“I never think of myself as an icon. What is in other people’s minds is not in my mind. I just do my thing.” – Audrey Hepburn
If she had lived, Audrey Hepburn would have turned 88 years old today. Sadly, we lost her over twenty years ago. She never had the chance to reach this milestone. Being a huge fan of Audrey Hepburn, I could continue to mourn her death but I’d rather reflect on why she and her amazing life mean so much to me.
I first became interested in Audrey when I first saw the movie Funny Face as a teenager. In this movie, Audrey plays Jo Stockton, a mousy bookstore clerk turned haute couture fashion model. I figured I’d love this cinematic fairy tale for the Parisian sights, Fred Astaire dance scenes, smart and subversive humor and Givenchy fashions. But I had no idea I would become besotted with a wide-eyed gamine named Audrey Hepburn.
It was a mystery why Audrey grabbed me so much. Sure, she was beautiful, talented and charming, but so are plenty of movie stars. Audrey just had that “it factor” I couldn’t explain but I knew I wanted to see more of her movies and learn more about her as a human being. Who was the Audrey Hepburn beyond the flickering celluloid?
I began renting Audrey’s movies and watching them over and over again. Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Roman Holiday, Sabrina, My Fair Lady and Charade were just a few of Audrey’s movies I couldn’t get enough of. In these movies, she was both lady-like and spunky, at turns heartbreaking and strong, and so very Audrey. Sure, she made characters like Holly Golightly and Sabrina Fairchild household names, but she wasn’t afraid to court controversial topics like the possibility of lesbianism in The Children’s Hour or a nun questioning her faith in The Nun’s Story. And in her last movie, Always, she played an angel. Now she really is one.
And we can’t mention Audrey without discussing her impeccable sense of style with her friend and confidant, fashion designer, Hubert de Givenchy. Audrey helped introduce women to fashionable basics we now take for granted-big sunglasses, the little black dress, ballet flats to name a few. How empty our closets would be without Audrey’s influence. And she was always willing to give Givenchy the important credit for creating the “Audrey Look.” Audrey wore his clothing in her movies and her in personal life. She often claimed knowing what she’d be wearing in a movie helped her develop a character, and complimented Givenchy’s outfits for making her feel protected.
Like any other woman, Audrey had her share of joy and heartbreak in her life. Her parents divorced when she was a child, and she rarely saw her father afterwards. She nearly starved to death during World War II after the Nazis took over her homeland, Holland. As an adult, she was married and divorced twice, finally finding lasting love with the love of her life, Robert Wolders. Desperate to be a mother, Audrey suffered several miscarriages, finally giving birth to her first son, Sean, in 1960 with Luca following in 1970. Being a mother was Audrey’s greatest joy, and just like so many other mothers out there, she tried to achieve work/life balance and slowed down her career to devote time to her boys.
But Audrey’s care and concern went beyond her own children. In 1988, she got involved in UNICEF. UNRRA, UNICEF’s forerunner, helped Audrey at the end of World War II, and she wanted to pay them back. She became a Goodwill Ambassador and traveled around the world witnessing the atrocities of famine, drought, war, lack of education and how these issues damaged young lives. She took this new found knowledge and informed others, inspiring them to help.
It was during this time, I got to see Audrey in person. Before her untimely death, my friend Nora and I saw Audrey read from the Diary of Anne Frank, accompanied by the New World Symphony and conducted by the legendary Michael Tilson Thomas. Audrey was one of those people who spurned us to action, and to this day, Nora and I are involved in causes within our communities and abroad.
On a final trip to Somalia, Audrey fell ill. At first she thought it was a simple virus, but it was soon found out that she had colon cancer. And sadly, she lost her battle to cancer on January 20th, 1993. Nearly everyone mourned her death. Tiffany & Co. took out an entire page of the New York Times to memorialize her, and People magazine devoted a special issue in her honor. To this day, I can remember hot, sticky tears pouring down my face when Entertainment Tonight played “Moon River” from Breakfast at Tiffany’s as it showed scenes from her movie and her life.
After Audrey’s death, her sons founded the Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund to commemorate her work on behalf of children everywhere. As for me personally, Audrey Hepburn has influenced me in countless ways. Probably the most important way is by improving my community and the world around us through self-education, volunteering, charitable giving, and donating my skills to causes I care about.
Audrey was like a lot of us, yet she compels us to aspire to things greater than ourselves. My life is richer because of her, and I know she will continue to inspire many others. You are missed my Huckleberry friend.
“The beauty of a woman is not in a facial mode but the true beauty in a woman is reflected in her soul. It is the caring that she lovingly gives the passion that she shows. The beauty of a woman grows with the passing years.” – Audrey Hepburn