Audrey Hepburn (born Audrey Kathleen Ruston; 4 May 1929 – 20 January 1993) was a British actress and humanitarian. Recognised as both a film and fashion icon, she was ranked by the American Film Institute as the third-greatest female screen legend from the Golden Age of Hollywood, and was inducted into the International Best Dressed List Hall of Fame.
Born in Ixelles, Brussels, Hepburn spent parts of her childhood in Belgium, England, and the Netherlands. She studied ballet with Sonia Gaskell in Amsterdam beginning in 1945, and with Marie Rambert in London starting in 1948. She began performing as a chorus girl in West End musical theatre productions and then had minor appearances in several films. She starred in the 1951 Broadway play Gigi after being spotted by the French novelist Colette, on whose work the play was based.
She rose to stardom in the romantic comedy Roman Holiday (1953) alongside Gregory Peck, for which she was the first actress to win an Oscar, a Golden Globe Award, and a BAFTA Award for a single performance. That year, she won a Tony Award for Best Lead Actress in a Play for her performance in Ondine. She went on to star in a number of successful films such as Sabrina (1954), in which Humphrey Bogart and William Holden compete for her affection; Funny Face (1957) a musical where she sang her own parts; the drama The Nun's Story (1959); the romantic comedy Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961); the thriller-romance Charade (1963), opposite Cary Grant; and the musical My Fair Lady (1964). In 1967 she starred in the thriller Wait Until Dark, receiving Academy Award, Golden Globe, and BAFTA nominations. After that, she only occasionally appeared in films, one being Robin and Marian (1976) with Sean Connery. Her last recorded performances were in the 1990 documentary television series Gardens of the World with Audrey Hepburn.
Hepburn won three BAFTA Awards for Best British Actress in a Leading Role. In recognition of her film career, she received BAFTA's Lifetime Achievement Award, the Golden Globe Cecil B. DeMille Award, the Screen Actors Guild Life Achievement Award, and the Special Tony Award. She remains one of only sixteen people who have won Academy, Emmy, Grammy, and Tony Awards.
Later in life, Hepburn devoted much of her time to UNICEF, to which she had contributed since 1954. Then, she worked in some of the poorest communities of Africa, South America, and Asia between 1988 and 1992. In December 1992, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in recognition of her work as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador. A month later, she died of appendiceal cancer at her home in Switzerland at the age of 63.
Audrey Kathleen Ruston (later, Hepburn-Ruston) was born on 4 May 1929 at number 48 Rue Keyenveld in Ixelles, Brussels, Belgium. She was known to her family as Adriaantje.
Hepburn's mother, Baroness Ella van Heemstra (12 June 1900 – 26 August 1984), was a Dutch noblewoman. Ella was the daughter of Baron Aarnoud van Heemstra, who served as mayor of Arnhem from 1910 to 1920 and as governor of Dutch Suriname from 1921 to 1928, and Baroness Elbrig Willemine Henriette van Asbeck (1873–1939).
Hepburn's father, Joseph Victor Anthony Ruston (21 November 1889 – 16 October 1980), was a British subject born in Auschitz, Bohemia, Austria-Hungary. In 1923–1924, Joseph was an Honorary British Consul in Semarang in the Dutch East Indies.
Hepburn's parents were married in Batavia, Dutch East Indies, in September 1926. Soon after the marriage, the couple moved to Europe, where Hebpurn's father Joseph began working for a loan company and after a year in London, they moved to Brussels, where he had been assigned to open a branch office. Three years the family settled in the suburban Brussels municipality of Linkebeek in 1932.Hepburn's early childhood was sheltered and privileged. As a result of her multinational background and travelling with her family due to her father's job, she learned six languages: Dutch and English from her parents, and later varying degrees of French, German, Spanish, and Italian.
When Hepburn was six, Joseph left the family abruptly in 1935, moved to London, and never visited his daughter abroad. Hepburn later professed that her father's departure was "the most traumatic event of my life". In the 1960s, Hepburn renewed contact with her father after locating him in Dublin through the Red Cross; although he remained emotionally detached, Hepburn supported him financially until his death.
The same year after her father left, Hepburn's mother moved with Hepburn to her family's estate in Arnhem. In 1937, Hepburn was sent to live in Kent, England, where she was educated at a small independent school in Elham.
After Britain declared war on Germany in September 1939, Hepburn's mother moved her daughter back to Arnhem in the hope that, as during the First World War, the Netherlands would remain neutral and be spared a German attack. While there, Hepburn attended the Arnhem Conservatory from 1939 to 1945. She had begun taking ballet lessons during her last years at boarding school, and continued training in Arnhem under the tutelage of Winja Marova, becoming her "star pupil". After the Germans invaded the Netherlands in 1940, Hepburn used the name Edda van Heemstra, because an "English-sounding" name was considered dangerous during the German occupation. During the war Hepburn performed silent dance performances to raise money for the Dutch resistance effort.
Her family was profoundly affected by the occupation, with Hepburn later stating that "had we known that we were going to be occupied for five years, we might have all shot ourselves. We thought it might be over next week… six months… next year… that's how we got through".
"We saw young men put against the wall and shot, and they'd close the street and then open it, and you could pass by again... Don't discount anything awful you hear or read about the Nazis. It's worse than you could ever imagine."
After the Allied landing on D-Day, living conditions grew worse, and Arnhem was subsequently heavily damaged during Operation Market Garden. Like others, Hepburn's family resorted to making flour out of tulip bulbs to bake cakes and biscuits; she developed acute anaemia, respiratory problems and oedema as a result of malnutrition.
After the war ended in 1945, Hepburn moved with her mother and siblings to Amsterdam, where she began ballet training under Sonia Gaskell, a leading figure in Dutch ballet, and Russian teacher Olga Tarasova.
As the family's fortunes had been lost during the war, Ella supported them by working as a cook and housekeeper for a wealthy family. Hepburn made her film debut playing an air stewardess in Dutch in Seven Lessons (1948), an educational travel film. Later that year, Hepburn moved to London after accepting a ballet scholarship with Ballet Rambert, which was then based in Notting Hill. She supported herself with part-time work as a model, and dropped "Ruston" from her surname. After she was told by Rambert that despite her talent, her height and weak constitution (the after-effect of wartime malnutrition) would make the status of prima ballerina unattainable, she decided to concentrate on acting.
Hepburn appeared as a chorus girl in the West End musical theatre revues, then appeared in the BBC Television play The Silent Village, and minor roles in films. Her first major supporting role in a film was in The Secret People (1952), as a prodigious ballerina, performing all of her own dancing sequences.
While shooting the film Monte Carlo Baby (French: Nous Irons à Monte Carlo, 1952) in Monte Carlo. Hepburn was spotted by French novelist Colette, who was at the Hôtel de Paris in Monte Carlo during the filming. Colette decided to cast Hepburn in the title role in the Broadway play Gigi. Hepburn went into rehearsals having never spoken on stage, and required private coaching. When Gigi opened at the Fulton Theatre on 24 November 1951, Hepburn was praised for her performance. The New York Times stated that "her quality is so winning and so right that she is the success of the evening".
In 1952, Hepburn became engaged to industrialist James Hanson, whom she had known since her early days in London. She called it "love at first sight", but 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. She issued a public statement about her decision, saying "When I get married, I want to be really married".
Hepburn had her first starring role in Roman Holiday (1953), playing Princess Ann, a European princess who escapes the reins of royalty and has a wild night out with an American newsman (Gregory Peck). The producers of the movie initially wanted Elizabeth Taylor for the role, but director William Wyler was so impressed by Hepburn's screen test that he cast her instead. Wyler later commented, "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!'"
Originally, the film was to have had only Gregory Peck's name above its title, with "Introducing Audrey Hepburn" beneath in smaller font. However, Peck suggested to Wyler that he elevate her to equal billing so that her name appeared before the title, and in type as large as his: "You've got to change that because she'll be a big star, and I'll look like a big jerk."
The film was a box-office success, and Hepburn gained critical acclaim for her portrayal, unexpectedly winning an Academy Award for Best Actress, a BAFTA Award for Best British Actress in a Leading Role, and a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama in 1953.
Hepburn was signed to a seven-picture contract with Paramount, with 12 months in between films to allow her time for stage work. She was featured on 7 September 1953 cover of Time magazine, and also became known for her personal style. Following her success in Roman Holiday, Hepburn starred in Billy Wilder's romantic Cinderella-story comedy Sabrina (1954), in which wealthy brothers (Humphrey Bogart and William Holden) compete for the affections of their chauffeur's innocent daughter (Hepburn). For her performance, she was nominated for the 1954 Academy Award for Best Actress, while winning the BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role the same year.
At a cocktail party hosted by mutual friend Gregory Peck, Hepburn met American actor Mel Ferrer, and suggested that they star together in a play. The meeting led them to collaborate in the fantasy play Ondine on Broadway in which Hepburn playing a water nymph who falls in love with a human. Her performance won her the 1954 Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play three days after she won the Academy Award for oman Holiday, making her one of three actresses to receive the Academy and Tony Awards for Best Actress in the same year. During the production, Hepburn and her co-star Mel Ferrer began a relationship, and eight months later, they were married on 25 September 1954 in Bürgenstock, Switzerland.
Having become one of Hollywood's most popular box-office attractions, she starred in a series of successful films during the remainder of the decade, including her BAFTA- and Golden Globe-nominated role as Natasha Rostova in War and Peace (1956), an adaptation of the Tolstoy novel set during the Napoleonic wars, starring Henry Fonda and her husband Mel Ferrer. While preparing to star together in the film War and Peace (1955). She and Ferrer had a son, Sean Hepburn Ferrer.
She exhibited her dancing abilities in her debut musical film, Funny Face (1957), wherein Fred Astaire, a fashion photographer, discovers a beatnik bookstore clerk (Hepburn) who, lured by a free trip to Paris, becomes a beautiful model. Hepburn also starred in another romantic comedy, Love in the Afternoon (also 1957), alongside Gary Cooper and Maurice Chevalier.
Hepburn played Sister Luke in The Nun's Story (1959), which focuses on the character's struggle to succeed as a nun, alongside co-star Peter Finch. The role produced a third Academy Award nomination for Hepburn, and earned her a second BAFTA Award.
Hepburn next starred as New Yorker Holly Golightly, in Blake Edwards's Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), a film loosely based on the Truman Capote novella of the same name. Capote disapproved of many changes that were made to sanitise the story for the film adaptation, and would have preferred Marilyn Monroe to have been cast in the role, although he also stated that Hepburn "did a terrific job". The character is considered one of the best-known in American cinema, and a defining role for Hepburn. The black dress designed by Hubert de Givenchy she wears during the opening credits has been considered an icon of the twentieth century, and perhaps the most famous "little black dress" of all time. She was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance.
Hepburn next appeared opposite Cary Grant in the comic thriller Charade (1963), playing a young widow pursued by several men who chase the fortune stolen by her murdered husband. The 59-year-old Grant, who had previously withdrawn from the starring male lead roles in Roman Holiday and Sabrina, was sensitive about his age difference with 34-year-old Hepburn, and was uncomfortable about the romantic interplay. To satisfy his concerns, the filmmakers agreed to alter the screenplay so that Hepburn's character was pursuing him.
The role earned Hepburn her third, and final, competitive BAFTA Award, and another Golden Globe nomination.
Hepburn reunited with her Sabrina co-star William Holden in Paris When It Sizzles (1964), a screwball comedy in which she played the young assistant of a Hollywood screenwriter, who aids his writer's block by acting out his fantasies of possible plots. Its production was troubled by several problems. Holden unsuccessfully tried to rekindle a romance with the now-married Hepburn, and his alcoholism was beginning to affect his work. After principal photography began, she demanded the dismissal of cinematographer Claude Renoir after seeing what she felt were unflattering dailies. Superstitious, she also insisted on dressing room 55 because that was her lucky number and required that Hubert de Givenchy, her long-time designer, be given a credit in the film for her perfume.
Hepburn's second film released in 1964 was George Cukor's film adaptation of the stage musical My Fair Lady, which premiered in October. Julie Andrews, who had originated the role on stage, was not offered the part because producer Jack L. Warner thought Hepburn was a more "bankable" proposition. Hepburn initially asked Warner to give the role to Andrews but was eventually cast.
Andrews won an Academy Award for Mary Poppins at the 1964 37th Academy Awards, but Hepburn was not even nominated. On the other hand, Hepburn did receive Best Actress nominations for both Golden Globe and New York Film Critics Circle awards.
As the decade carried on, Hepburn appeared in an assortment of genres including the heist comedy How to Steal a Million (1966) where she played the daughter of a famous art collector, whose collection consists entirely of forgeries. Fearing her father's exposure, she sets out to steal one of his "priceless" statues with the help of a man played by Peter O'Toole.
It was followed by two films in 1967. The first was Two for the Road, a non-linear and innovative British dramedy that traces the course of a couple's troubled marriage. The second, Wait Until Dark, is a suspense thriller in which Hepburn demonstrated her acting range by playing the part of a terrorised blind woman.
After 1967, Hepburn chose to devote more time to her family and acted only occasionally in the following decades.
After a 14-year marriage, Hepburn and Mel Ferrer divorced in 1968.
Hepburn met her second husband, Italian psychiatrist Andrea Dotti, on a Mediterranean cruise with friends in June 1968. She believed she would have more children and possibly stop working. They married on 18 January 1969, and their son Luca Andrea Dotti was born on 8 February 1970. While pregnant with Luca in 1969, Hepburn was more careful, resting for months before delivering the baby via caesarean section.
Hepburn attempted a comeback playing Maid Marian in the period piece Robin and Marian (1976) with Sean Connery co-starring as Robin Hood, which was moderately successful. Hepburn's last starring role in a feature film was opposite Ben Gazzara in the comedy They All Laughed (1981).
Hepburn's marriage with Andrea Dotti lasted thirteen years and was dissolved in 1982.
From 1980 until her death, Hepburn was in a relationship with Dutch actor Robert Wolders, the widower of actress Merle Oberon. She had met Wolders through a friend during the later years of her second marriage. In 1989, she called the nine years she had spent with him the happiest years of her life, and stated that she considered them married, just not officially.
After finishing her last motion picture role—a cameo appearance as an angel in Steven Spielberg's Always (1989)—Hepburn completed only two more entertainment-related projects, both critically acclaimed. Gardens of the World with Audrey Hepburn was a PBS documentary series, which was filmed on location in seven countries in the spring and summer of 1990. A one-hour special preceded it in March 1991, and the series itself began airing the day after her death, 21 January 1993. For the debut episode, Hepburn was posthumously awarded the 1993 Emmy Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement – Informational Programming.
The other project was a spoken word album, Audrey Hepburn's Enchanted Tales, which features readings of classic children's stories and was recorded in 1992. It earned her a posthumous Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album for Children.
In 1989, Hepburn was appointed a Goodwill Ambassador of UNICEF. On her appointment, she stated that she was grateful for receiving international aid after enduring the German occupation as a child, and wanted to show her gratitude to the organisation.
In September 1992, Hepburn went to Somalia. Calling it "apocalyptic", she 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." 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 politicisation of humanitarian aid, there will be a humanisation of politics."
Upon returning from Somalia to Switzerland in late September 1992, Hepburn began suffering from abdominal pain. While initial medical tests in Switzerland had inconclusive results, a laparoscopy performed at the Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles in early November revealed a rare form of abdominal cancer belonging to a group of cancers known as pseudomyxoma peritonei. Having grown slowly over several years, the cancer had metastasised as a thin coating over her small intestine. After surgery, Hepburn began chemotherapy.
Hepburn and her family returned home to Switzerland to celebrate her last Christmas. As she was still recovering from surgery, she was unable to fly on commercial aircraft. Her longtime friend, fashion designer Hubert de Givenchy, arranged for socialite Rachel Lambert "Bunny" Mellon to send her private Gulfstream jet, filled with flowers, to take Hepburn from Los Angeles to Geneva. She spent her last days in hospice care at her home in Tolochenaz, Vaud and was occasionally well enough to take walks in her garden, but gradually became more confined to bedrest.
On the evening of 20 January 1993, Hepburn died in her sleep at home. After her death, Gregory Peck recorded a tribute to Hepburn in which he recited the poem "Unending Love" by Rabindranath Tagore. Funeral services were held at the village church of Tolochenaz on 24 January 1993. Maurice Eindiguer, the same pastor who wed Hepburn and Mel Ferrer and baptised her son Sean in 1960, presided over her funeral, while Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan of UNICEF delivered a eulogy. Many family members and friends attended the funeral, including her sons, partner Robert Wolders, half-brother Ian Quarles van Ufford, ex-husbands Andrea Dotti and Mel Ferrer, Hubert de Givenchy, executives of UNICEF, and fellow actors Alain Delon and Roger Moore. Flower arrangements were sent to the funeral by Gregory Peck, Elizabeth Taylor, and the Dutch royal family. Later on the same day, Hepburn was interred at the Tolochenaz Cemetery.
Hepburn's legacy has endured long after her death. The American Film Institute named Hepburn third among the Greatest Female Stars of All Time. She is one of few entertainers who have won Academy, Emmy, Grammy and Tony Awards. She won a record three BAFTA Awards for Best British Actress in a Leading Role. In her last years, she remained a visible presence in the film world and received the BAFTA Lifetime Achievement Award in 1992.
She was also the recipient of numerous posthumous awards including the 1993 Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award and competitive Grammy and Emmy Awards.
In 2002, at the United Nations Special Session on Children, UNICEF honoured Hepburn's legacy of humanitarian work by unveiling a statue, "The Spirit of Audrey", at UNICEF's New York headquarters. Her service for children is also recognised through the United States Fund for UNICEF's Audrey Hepburn Society.
In January 2009, Hepburn was named on The Times' list of the top 10 British actresses of all time.
She has been the subject of many biographies since her death including the 2000 dramatisation of her life titled The Audrey Hepburn Story which starred Jennifer Love Hewitt and Emmy Rossum as the older and younger Hepburn respectively. Her son and granddaughter, Sean and Emma Ferrer, helped produce a biographical documentary directed by Helena Coan, entitled Audrey (2020). The film was released to positive reception.
Hepburn's image is widely used in advertising campaigns across the world. On 4 May 2014, Google featured a doodle on its homepage on what would have been Hepburn's 85th birthday.
Sean Ferrer founded the Audrey Hepburn Children's Fund in memory of his mother shortly after her death. The US Fund for UNICEF also founded the Audrey Hepburn Society: chaired by Luca Dotti, it celebrates UNICEF's biggest donors and has raised almost US$100,000,000 to date. Dotti also became patron of the Pseudomyxoma Survivor charity, dedicated to providing support to patients of the rare cancer Hepburn suffered from, pseudomyxoma peritonei, and the rare disease ambassador since 2014 and for 2015 on behalf of European Organisation for Rare Diseases.
Hepburn was known for her fashion choices and distinctive look. When she first rose to stardom in Roman Holiday (1953), she was seen as an alternative feminine ideal that appealed more to women than men, in comparison to the curvy and more sexual Grace Kelly and Elizabeth Taylor. With her short hairstyle, thick eyebrows, slim body, and "gamine" looks, she presented a look which young women found easier to emulate than those of more sexual film stars. In 1954, fashion photographer Cecil Beaton declared Hepburn the "public embodiment of our new feminine ideal" in Vogue, and wrote that "Nobody ever looked like her before World War II ... Yet we recognise the rightness of this appearance in relation to our historical needs. The proof is that thousands of imitations have appeared." The magazine and its British version frequently reported on her style throughout the following decade.
Added to the International Best Dressed List in 1961, Hepburn was associated with a minimalistic style, usually wearing clothes with simple silhouettes which emphasised her slim body, monochromatic colours, and occasional statement accessories. In the late 1950s, Audrey Hepburn popularised plain black leggings.
Hepburn was in particular associated with French fashion designer Hubert de Givenchy, who was first hired to design her on-screen wardrobe for her second Hollywood film, Sabrina (1954), when she was still unknown as a film actor and he a young couturier just starting his fashion house. She became his muse, and the two became closely associated with each other.
In addition to Sabrina, Givenchy designed her costumes for Love in the Afternoon (1957), Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), Funny Face (1957), Charade (1963), Paris When It Sizzles (1964), and How to Steal a Million (1966), as well as clothed her off screen.
Hepburn stated that Givenchy "gave me a look, a kind, a silhouette. He has always been the best, and he stayed the best. Because he kept the spare style that I love. What is more beautiful than a simple sheath made an extraordinary way in a special fabric, and just two earrings?" She also became the face of Givenchy's first perfume, L'Interdit, in 1957. In addition to her partnership with Givenchy, Hepburn was credited with boosting the sales of Burberry trench coats when she wore one in Breakfast at Tiffany's, and was associated with Italian footwear brand Tod's.
In her private life, Hepburn preferred to wear casual and comfortable clothes, contrary to the haute couture she wore on screen and at public events. Despite being admired for her beauty, she never considered herself attractive, stating in a 1959 interview that "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." In 1989, she stated that "my look is attainable ... Women can look like Audrey Hepburn by flipping out their hair, buying the large glasses and the little sleeveless dresses."
Hepburn's influence as a style icon continues several decades after the height of her acting career in the 1950s and 1960s. In 2004, Hepburn was named the "most beautiful woman of all time" and "most beautiful woman of the 20th century" in polls by Evian and QVC respectively, and in 2015, was voted "the most stylish Brit of all time" in a poll commissioned by Samsung. Her film costumes fetch large sums of money in auctions: one of the "little black dresses" designed by Givenchy for Breakfast at Tiffany's was sold by Christie's for a record sum of £467,200 in 2006.