Her later years in life, as you presumably know, were full of grace and glamour but things weren’t always smooth sailing on set. Read on as we expose the dark and gloomy side of one of Hollywood’s greatest icons.
Little Audrey had it easy for her first few years on the planet but that wasn't going to last very long. Born in 1929 to a British father and Dutch mother, the blue blood running down her veins (her father was descended from an English earl and her mother was a baroness), didn't prevent real-life obstacles from passing her way.
She had the lot. Language lessons, traveling, and exploring the world were no strangers to her but then WWII in occupied Europe was about to barge in and change her life forever.
Living in the mid-1930s in 20th century Europe was no galivanting. Early signs of war were in the air and to disguise Audrey's British background (The Brits weren't very popular in those days, to say the least) her mother changed her name to Edda van Heemstra. Could you imagine having the name Audrey in 1930 Germany?
What happened next had a severe impact on the rest of her life. Her father became a supporter of the National Socialist party in Britain which led to significant consequences in Audrey's life.
Audrey's father joined a right-wing party. He followed this by divorcing her mother and leaving Audrey when she was only six years old. As Audrey grew, so did the distance between her and her father. She said that being apart from her father all of her life left deep scars that she would take to her grave.
The reality was rough and Audrey wasn't aware that things were about to get even worse. Not only did her father abandon the family but her mother became sympathetic to the new regime and even wrote in her memoirs that she found the new ways of life charming.
Always on the Run
These were the early days of WWII and Ella van Heemstra (Audrey's mother) finally came to her senses. Naively thinking that The Netherlands would remain natural, she moved herself and her family to Arnhem (a district further from the German Border).
She attended school in Arnhem, took dance lessons, and became a promising ballerina. Ballet was her first love. Her unparalleled passion for dancing was something out of this world, which in the future, would give her the kickstart in the industry.
There Was No Getting Away
Sadly for Audrey and her mother, moving to Arnhem didn't change much. It was not long before Holland too fell under the occupation of Germany and WWII began having a direct impact on Audrey and her family.
The young Hepburn was about to taste the bitter side of life with the tragic passing of her uncle Otto van Limburg Stirum. He was accused of resistance against the occupying regime. Otto was simply given a rough deal as he was randomly chosen as a message to others due to his high social ranking.
Joining the Troops
Could you imagine being barely 20 years old and having to move all the time? As if Otto's passing wasn't enough, Audrey's stepbrother was transferred into a German camp which forced Audrey's family to move yet again.
Audrey and her mother moved to Velp into her grandfathers' house and joined the Allied Forces. She was lucky to have such a supportive mother as she fueled her days with positiveness and belief.
The Resistance Years
Her work and devotion to the Allied troops were mentioned in Robert Matzen's book "Dutch Girl". Matzen wrote that Audrey Hepburn took a significant part in the Dutch resistance organizations. Her young age and having the ability to speak English came in handy. She would pass messages and food packages to Allied pilots. Only a few people, let alone teenagers like Audrey, were willing to risk their lives and do the things she did.
As part of her resistance activities, she was a papergirl and delivered the "De Oranjekrant", an illegal newspaper in those days. The paper had to be stuffed in her socks and then in her wooden clogs before being delivered on her bike.
The young ballerina would perform silent dance routines to raise money. As soon as the Germans were nearby, she had to stop dancing. In one interview Audrey said, "The best audiences I ever had made not a single sound at the end of my performance".
The risk and danger she was under could have led to her life ending tragically, however, she maintained loyal to the regime until the very last days of the war.
Thank You Mother Nature
Her English tongue would come to Audrey's rescue once more. In 1945, just as the war ended, the Allied troops came barging into the city where Audrey and her mother lived. She managed to talk them out of ambushing her house and the only thing the troops could think of was that they have saved a British life.
The war was over. However, the austerity, malnutrition, poverty, and the outcomes of leading a life not quite as she planned, lingered on for the rest of her life. Some say that Audrey's petit figure is a result of what her body went through.
A Mother-Daughter Thing
Audrey and her mother had a very complicated relationship following the fact that her mother was supporting the occupying regime until she came to her senses. Audrey waited until after her mother's passing before she revealed the secret she never shared. She did, however, admire her mother for bringing her up alone and for choosing a new path in life in England after the war, though she said she could never really forget her old ways.
After everything was said and done, Audrey and her mother became much closer, in life and behind set. She even co-starred alongside Audrey in "Funny Face" as an extra. Oh, and Audrey's famous Yorkshire terrier also had a grand appearance in the movie!
On the Runway
With natural glam, captivating personality, and prestigious appearance, Audrey had the full package for modeling. Her first modeling job was during the late 1940s when she was barely 20 years old. Once seen on the catwalk, no one could resist falling for her.
These were the days when women padded their shoulders, wore high waist tops, and wore pretty much anything that came down to the knees. Sure, there were beautiful women around, but now Audrey came along and showed what real beauty was all about.
Introduction to the Big Screen
In 1951 Audrey starred on the big screen for the first time. These were her first steps in Hollywood, and what a long walk it was. Although it was uncredited, "One Wild Oat" gave her a taste of the future that was just around the corner. Audrey was young, she was stunning, and she belonged in front of the camera. That much was clear.
That same year, she was seen by a French producer who offered her a role in the Broadway stage show "Gigi". That show soon turned into a movie carrying the same name. She was 22 and she experienced her first taste of success in the limelight and had no intentions of going a different way.
The Gigi Girl
Based on a novel by Anita Loos, the movie "Gigi" tells the story of a Parisian girl (Audrey), taking her first footsteps in the adult-only world intended to entertain rich men. This was a throw-into-the-deep-water for Audrey, coated with a thick layer of glam.
She was introduced to the industry, and although "Gigi" wasn't considered a great hit, her abilities and natural talent were revealed. This new path would change the course of her entire life and make her a star.
A Holiday in Rome
The year was 1953 and she was cast as Princess Ann in "Roman Holiday". Finally! She had gotten the break she had been waiting for her whole life. The role brought Audrey her first Acadamy Award.
Funnily enough, the plot of Roman Holiday tells the story of a princess who relinquishes her title. Little did Audrey know, in years to come she would too put her title and crown aside, leave Hollywood and dedicate her life to more meaningful matters.
The Tylor Intention
The role in "Roman Holiday" was not handed to her on a silver platter. Things were going for her, but they weren't going easy. Two screen producers corresponded over the casting for the movie as the initial intention was for Elizabeth Tayor to play the role. They wanted a big name and Audrey's name wasn't big enough.
After seeing Audrey's screen test, William Wyler had no doubt that Hepburn was the one. Hepburn began seeing life through rose-colored glasses and things were starting to look up for her.
A Shakespearean Touch
Her next significant role was the title role in "Ondine" in 1954. This was a Shakspearian production that escalated Hepburn way up high. She gave an astonishing performance.
This was her last Broadway production which led to another new surprise. While "Ondine" tells the tragic story of two lovers, in reality, Audrey was about to develop strong feelings for her co-star Mel Ferrer.
A First Wedding
Audrey and Mel married in September of that year. Mel Ferrer would go on and star in all-time classics, such as "War and Peace", "Macro Polo", "The Longest Day" and more. He was a rising star in those days and his light shone independently.
Ferrer loved the fact that Audrey was an independent and strong woman. However, despite their strong passion and fondness for one another, their relationship still did have its challenges.
Like all Hollywood couples, Hepburn and Ferrer had a strong and special bond but this came along with a bagful of obstacles. When it came to two actors living together, each one was longing to shine brighter than the other.
It was recalled in one interview that on the outside things seemed fine between the two but there was always a feeling that something wasn't working quite well. Their shared desire to work in the entertainment industry made many many people believe that the two wouldn’t last. During their years together, they experienced some very high highs and grim lows.
Not All According to Plan
For the 1954 "Sabrina" production, Audrey received an Academy Award nomination but that wasn't the only thing she got. She slipped a little sideways and had an affair with co-star William Holden who was married at the time. Audrey was under the spotlight.
Holden promised Hepburn that he would leave his wife and children for her. Hepburn, who longed for having a family and children of her own learned of the vasectomy Holden went through which prevented him from having more children. This was a price too high for her to pay and they soon ended their fairytale from which neither of them truly recovered.
More Than One Mistake
Audrey's desire to have children of her own led her to marry men who weren't right for her. The strong connection that Audrey once felt for her husband had disappeared and a feeling of loneliness was taking over her.
Her profession is what kept her on her feet. As more roles were offered, and more successes were down the line, so was her next big love, waiting for her just around the corner.
Peace & War
In 1955, Hepburn starred in the award-winning production of Leo Tolstoy's epic novel "War and Peace". The production was grueling and made Audrey work as she'd never worked before, Hepburn found her own form of escapism.
She found tranquility amongst her furry farm animal friends. Between takes, she would relax by the goats and deer and brush off the dire and morose "War and Peace" brought with it.
In 1957, Audrey was matched with one of the biggest stars of those days. Fred Astaire swept Hepburn off her feet in magnificent dance routines in the movie "Funny Face" and adorned the screen with prestige. Audrey shone like she never shone before.
In "Funny Face" Fred Astaire wasn't the only star Hepburn was paired with.
The almighty Givenchy was in charge of what Audrey wore and he will go on and design her outfits in "Love in the Afternoon"(1957) and "Breakfast at Tiffanies".
Only the Best Will Do
Hubert de Givenchy who transformed fabric into magic was hired to choose Audrey's clothing. Besides being the name behind the movie outfits, he was also responsible for her personal clothing. Not surprisingly, she brought with her class and nobility.
Hubert de Givenchy once said that Audrey gave life to the clothes she wore, that each piece had a story behind it. The dresses she wore became so iconic, making them unsuited for anyone else. She was blessed with success after success.
Her Furry Second Half
One thing we can say about Audrey is that she didn't let the fame and fortune go up to her head. No matter how successful Audrey became, she favored the simple things in life, trying to stay as normal as possible. In a vintage version (1958) of “Stars — They’re Just Like Us”, beautiful Audrey Hepburn was a guest star.
Audrey lived in Beverly Hills at the time. In “Stars — They’re Just Like Us” it was revealed that Hepburn made a trip to the grocery store with her pet deer as a usual part of her day, explaining that anything goes when you live in Beverly Hills.
A High Price to Pay
The household name accepted a role in the western movie "Unforgiven" which she regretted later on. Not all choices she made were wise ones and taking part in "Unforgiven" was about to become costly.
While filming the western movie, she fell off a horse's back and injured herself. She broke her back and was hospitalized. She was pregnant at the time and it is unknown if the miscarriage that followed is related to this fall or not. The dream of becoming a mother was becoming harder to achieve, however, she was motivated to get back up on her feet.
The Next Generation Was Born
Audrey was an avid believer in happy endings. She nourished her optimistic ways of life over the years and she wasn't going to let anything bring her down. In 1960, her first son, Sean, was born. In 1970, her second son, Luca, was brought into the world, making the family she wished for complete. Finally, she had come to peace.
Becoming a mother changed the rest of Audrey's life. Motherhood meant the world to her and she wasn't intending on missing out on the first precious years of her sons' lives. They were her world and her world was about to take her on new adventures.
Not All Prefer Blondes
Audrey Hepburn wasn't Truman Capote's first choice for the role of Holly Golightly in the iconic movie "Breakfast at Tiffany's" (1961). Capote felt at the time that Maryline Monroe would be the best one for the part. He wanted a big name with a big bust to take the role. Little did he know that Hepburn would be the one to make his movie grand.
The movie grasped numerous nominations and awards including best music, best actress in a leading role (Hepburn), best screenplay, outstanding directional achievements, and more. Hepburn experienced the taste of success in the limelight and she had no intentions of quitting.
Little White Dress
Only a few Hollywood actresses have reached the heights that Audrey Hepburn achieved. After "Breakfast at Tiffany's", she was everywhere. At the premiere of the movie, she arrived in a little white dress looking more stunning than ever, emphasizing the fine border between Holly Golightly and Audrey Hepburn.
Audrey was at her peak and the offers for more movie roles kept pouring in. She was very private about her personal life and very few people actually knew what was going on behind the scenes.
A Never-Ending Icon
With no doubt, Audrey's role in "Breakfast at Tiffany's" provided the 20th century with one of its biggest icons. The high hairdo, long cigarette holder, and pitch-black sunglasses all contribute to forming this epochal character. The sunglasses were remodeled in 2011, and the little black dress was sold at an auction for almost a million dollars.
Even the glamourous yellow diamond neckless Audrey wore in the movie was polished up and returned to the spotlight in 2019.
The Holy Trinity
So, how are Audrey, Tiffany, and Lady Gaga related? At the 2019 Academy Awards, Lady Gaga shone. Not because she was nominated for two Oscars, but because of the piece of jewelry she wore. Lady Gaga walked out on stage wearing a yellow diamond necklace, worth more than 20 million dollars.
The necklace was the same one Audrey appeared in her iconic movie "Breakfast at tiffany's" however the design of the necklace was slightly modernized to fit the time and age. Remarkably, Audrey's legacy and portrait are still kicking.
Singing by the River
"Breakfast at Tiffany's" won the award for best music in motion picture and it didn't just happen by chance. Composer Henry Mancini said that he wrote the song "Moon River" especially suiting it to Hepburn's character. He added that out of all covers and versions of this song — and there are over 500 versions — the Breakfast at Tifanny's one is the best of them all.
Over the years, "Moon River" became the theme opening song for the "Andy Williams Show", Bary Manilo has his own cover and Frak Sinatra too gave the song his own style. Judy Garland and Louis Amstrong are known for covering the song but no matter who put their voice to those lyrics, "Moon River" will always be sacred to Audrey.
The Shirley Maclain Influence
Another movie Audrey starred in in 1961 was "The Children's Hour", known also by the name "The Louder Whisper". Shirley Maclain costarred with Hepburn in this somewhat controversial story. The movie was about two friends who ran a boarding school for girls and found themselves in a middle of a lifetime crisis unheard of in those days.
Maclain's terrific performance won her the Laurel Award for best female dramatic actress and Hepburn was content for being just nominated.
And What a Fair Lady She Was
The 1964 production of "My Fair Lady" had more behind-the-scenes issues than you could imagine. The broadway edition starred Julie Andrews who was expected to take the leading role in the movie version too, however, Jack Warner the producer had other plans.
The audience couldn't imagine anyone else but Andrews holding such a role. Eventually, though, Audrey was about to play one of the best roles in her career.
Significant singing abilities, which Andrews had with no doubt, were required for the lead and the production had a very creative way of turning Hepburn into a singer. When Audrey discovered what was planned, she had a few things to say about it.
A professional singer was hired to do the singing scenes in the movie which then would be dubbed over Hepburn's voice. It all worked well and was unnoticed, however, Audrey did say in one interview that if she would have known there was no intention of letting her sing, she wouldn't have taken the role.
The Darkest Hour
Audrey's next big hit was "Wait Until Dark” (1967) where she co-starred alongside Alan Arkin and yet again was nominated for an Academy Award. Audrey became one of the leading actresses in the industry, however, in her personal life — and just like in this movie — things were in the dark.
This role was not easy for Audrey as she was expected to play a role of a blind woman who lives in complete darkness. Audrey felt she needed a change, and change was about to come.
After filming "Wait Until Dark", Hepburn called for a timeout. For the next ten years, Audrey would barely appear in any production as she decided to put her family first. Audrey's son, Sean, talked openly in one interview about his mother putting her career on hold.
He cynically apologized for ending his mother's career. She chose to dedicate those precious days to bringing up her boys and not missing out on their childhood. Years to come and Sean would long live his mother's legacy through a children's book. His wish was to inspire the young and new generation while introducing his mother's endowments.
The Italian Moments
In 1968 Hepburn married Andrea Dotti, an Italian psychiatrist. It relieved her that Dotti wasn't involved in the industry and their relationship lasted for several years. With Dotti, she could stay balanced and keep her private life, private.
They met while they were both cruising on the Mediterranian and both were still married to former partners. Again, Audrey married wrongly and again, she would find herself heartbroken. However, true love was just around the corner.
Giving It Another Try
During those years, Audrey didn't neglect her profession completely and in 1976, she attempted a comeback by playing alongside Sean Connery in "Robin and Marian". The movie wasn't as great as her former ones, however, the chemistry between Hepburn and Connery was remarkable.
It was said that the two really seemed to be in love, and if it wasn't for them, the film would have been probably a complete disaster. The movie was poor, the plot was boring, but the cast was magnificent. She wished for that kind of connection and enthusiasm in reality — for someone to sweep her off her feet and live happily ever after with.
A Partner for the Rest of Her Life
In 1980, Audrey met Robert Wolders who was her partner until her last days. After two marriages that went pear-shaped, Audrey finally found her destiny.
Hepburn and Wolders never married but they had a beautiful relationship, based on honesty and trust. The 25 years that stood between the two never formed a barrier or boundary, and against all odds, Audrey could finally settle down with the man she loved.
Audrey's Little Secrets
Yes, she was naturally beautiful, however, she strictly kept a daily skin-nourishing routine. She revealed to the "French Vogue" that the most important thing was hydration, hydration, hydration.
Besides the good genes she was obviously blessed with, she had a few beauty secrets she revealed to "Vogue" magazine, which then they revealed to the rest of the world.
Audrey's Beauty Tips
In the 20th century, women had more time than they do today. Audrey would use tweezers to separate each and every eyelash before applying mascara. She was dedicated to herself as much as she was to the industry.
Audrey had all different kinds of beauty tips that added to her natural allure. She pampered her skin with oils and lotions, groomed her eyebrows on a daily basis, and always — and we mean always — removed her makeup before going to bed. And like everything else she touched, it was all done in the most professional way.
She Had Her Own Ways
Audrey insisted on detoxing her body one day a month. By cleansing our body internally, we provide space for new emotions and feelings. She said that detoxing the body enables us to let go of the past and embrace the future.
Her son, Luca Dotti, detailed in his book "Audrey at Home: Memories of My Mother's Kitchen", that she would eat only fruit, vegetables, and yogurt for the entire day. In general, the diet she kept was simple, and pasta with plain tomato sauce was her favorite dish.
The Perfect Skin Saver
What does Audrey Hepburn have in common with Marilyn Monroe and Grace Kelly? They all had the same skin-saver and shared the same dermatologist, Erno Laszlo.
Audrey said that she owed 50% of her skin to her parents and 50% to Laszlo. They shared a holistic approach to their skin, believing that if the skin isn't at its best, something inside must be wrong.
Not Everyone Is Perfect
Audrey had her flaws. One habit that followed her for almost her entire life was smoking. On a bad day, Audrey could smoke over three packs of cigarettes. There are not too many authentic photographs of her without her smoking and it became one of her hallmarks.
She said that smoking calms her down and helps her memorize her lines. Let's not forget that in those days smoking was considered cool and elegant. Audrey was definitely cool and for sure, extremely elegant.
A Change in Life
In the 1980s, Audrey turned to more meaningful matters. She joined UNICEF as a goodwill ambassador and took part in over 50 trips to UNICEF organizations and projects around the world. She had found her purpose in life.
She visited some of the poorest places on earth and brought awareness to the misfortune of children around the globe. She was grateful for the gifts life had given her, and it was now her turn to give back.
The Most Famous Journal in the World
Hepburn continued accepting small roles and her next project was "The Diary of Anne Frank". The agony, grief, and sorrow of WWII never really left her and she felt honored to take such a position. The role of Anne was offered to her way back in 1959, however, Hepburn felt she was too old to play the part. In her opinion, such a sensitive time in history must be as authentic as possible.
In 1990, she narrated parts of the diary for the project composer Michael Tilson Thomas was working on. The profit from this project was partly donated to UNICEF. She confronted this part of her life that was tucked away for years and finally managed to lock it up for good.
Moments of Honor
Following her cherished and overwhelming work for UNICEF, in 1992, former president George Bush honored Audrey with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Sadly, Audrey was about to go downhill.
A few months back she was diagnosed with a terminal illness and unfortunately at this time her health became an issue. The medical situation she was under prevented her from even attending the medal ceremony. The following year she would receive the Posthumous Academy Award for her astonishing work with UNICEF.
So We Say, Goodby
On January 20th, 1993, Audrey Hepburn passed away. She passed peacefully at her home in Switzerland surrounded by her family and loved ones. Her gravesite has become a place of pilgrimage over the years.
Audrey has left behind her legacy that will never fade out and memorable moments that will be always cherished.
Her Name Will Forever Bloom
Long after her passing, the legacy of Audrey Hepburn remains. The Netherlands Flower Information Society has named a new breed of white tulip after her.
It was a tribute to her beauty and courage – the ability to feel others' pain and make a difference even when the world fell apart. With a touch of elegance and a bouquet of grace, her extraordinary life had come full circle.