Hand color tinted photo of Audrey Hepburn
Audrey Hepburn (4 May 1929(1929-05-04) – 20 January 1993) was a British actress and humanitarian.
Born in Ixelles as Audrey Kathleen Ruston, Hepburn spent her childhood chiefly in the Netherlands, including German-occupied Arnhem, Netherlands, during the Second World War (1939-1945). She studied ballet in Arnhem and then moved to London in 1948, where she continued to train in ballet and worked as a photographer’s model. She appeared in a handful of European films before starring in the 1951 Broadway play Gigi. Hepburn played the lead female role in Roman Holiday (1953), winning an Academy Award, a Golden Globe and a BAFTA for her performance. She also won a Tony Award for her performance in Ondine (1954).
Hepburn became one of the most successful film actresses in the world and performed with such notable leading men as Gregory Peck, Rex Harrison, Humphrey Bogart, Gary Cooper, Cary Grant, Henry Fonda, William Holden, Fred Astaire, Peter O’Toole, and Albert Finney. She won BAFTA Awards for her performances in The Nun’s Story (1959) and Charade (1963), and received Academy Award nominations for Sabrina (1954), The Nun’s Story (1959), Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) and Wait Until Dark (1967).
She starred as Eliza Doolittle in the film version of My Fair Lady (1964), becoming only the third actor to receive $1,000,000 for a film role. From 1968 to 1975 she took a break from film-making, mostly to spend more time with her two sons. In 1976 she starred with Sean Connery in Robin and Marian. In 1989 she made her last film appearance in Steven Spielberg’s Always.
Her war-time experiences inspired her passion for humanitarian work, and although she had worked for UNICEF since the 1950s, during her later life, she dedicated much of her time and energy to the organization. From 1988 until 1992, she worked in some of the most profoundly disadvantaged communities of Africa, South America and Asia. In 1992, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in recognition of her work as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador.
Born Audrey Kathleen Ruston on Rue Keyenveld (French)/ Keienveldstraat (Dutch) in Ixelles/Elsene, a municipality in Brussels, Belgium, she was the only child of Joseph Victor Anthony Ruston, a Briton, and his second wife, the former Baroness Ella van Heemstra, a Dutch aristocrat, who was a daughter of a former governor of Dutch Guiana, and who spent her childhood in the Huis Doorn manor house outside Doorn, which was subsequently the residence in exile of Wilhelm II, German Emperor.
Her father later prepended the surname of his maternal grandmother, Kathleen Hepburn, to the family’s and her surname became Hepburn-Ruston. She had two half-brothers, Jonkheer Arnoud Robert Alexander “Alex” Quarles van Ufford and Jonkheer Ian Edgar Bruce Quarles van Ufford, by her mother’s first marriage to a Dutch nobleman, Jonkheer Hendrik Gustaaf Adolf Quarles van Ufford.
Hepburn’s father’s job with a British insurance company meant the family travelled often between Brussels, England, and The Netherlands. From 1935 to 1938, Hepburn attended a boarding school for girls in Elham, Kent.
World War II
In 1935, Hepburn’s parents divorced and her father, a Nazi sympathizer, left the family. Both parents were members of the British Union of Fascists in the mid-1930s according to Unity Mitford, a friend of Ella van Heemstra and a follower of Adolf Hitler.
Hepburn later referred to her father’s abandonment as the most traumatic moment of her life. Years later, she located him in Dublin through the Red Cross. Although he remained emotionally detached, she stayed in contact with him and supported him financially until his death.
In 1939, her mother moved her and her two half-brothers to their grandfather’s home in Arnhem in the Netherlands, believing the Netherlands would be safe from German attack. Hepburn attended the Arnhem Conservatory from 1939 to 1945, where she trained in ballet along with the standard school curriculum. In 1940, the Germans invaded the Netherlands. During the German occupation, Hepburn adopted the pseudonym Edda van Heemstra, modifying her mother’s documents because an ‘English sounding’ name was considered dangerous. This was never her legal name. The name Edda was a version of her mother’s name Ella.
By 1944, Hepburn had become a proficient ballerina. She secretly danced for groups of people to collect money for the Dutch resistance. She later said, “The best audience I ever had made not a single sound at the end of my performances.” After the Allied landing on D-Day, living conditions grew worse, and Arnhem was subsequently devastated by Allied artillery fire that was part of Operation Market Garden. During the Dutch famine that followed, over the winter of 1944, the Germans blocked the resupply routes of Dutch people’s already limited food and fuel supplies as retaliation for railway strikes that were held to hinder the German occupation. People starved and froze to death in the streets. Hepburn and many others resorted to making flour out of tulip bulbs to bake cakes and biscuits.
Hepburn’s half-brother, Ian van Ufford, spent time in a German labour camp. Suffering from malnutrition, Hepburn developed acute anemia, respiratory problems, and an edema. In 1991, Hepburn said “I have memories. More than once I was at the station seeing trainloads of Jews being transported, seeing all these faces over the top of the wagon. I remember, very sharply, one little boy standing with his parents on the platform, very pale, very blond, wearing a coat that was much too big for him, and he stepped on to the train. I was a child observing a child.”
One way in which Audrey Hepburn passed the time was by drawing. Some of her childhood artwork can be seen today. When the country was liberated, United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration trucks followed. Hepburn said in an interview she ate an entire can of condensed milk and then got sick from one of her first relief meals because she put too much sugar in her oatmeal. Hepburn’s wartime experiences later led her to become involved with UNICEF.
In 1945, after the war, Hepburn left the Arnhem Conservatory and moved to Amsterdam, where she took ballet lessons with Sonia Gaskell. Hepburn appeared as a stewardess in a short tourism film for KLM, before travelling with her mother to London. Gaskell provided an introduction to Marie Rambert, and Hepburn studied ballet at the “Ballet Rambert”, supporting herself with part time work as a model. Hepburn eventually asked Rambert about her future. Rambert assured her that she could continue to work there and have a great career, but the fact she was relatively tall (1.7m/5.6ft) coupled with her poor nutrition during the war would keep her from becoming a prima ballerina. Hepburn trusted Rambert’s assessment and decided to pursue acting, a career in which she at least had a chance to excel. After Hepburn became a star, Rambert said in an interview, “She was a wonderful learner. If she had wanted to persevere, she might have become an outstanding ballerina.”
Hepburn’s mother was in menial jobs in order to support them and Hepburn needed to find employment. Since she trained to be a performer all her life, acting seemed a sensible career. She said, “I needed the money; it paid ₤3 more than ballet jobs.” Her acting career began with the educational film Dutch in Seven Lessons (1948). She played in musical theatre in productions such as High Button Shoes and Sauce Piquante. Her theatre work revealed that her voice was not strong and needed to be developed, and during this time she took elocution lessons with the actor Felix Aylmer. Part time modelling work was not always available and Hepburn registered with the casting officers of Britain’s film studios in the hope of getting work as an extra.
Hepburn’s first role in a motion picture was in the British film One Wild Oat in which she played a hotel receptionist. She played several more minor roles in Young Wives’ Tale, Laughter in Paradise, The Lavender Hill Mob, and Monte Carlo Baby.
During the filming of Monte Carlo Baby Hepburn was chosen to play the lead character in the Broadway play Gigi, which opened on 24 November, 1951, at the Fulton Theatre and ran for 219 performances. The writer Colette, when she first saw Hepburn, reportedly said “voilà! There’s our Gigi!” She won a Theatre World Award for her performance. Hepburn’s first significant film performance was in the Thorold Dickinson film Secret People (1952), in which she played a prodigious ballerina. Hepburn did all of her own dancing scenes.
Her first starring role was with Gregory Peck in the Italian-set Roman Holiday (1952). Producers initially wanted Elizabeth Taylor for the role, but director William Wyler was so impressed by Hepburn’s screen test (the camera was left on and candid footage of Hepburn relaxing and answering questions, unaware that she was still being filmed, displayed her talents), that he cast her in the lead. Wyler said, “She had everything I was looking for: charm, innocence and talent. She also was very funny. She was absolutely enchanting, and we said, ‘That’s the girl!'”
The movie was to have had Gregory Peck’s name above the title in large font with “Introducing Audrey Hepburn” beneath. After filming had been completed, Peck called his agent and, predicting correctly that Hepburn would win the Academy Award for Best Actress, had the billing changed so that her name also appeared before the title in type as large as his.
Hepburn and Peck bonded during filming, and there were rumours that they were romantically involved; both denied it. Hepburn, however, added, “Actually, you have to be a little bit in love with your leading man and vice versa. If you’re going to portray love, you have to feel it. You can’t do it any other way. But you don’t carry it beyond the set.” Because of the instant celebrity that came with Roman Holiday, Hepburn’s illustration was placed on the 7 September, 1953, cover of TIME.
Hepburn’s performance received much critical praise. A. H. Weiler noted in The New York Times, “Although she is not precisely a newcomer to films, Audrey Hepburn, the British actress who is being starred for the first time as Princess Ann, is a slender, elfin, and wistful beauty, alternately regal and childlike in her profound appreciation of newly-found, simple pleasures and love. Although she bravely smiles her acknowledgment of the end of that affair, she remains a pitifully lonely figure facing a stuffy future.” Hepburn would later call Roman Holiday her dearest movie, because it was the one that made her a star.
After filming Roman Holiday for four months, Hepburn returned to New York and performed in Gigi for eight months. The play was performed in Los Angeles and San Francisco in its last month.
She was signed to a seven-picture contract with Paramount with twelve months in between films to allow her time for stage work.
After Roman Holiday, she filmed Billy Wilder’s Sabrina with Humphrey Bogart and William Holden. Hepburn was sent to a then young and upcoming fashion designer Hubert de Givenchy to decide on her wardrobe.
When told that “Miss Hepburn” was coming to see him, Givenchy expected to see Katharine. He was disappointed and told her that he didn’t have much time for her, but Hepburn asked for just a few minutes to pick out a few pieces for Sabrina. Shortly after, Givenchy and Hepburn developed a lasting friendship, and she was often a muse for many of his designs. They formed a lifelong friendship and partnership. During the filming of Sabrina, Hepburn and the already-married Holden became romantically involved and she hoped to marry him and have children. She broke off the relationship when Holden revealed that he had undergone a vasectomy.
In 1954, Hepburn returned to the stage to play the water sprite in Ondine in a performance with Mel Ferrer, who she would marry later in the year. During the run of the play, Hepburn was awarded the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture Actress and the Academy Award, both for Roman Holiday. Six weeks after receiving the Oscar, Hepburn was awarded the Tony Award for Best Actress for Ondine. Audrey Hepburn is one of only three actresses to receive a Best Actress Oscar and Best Actress Tony in the same year (the others were Shirley Booth and Ellen Burstyn).
By the mid-1950s, Hepburn was not only one of the biggest motion picture stars in Hollywood, but also a major fashion influence. Her gamine and elfin appearance and widely recognized sense of chic were both admired and imitated. In 1955, she was awarded the Golden Globe for World Film Favorite – Female.
Having become one of Hollywood’s most popular box-office attractions, Hepburn co-starred with actors such as Humphrey Bogart in Sabrina, Henry Fonda in War and Peace, Fred Astaire in Funny Face, William Holden in Paris When It Sizzles, Maurice Chevalier and Gary Cooper in Love in the Afternoon, Anthony Perkins in Green Mansions, Burt Lancaster and Lillian Gish in The Unforgiven, Shirley MacLaine and James Garner in The Children’s Hour, George Peppard in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Cary Grant in Charade, Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady, Peter O’Toole in How to Steal a Million and Sean Connery in Robin and Marian.
Rex Harrison called Audrey Hepburn his favourite leading lady, although he initially felt she was badly miscast as Eliza Dolittle in My Fair Lady (many accounts indicate that she became great friends with British actress and dancer Kay Kendall, who was Harrison’s wife); Cary Grant loved to humour her and once said, “All I want for Christmas is another picture with Audrey Hepburn;” and Gregory Peck became a lifelong friend.
After her death, Peck went on camera and tearfully recited her favourite poem, “Unending Love” by Rabindranath Tagore.
A common perception of the time was that Bogart and Hepburn did not get along. However, Hepburn has been quoted as saying, “Sometimes it’s the so-called ‘tough guys’ that are the most tender hearted, as Bogey was with me.”
Funny Face in 1957 was one of Hepburn’s favourites because she got to dance with Fred Astaire. Then in 1959’s The Nun’s Story came one of her most daring roles. Films in Review stated: “Her performance will forever silence those who have thought her less an actress than a symbol of the sophisticated child/woman. Her portrayal of Sister Luke is one of the great performances of the screen.”
Otto Frank even asked her to play his daughter Anne’s onscreen counterpart in the 1959 film The Diary of Anne Frank, but Hepburn, who was born the same year as Anne was almost 30 years old, and felt too old to play a teenager. The role was eventually given to Millie Perkins.
Hepburn’s Holly Golightly in 1961’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s became an iconic character in American cinema. She called the role “the jazziest of my career”. Asked about the acting challenge of the role, mshe replied, “I’m an introvert. Playing the extroverted girl was the hardest thing I ever did.” In the film, she wore trendy clothing designed by herself and Givenchy, and added blonde streaks to her brown hair, a look that she would keep off-screen as well.
In 1963, Hepburn starred in Charade, her first and only film with Cary Grant, who had previously withdrawn from the starring roles in Roman Holiday and Sabrina. He was sensitive as to their age difference and requested a script change so that Hepburn’s character would be the one to romantically pursue his.
Released after Charade was Paris When It Sizzles, a film that paired Hepburn with William Holden, who nearly ten years before had been her leading man in Sabrina. The film, called “marshmallow-weight hokum”, was “uniformly panned”; Behind the scenes, the set was plagued with problems: Holden tried without success to rekindle a romance with the now-married actress; that, combined with his alcoholism made the situation a challenge for the production. Hepburn did not help matters: after principal photography began, she demanded the dismissal of cinematographer Claude Renoir after seeing what she felt were unflattering dailies. Superstitious, she insisted on dressing room 55 because that was her lucky number (she had dressing room 55 for Roman Holiday and Breakfast at Tiffany’s). She insisted that Givenchy, her long-time designer, be given a credit in the film for her perfume.
In 1964, Hepburn starred in My Fair Lady which was said to be the most anticipated movie since Gone with the Wind.
Hepburn was cast as Eliza Doolittle instead of Julie Andrews, who had originated the role on Broadway, but had no film experience as yet. The decision not to cast Andrews was made before Hepburn was chosen. Hepburn initially refused the role and asked Jack Warner to give it to Andrews, but when informed that it would either be her or Elizabeth Taylor, who was also vying for the part, she accepted the role.
The casting of a non-singer in the lead role of a major musical proved to be very controversial. Several critics felt that Hepburn was not believable as a Cockney flower girl, and that at 35 she was rather old for the part since Eliza was supposed to be about 20. However, according to an article in Soundstage magazine, “Everyone agreed that if Julie Andrews was not to be in the film, Audrey Hepburn was the perfect choice.”
Hepburn recorded vocals, but was later told that her vocals would be replaced by Marni Nixon. She walked off the set but returned early the next day to apologize for her “wicked” behaviour. Footage of several songs with Hepburn’s original vocals still exist and have been included in documentaries and the DVD release of the film, though to date, only Nixon’s renditions have been released on LP and CD.
Some of her original vocals remained in the film: a section of “Just You Wait” and one line of the verse to “I Could Have Danced All Night”. When asked about the dubbing of an actress with such distinctive vocal tones, Hepburn frowned and said, “You could tell, couldn’t you? And there was Rex, recording all his songs as he acted … next time —” She bit her lip to keep from saying any more.
Aside from the dubbing, many critics agreed that Hepburn’s performance was excellent. Gene Ringgold said, “Audrey Hepburn is magnificent. She is Eliza for the ages.”
The controversy over Hepburn’s casting reached its height at the 1964–65 Academy Awards season, when Hepburn was not nominated for best actress while Andrews was, for Mary Poppins. The media tried to play up a rivalry between the two actresses as the ceremony approached, even though both women denied any such bad feelings existed and got along well. Andrews won the award.
Two for the Road was a non-linear and innovative movie about divorce. Director Stanley Donen said that Hepburn was more free and happy than he had ever seen her, and he credited that to Albert Finney.
Wait Until Dark in 1967 was a difficult film. It was an edgy thriller in which Hepburn played the part of a blind woman being terrorized. In addition, it was produced by Mel Ferrer and filmed on the brink of their divorce. Hepburn is said to have lost fifteen pounds under the stress. On the bright side, she found co-star Richard Crenna to be very funny, and she had a lot to laugh about with director Terence Young. They both joked that he had shelled his favorite star 23 years before; he had been a British Army tank commander during the Battle of Arnhem. Hepburn’s performance was nominated for an Academy Award.
From 1967 onward, after fifteen highly successful years in film, Hepburn acted only occasionally. After her divorce from Ferrer, she married Italian psychiatrist Dr. Andrea Dotti and had a second son, after a difficult pregnancy that required near-total bed rest. After her separation from Dotti, she attempted a comeback, co-starring with Sean Connery in the period piece Robin and Marian in 1976, which was moderately successful.
Hepburn finally returned to cinema in 1979, taking the leading role of Elizabeth Roffe in the international production of Bloodline, directed again by Terence Young, sharing top billing with Ben Gazzara, James Mason and Romy Schneider. Author Sidney Sheldon revised his novel when it was reissued to tie into the film, making her character a much older woman to better match the actress’ age. The film, an international intrigue amid the jet-set, was a critical and box office failure.
Hepburn’s last starring role in a cinematic film was with Ben Gazzara in the comedy They All Laughed, directed by Peter Bogdanovich. The film was overshadowed by the murder of one of its stars, Bogdanovich’s girlfriend, Dorothy Stratten; the film was released after Stratten’s death but only in limited runs. In 1987, she co-starred with Robert Wagner in a tongue-in-cheek made-for-television caper film, Love Among Thieves which borrowed elements from several of Hepburn’s films, most notably Charade and How to Steal a Million.
Hepburn’s last role, a cameo appearance, was as an angel in Steven Spielberg’s Always, filmed in 1988. This film was only moderately successful. In the final months of her life, Hepburn completed two entertainment-related projects: she hosted a television documentary series entitled Gardens of the World with Audrey Hepburn, which debuted on PBS the day after her death, and she recorded a spoken word album, Audrey Hepburn’s Enchanted Tales featuring readings of classic children’s stories, which would win her a posthumous Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album for Children.
In 1952, she was engaged to the young James Hanson. She called it “love at first sight”; however, after having her wedding dress fitted and the date set, she decided the marriage would not work, because the demands of their careers would keep them apart most of the time. Hepburn married twice, first to American actor Mel Ferrer, and then to an Italian doctor, Andrea Dotti. She had a son with each – Sean in 1960 by Ferrer, and Luca in 1970 by Dotti. Her elder son’s godfather is the novelist A. J. Cronin, who resided near Hepburn in Lucerne.
Hepburn met Mel Ferrer at a party hosted by Gregory Peck. She had seen him in the film Lili and was captivated by his performance. Ferrer later sent Hepburn the script for the play Ondine and Hepburn agreed to play the role. Rehearsals started in January 1954 and Hepburn and Ferrer were married on 24 September. Hepburn claimed that they were inseparable and were very happy together, despite the insistence from gossip columns that the marriage would not last. She did, however, admit that he had a bad temper. Ferrer was rumoured to be too controlling of Hepburn and was called her Svengali. William Holden was quoted as saying, “I think Audrey allows Mel to think he influences her.”
Before having their first child, Hepburn had two miscarriages, the first in March 1955. In 1959, while filming The Unforgiven, she broke her back after falling off a horse onto a rock. She spent weeks in the hospital and later had a miscarriage that was said to have been induced by physical and mental stress. While she was resting at home, Mel Ferrer brought her the fawn from the movie Green Mansions to keep as a pet. They called him Ip, short for Pippin.
Marilyn Monroe was not the only one to sing “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” to President John F. Kennedy on his birthday: for Kennedy’s next (and last) birthday on 29 May 1963, Hepburn, the President’s favorite actress, sang “Happy Birthday, Dear Jack” to him.
Hepburn had several pets, including a Yorkshire Terrier named Mr. Famous, who was hit by a car and killed. To cheer her up, Mel Ferrer got her another Yorkshire named Assam of Assam. She also kept Ip; they made a bed for him out of a bathtub. Sean Ferrer had a Cocker Spaniel named Cokey. When Hepburn was older, she had two Jack Russell Terriers. The marriage to Ferrer lasted 14 years, until 5 December 1968; their son was quoted as saying that Hepburn had stayed in the marriage too long. In the later years of the marriage, Ferrer was rumoured to have had a girlfriend on the side, while Hepburn had an affair with her Two for the Road co-star Albert Finney. She denied the rumours, but director Stanley Donen said, “with Albert Finney, she was like a new woman. She and Albie have a wonderful thing together; they are like a couple of kids. When Mel wasn’t on set, they sparkled. When Mel was there, it was funny. Audrey and Albie would go rather formal and a little awkward.” The couple separated before divorcing.
She met Italian psychiatrist Andrea Dotti on a cruise and fell in love with him on a trip to some Greek ruins. She believed she would have more children, and possibly stop working. She married him on 18 January 1969. Although Dotti loved Hepburn and was well-liked by Sean, who called him “fun”, he began having affairs with younger women. The marriage lasted thirteen years and ended in 1982, when Hepburn felt Luca and Sean were old enough to handle life with a single mother. Though Hepburn broke off all contact with Ferrer (she would only speak to him twice in the remainder of her life), she remained in touch with Dotti for the benefit of Luca. Andrea Dotti died in October 2007 from complications of a colonoscopy. Mel Ferrer died in June 2008 at age ninety.
Hepburn was much more careful when she was pregnant with Luca in 1969; she rested for months and passed the time by painting before delivering Luca by caesarean section. Hepburn had her final miscarriage in 1974. Hepburn is associated with the poem “Time Tested Beauty Tips” (although the author is humorist Sam Levenson), which she used to recite to her sons. The poem includes verses such as, “For beautiful hair, let a child run his or her fingers through it once a day”, and, “For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry.”
From 1980 until her death, she lived with the actor Robert Wolders. She died of appendiceal cancer at her home in Switzerland at the age of 63.
Work for UNICEF
Soon after Hepburn’s final film role, she was appointed a goodwill ambassador to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). Grateful for her own good fortune after enduring the German occupation as a child, she dedicated the remainder of her life to helping impoverished children in the poorest nations. Hepburn’s travels were made easier by her wide knowledge of languages; she spoke French, Italian, English, Dutch, and Spanish.
Though she had done work for UNICEF in the 1950s, starting in 1954 with radio presentations, this was a much higher level of dedication. Those close to her[who?] say that the thoughts of dying, helpless children consumed her for the rest of her life. Her first field mission was to Ethiopia in 1988. She visited an orphanage in Mek’ele that housed 500 starving children and had UNICEF send food. Of the trip, she said, “I have a broken heart. I feel desperate. I can’t stand the idea that two million people are in imminent danger of starving to death, many of them children, [and] [sic] not because there isn’t tons of food sitting in the northern port of Shoa. It can’t be distributed. Last spring, Red Cross and UNICEF workers were ordered out of the northern provinces because of two simultaneous civil wars… I went into rebel country and saw mothers and their children who had walked for ten days, even three weeks, looking for food, settling onto the desert floor into makeshift camps where they may die. Horrible. That image is too much for me. The ‘Third World’ is a term I don’t like very much, because we’re all one world. I want people to know that the largest part of humanity is suffering.”
In August 1988, Hepburn went to Turkey on an immunization campaign. She called Turkey “the loveliest example” of UNICEF’s capabilities. Of the trip, she said, “the army gave us their trucks, the fishmongers gave their wagons for the vaccines, and once the date was set, it took ten days to vaccinate the whole country. Not bad.”
In October, Hepburn went to South America. In Venezuela and Ecuador, Hepburn told Congress, “I saw tiny mountain communities, slums, and shantytowns receive water systems for the first time by some miracle – and the miracle is UNICEF. I watched boys build their own schoolhouse with bricks and cement provided by UNICEF.”
Hepburn toured Central America in February 1989, and met with leaders in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. In April, Hepburn visited Sudan with Wolders as part of a mission called “Operation Lifeline”. Because of civil war, food from aid agencies had been cut off. The mission was to ferry food to southern Sudan. Hepburn said, “I saw but one glaring truth: These are not natural disasters but man-made tragedies for which there is only one man-made solution – peace.”
In October, Hepburn and Wolders went to Bangladesh. John Isaac, a UN photographer, said, “Often the kids would have flies all over them, but she would just go hug them. I had never seen that. Other people had a certain amount of hesitation, but she would just grab them. Children would just come up to hold her hand, touch her – she was like the Pied Piper.”
In October 1990, Hepburn went to Vietnam in an effort to collaborate with the government for national UNICEF-supported immunization and clean water programs.
In September 1992, four months before she died, Hepburn went to Somalia. Hepburn called it “apocalyptic” and said, “I walked into a nightmare. I have seen famine in Ethiopia and Bangladesh, but I have seen nothing like this – so much worse than I could possibly have imagined. I wasn’t prepared for this.” “The earth is red – an extraordinary sight – that deep terra-cotta red. And you see the villages, displacement camps and compounds, and the earth is all rippled around them like an ocean bed. And those were the graves. There are graves everywhere. Along the road, around the paths that you take, along the riverbeds, near every camp – there are graves everywhere.”
Though scarred by what she had seen, Hepburn still had hope. “Taking care of children has nothing to do with politics. I think perhaps with time, instead of there being a politicization of humanitarian aid, there will be a humanization of politics.” “Anyone who doesn’t believe in miracles is not a realist. I have seen the miracle of water which UNICEF has helped to make a reality. Where for centuries young girls and women had to walk for miles to get water, now they have clean drinking water near their homes. Water is life, and clean water now means health for the children of this village.” “People in these places don’t know Audrey Hepburn, but they recognize the name UNICEF. When they see UNICEF their faces light up, because they know that something is happening. In the Sudan, for example, they call a water pump UNICEF.”
In 1992, President George H. W. Bush presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in recognition of her work with UNICEF, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded her The Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for her contribution to humanity. This was awarded posthumously, with her son accepting on her behalf.
In 1992, when Hepburn returned to Switzerland from her visit to Somalia, she began to feel abdominal pains. She went to specialists and received inconclusive results, so she decided to have it examined while on a trip to Los Angeles in October.
On 1 November, doctors performed a laparoscopy and discovered abdominal cancer that had spread from her appendix. It had grown slowly over several years, and metastasized not as a tumor, but as a thin coating encasing over her small intestine. The doctors performed surgery and then put Hepburn through 5-fluorouracil Leucovorin chemotherapy. A few days later, she had an obstruction. Medication was not enough to dull the pain, so on 1 December, she had a second surgery. After one hour, the surgeon decided that the cancer had spread too far and could not be removed.
Unable to fly on commercial aircraft, Givenchy arranged for Rachel Lambert “Bunny” Mellon to send her private Gulfstream jet, filled with flowers, to take Hepburn from California to Switzerland. Hepburn died of cancer on 20 January 1993, in Tolochenaz, Vaud, Switzerland, and was interred there.
At the time of her death, she was involved with Robert Wolders, a Dutch actor who was the widower of film star Merle Oberon. She had met Wolders through a friend, in the later stage of her marriage to Dotti. After Hepburn’s divorce was final, she and Wolders started their lives together, although they never married. In 1989, after nine years with him, she called them the happiest years of her life. “Took me long enough”, she said in an interview with Barbara Walters. Walters then asked why they never married. Hepburn replied that they were married, just not formally.
Hepburn has often been called one of the most beautiful women of all time. Her fashion styles also continue to be popular among women. Contrary to her recent image, although Hepburn did enjoy fashion, she did not place much importance on it. She preferred casual, comfortable clothes. In addition, she never considered herself to be very attractive. She said in a 1959 interview, “you can even say that I hated myself at certain periods. I was too fat, or maybe too tall, or maybe just plain too ugly… you can say my definiteness stems from underlying feelings of insecurity and inferiority. I couldn’t conquer these feelings by acting indecisive. I found the only way to get the better of them was by adopting a forceful, concentrated drive.”
The 2000 American made-for-television film, The Audrey Hepburn Story, starred Jennifer Love Hewitt in the title role. Hewitt also co-produced the film. The film concluded with footage of the real Audrey Hepburn, shot during one of her final missions for UNICEF. Several versions of the film exist; it was aired as a mini-series in some countries, and in a truncated version on America’s ABC television network, which is also the version released on DVD in North America. Emmy Rossum, in one of her first film roles, portrayed Hepburn as a young teen in the film.
In 2006, the Sustainable Style Foundation inaugurated the Style & Substance Award in Honor of Audrey Hepburn to recognize high profile individuals who work to improve the quality of life for children around the world. The first award was given to Hepburn posthumously and received by the Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund, a non-profit organization that was started in 1994 in New York and relocated to Los Angeles in 1998 where it remains today.
Hepburn’s image is widely used in advertising campaigns across the world. In Japan, a series of commercials used colorized and digitally enhanced clips of Hepburn in Roman Holiday to advertise Kirin black tea. In the US, Hepburn was featured in a Gap commercial which ran from September 7, 2006, to October 5, 2006. It used clips of her dancing from Funny Face, set to AC/DC’s “Back in Black”, with the tagline “It’s Back – The Skinny Black Pant”. To celebrate its “Keep it Simple” campaign, the Gap made a sizeable donation to the Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund. The commercial was popular, with approximately 200,000 users viewing it on YouTube.
The “little black dress” from Breakfast at Tiffany’s, designed by Givenchy, sold at a Christie’s auction on 5 December 2006, for £467,200 (approximately $920,000), almost seven times its £70,000 pre-sale estimate. This is the highest price paid for a dress from a film. The proceeds went to the City of Joy Aid charity to aid underprivileged children in India. The head of the charity said, “there are tears in my eyes. I am absolutely dumbfounded to believe that a piece of cloth which belonged to such a magical actress will now enable me to buy bricks and cement to put the most destitute children in the world into schools.” The dress auctioned off by Christie’s was not the one that Hepburn actually wore in the movie. Of the two dresses that Hepburn did wear, one is held in the Givenchy archives, while the other is displayed in the Museum of Costume in Madrid.