She left a legacy like no one else: acclaimed actress, fashion icon and humanitarian par excellence. Audrey Hepburn made her mark and touched many lives, both on screen and in person.
Text Marlene Toldbod Jakobsen / The Horse Rider’s Journal No.11
Audrey Kathleen Ruston was born in 1929 in Belgium, to parents of both British and Dutch origin. Raised in the UK and the Netherlands, Hepburn was for many years an avid ballet dancer and hoped to become a prima ballerina, until the necessity of making a living led to acting and the theatre winning her heart. Her first starring role was in Roman Holiday alongside Gregory Peck, which earned her an Academy Award, a BAFTA and a Golden Globe in 1953, all for Best Actress. From here on the world came to love and cherish Hepburn’s innocent yet sassy characters in movies such as Sabrina, Funny Face, The Nun’s Story, and of course Breakfast at Tiffany’s, to mention just a few of her most iconic performances. She married her co-star from the Broadway fantasy play Ondine, Mel Ferrer, after which the two of them remained together for a good 14 years.
There can be no doubt in anyone’s mind that Audrey Hepburn was one of the world’s greatest style icons, both on set and off. Hubert de Givenchy was her personal go-to designer and also the mastermind behind her little black dress from Breakfast at Tiffany’s. But her private wardrobe also oozed glamour and style with Balenciaga, Valentino couture, Pierre Cardin, Hermès, and Dior, just to name a few of her favoured brands. Put together with her quirky look of that pixie-cut hairstyle, big eyes, and a petite figure, this earned her a place on the international best-dressed lists.
Audrey was an avid horse rider and got to use her equestrian skills for a couple of her films, War and Peace and The Unforgiven. Unfortunately, before finishing The Unforgiven, a Western starring Burt Lancaster, she had a terrible accident. As she was riding towards the camera, her horse got spooked by a crewmember and threw her off. All this while Audrey was pregnant with her first child. Even though she was in massive pain, she jokingly said to her co-star Audie Murphy: “I’m taking a vacation. Want to join me?” She was rushed to hospital, where doctors found that she had fractured her back in four places and severally sprained her foot.
Luckily she recovered within six weeks and finished the movie. But to much despair for Hepburn and Ferrer, the accident resulted in a miscarriage. Less than a year later, she gave birth to her first son, Sean. The marriage to Mel Ferrer lasted eight more years, before the couple divorced in 1968. Later that year, Audrey met Italian psychiatrist Andrea Dotti, whom she married and with whom she had another son, Luca. The family of four lived in Rome for many years. For the Romans, Audrey Hepburn was one of those Hollywood stars who seemed real. She would walk her Yorkie, Mr Famous, as if she were any other citizen.
With 15 years of successful filming and acting behind her, Audrey devoted her time to her family and only acted on occasion during the Seventies and Eighties. It was also at this time that Hepburn’s dedication to humanitarian work really began. She was appointed Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF, travelling the world to bring aid and draw global attention to the plight of sick and starving children. She was very firm in her beliefs and did not suffer political excuses gladly. “Taking care of children has nothing to with politics,” she said. “I think perhaps with time, instead of there being a politicisation of humanitarian aid, there will be a humanisation of politics.”
Audrey Hepburn continued to dedicate her time to UNICEF projects until her death in 1993 and was awarded the American Presidential Medal of Freedom and Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in recognition of her work for UNICEF and her contribution to humanity. •