On January 20, 1993, actress, fashion model, and humanitarian, Audrey Hepburn, died at the age of 63. Hepburn is best known for her roles in Hollywood classics like Roman Holiday, Sabrina, and Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and for her work with humanitarian organization UNICEF.
Hepburn was born on May 4, 1929 in Brussels, Belgium. After living through World War II and spending years studying dance, Hepburn began to explore the world of acting. She took on several bit and minor film roles, as well as small roles in several theater and musical productions. While playing another small role in the French/English film Monte Carlo Baby, Hepburn was “discovered” by French novelist Collette, who was searching someone to play the lead role in Gigi, the play adaptation of one of her novels. Upon seeing Hepburn on set, Collette reportedly said, “Voilà, there’s your Gigi.”
The young actress traveled to New York to star in the Broadway show, which ran for 219 shows. Hollywood began to buzz with talk of the new waif-like actress, who was a welcome change from the buxom actresses who had begun to dominate the silver screen like Marilyn Monroe. Just two years later, in 1953, Hepburn starred alongside Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday which followed the story Princess Ann, who briefly escapes her royal duties and falls in love with an American journalist portrayed by Peck. She wooed audiences and won her only Academy Award for best actress for the role.
In the next year, she met her future husband Mel Ferrer, and starred with him as a water nymph who falls in love with a human in the Broadway production of Ondine. In 1954, she won a Tony Award for her performance and married her leading man, Ferrer, in September of that same year. Later that year, she also starred in the romantic comedy Sabrina alongside William Holden and Humphrey Bogart, and received her second Academy Award nomination for best actress. A few years later, Hepburn was able to showcase her many years of dance training in Funny Face, which she starred in with dance legend Fred Astaire. The movie was loosely based on the real-life relationship between Hepburn and fashion photographer Richard Avedon, who considered Hepburn a muse of his. The movie also showcased muse-like relationship between Hepburn and her lifelong friend, designer Hubert de Givenchy, who designed all of Hepburn’s wardrobe in the film.
In 1959, Hepburn starred in a more serious role as Sister Luke in The Nun’s Story, for which she received her third Academy Award nomination. Probably Hepburn’s most memorable role and one that instilled her as a fashion icon was as the free-spirited party girl Holly Golightly in 1961′s Breakfast at Tiffany’s. For this role she received yet another Academy Award nomination, and the style and sophistication she brought to the role became synonymous with her name.
Hepburn played a wide variety of characters throughout the rest of the 1960s, showcasing her enormous acting range. This string of films included romantic thriller Charade, which was the only movie she starred in alongside Hollywood leading man, Cary Grant. In 1964, she went through a huge transformation as cockney flower girl Eliza Doolittle in the film adaptation of the popular musical My Fair Lady. Other projects included Paris When it Sizzles, Two for the Road, How to Steal a Million, and the suspenseful Wait Until Dark, for which she received her last Academy Award nomination for best actress.
Towards the end of the 1960s, her marriage with Ferrer ended, and she met and married her second husband, an Italian psychiatrist named Andrea Dotti. After having her second child, Luca, her acting career died down and she focused on raising her two sons. Her last starring role was in 1981′s They All Laughed. Her acting career ended with a cameo appearance in Steven Speilberg’s Always.
She became a global ambassador for UNICEF in the 1980s, and traveled extensively to Asia, Africa, Central and South America to raise awareness about impoverished children and families in need.
After a trip to Somalia, Hepburn began to complain of abdominal pains. Doctors found that Hepburn was suffering from abdominal cancer which had spread from her appendix. After undergoing several surgeries, operating doctors decided her cancer had spread to far and she was thus inoperable. She returned to her home in Switzerland in a private jet filled with flowers, arranged by her lifetime friend Hubert de Givenchy. She spent her final days under hospice care, often taking walks in her garden until she was put on full-time bed rest. On January 20, 1993, at the age of 63, Hepburn died in her sleep.
Hepburn received many posthumous awards for her career in acting as well as for her humanitarian work. After her death, her sons Sean Ferrer and Luca Dotti, and her companion until her death, Robert Wolders, established the Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund to continue her humanitarian work for children in need.