appointed a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF for which she went on multiple overseas field missions to places like Ethiopia, Sudan, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. She worked with UNICEF for the rest of her life and went on a mission to Somalia just four months before her death. She called what she witnessed there “apocalyptic”, and went on to say, “I walked into a nightmare. I have seen famine in Ethiopia and Bangladesh, but I have seen nothing like this…”

Audrey Hepburn’s acting career took off after playing the part of a European Princess called Ann in 1953’s Roman Holiday. She received critical acclaim and won a Golden Globe Award, a British Academy of Film and Television Arts award, otherwise known as a BAFTA, and of course an Academy Award for her performance.

Although she won the Academy Award for Roman Holiday, Audrey Hepburn is perhaps best known for her role in 1961’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s for which she was also nominated for an Academy Award, although by the time she played the part of Holly Golightly she had already appeared in over a dozen movies and several TV series. Throughout her career she was nominated four more times for an Academy Award and four more times for a BAFTA, winning two of them for 1960’s The Nun’s Story and 1965’s Charade. Audrey Hepburn is still one of only fifteen people to have won Emmy, Tony, Grammy, and Academy Awards.

Audrey was not only a talented actress but was also a style icon. She was inducted into the Best Dressed List Hall of Fame in 1961 due to her trendsetting styles. One of her outfits in Breakfast at Tiffany’s consisted of a gorgeous black satin dress designed by Hubert de Givenchy, long black satin dress gloves, a diamond necklace, a tiara, and long cigarette holder. This is doubtless her most memorable look from the film and is probably the picture many have in their minds when they think of her. The Givenchy dress was sold from her personal collection in December 2006 for nearly half a million pounds, a record for a single item of clothing from a movie wardrobe.

Of Givenchy, Hepburn said, he “gave me a look, a kind, a silhouette”. She preferred to wear comfortable and casual clothes in private and although she did not consider herself beautiful, she said, “my look is attainable. Women can look like Audrey Hepburn by flipping out their hair, buying the large glasses and the little sleeveless dresses”.

As far as relationships are concerned, Audrey Hepburn was nearly married to James Hanson in 1952 but called it off at the last minute. Two years later, in September 1954, she married actor Mel Ferrer. She was keen to have children but suffered two miscarriages, one of which was caused by her falling from a horse whilst filming The Unforgiven, before going on to have her first son, Sean Hepburn Ferrer on 17 July 1960. She suffered two more miscarriages in 1965 and 1967. After 14 years of marriage, Hepburn and Ferrer divorced in 1968.

Her second marriage was to Andrea Dotti whom she had met on a cruise in the Mediterranean in the same year her divorce came through. They were married in January the following year with Audrey’s second son, Luca being born on 8 February 1970. She wanted to have more children but in 1974 she suffered another miscarriage. The couple’s relationship was dissolved in 1982.

Although she would have no more children, from 1980 until she died in 1993, Audrey Hepburn was in a relationship with a Dutch actor called Robert Wolders. They were never married but she described her time with him as the happiest of her life.

From 1967 onwards, Hepburn spent most of her time either with her family or on humanitarian missions. Her movie career took a back seat and she played only occasional parts including that of Maid Marion alongside Sean Connery’s Robin Hood in 1976’s Robin and Marian. Her last starring role in a movie was in 1981’s They All Laughed which only received a limited release due to it being overshadowed by the murder of Dorothy Stratten, one of its stars.

Hepburn’s final entertainment-related project was a spoken word album for children called Audrey Hepburn’s Enchanted Tales, which was recorded in 1992 and which earned her a posthumous Grammy Award.

Later in 1992, after returning to Switzerland from a humanitarian trip to Somalia, she started having abdominal pain which following tests that were undertaken in Switzerland which were initially inconclusive was found to be due to a rare abdominal cancer. She had surgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and commenced a course of chemotherapy, after which Audrey and her family returned home to Switzerland to celebrate Christmas, a journey which was made possible with the help of her friend Hubert de Givenchy who arranged a private jet for her as she wasn’t well enough to travel on a commercial flight.

Back in Switzerland, she received hospice care at her home and was occasionally well enough to take walks in her garden but as the first month of 1993 progressed she was confined more and more to bed until on the evening of 20 January 1993 Audrey Hepburn died at home in her sleep. She was 63 years old.

Her children have honoured her since her death with Sean Ferrer founding the Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund and The US Fund for UNICEF also founding the Audrey Hepburn Society with Luca Dotti as chair. In 2002 UNICEF honoured her humanitarian work with a statue called The Spirit of Audrey which is located at its headquarters in New York. The American Film Institute named her third on a list of the Greatest Female Stars of All Time. She has a star on the Hollywood walk of fame and her image continues to be used worldwide for advertising campaigns. In 2004 following polls conducted by Evian and QVC, Audrey Hepburn was named the “most beautiful woman of all time”, and “most beautiful woman of the 20th century” respectively.

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