OBITUARY

Farewell, angel

Audrey Hepburn epitomized grace and goodness

Brian D. Johnson February 1 1993
OBITUARY

Farewell, angel

Audrey Hepburn epitomized grace and goodness

Brian D. Johnson February 1 1993

Farewell, angel

OBITUARY

Audrey Hepburn epitomized grace and goodness

BRIAN D. JOHNSON

She made her last screen appearance in 1989, playing a cameo as an angel easing the impact of death for the hero in Steven Spielberg’s Always. And that is how much of the world remembers Audrey Hepburn—as an angelic presence who epitomized class, grace and untarnished goodness both on-screen and off. Whether courting romance in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961) or danger in Wait Until Dark (1967), she projected classic elegance. During the past 25 years, Hepburn’s movie roles were few and far between, but she remained a star. And in recent years she captured the international spotlight as a special ambassador for the United Nation’s Children’s Fund (UNICEF), a post that she had held since 1988. For Hepburn, who died last week at 63 from cancer of the colon at her home near Lausanne, Switzerland, drawing the world’s attention to the suffering of children in Somalia was her final, and most impassioned, role.

ning an Oscar for her portrayal of a princess— a role that seemed to stick. She earned four more nominations in the course of a career that

Hepburn, who made 26 movies, enjoyed her prime as an actress during the 1950s and 1960s—before the sexual revolution made the term “leading lady” anachronistic. She belonged to a generation of Hollywood royalty. Her leading men, most of them older than her, included Gregory Peck, Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, Gary Cooper, Burt Lancaster,

Henry Fonda and Fred Astaire. Hepburn’s vaguely European accent, her chic wardrobe and her gamine-like beauty won her both admirers and imitators. She seemed so enviably modern. Film-maker Billy Wilder, who directed her with Cooper in Love in the Afternoon, once said of her:

“Ah, that unique lady. She’s what the

Latin calls sui generis. She’s the origi------

nal and there are no more examples and there never will be.”

Born in Belgium, Hepburn was the only child of a Dutch baroness and an English banker who deserted the family when Audrey was six. With her mother and two older half brothers, she became trapped in Nazi-occupied Holland during the Second World War. One of her brothers went to a labor camp, and the family was reduced to eating tulip bulbs. By the end of it, Hepburn was suffering from various diseases caused by malnutrition—and received aid from

the UN relief organization that later became UNICEF. Not long after becoming its ambassador, she said, “I auditioned for this job for 45 years and finally got it.”

After the war, Hepburn studied ballet and worked as a dancer and model in London. She played bit parts in six movies. Then, success struck almost overnight. Through a chance meeting with the French author Colette, Hepburn won the lead role in the Broadway musical Gigi (1951). Two years later, she was asked to star in the movie Roman Holiday, later win-

included such movies as Sabrina (1954), War and Peace (1956), Funny Face (1957), The Nun’s Story (1959), Charade (1963) and Two for the Road (1967).

The character that remains most identified with Hepburn is Holly Golightly, the strangely demure call girl in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. But author Truman Capote, who wrote the book on which it was based, objected that she was miscast—even though she was “an old friend and one of my favorite people.” Capote said that he would have preferred Marilyn Monroe. Hepburn also ran into some controversy when she was chosen to play Eliza Doolittle in the movie version of My Fair Lady (1964) over Julie Andrews, who starred in the stage version. At Oscar time, Hepburn was snubbed, while Andrews won for The Sound of Music.

After delivering one of her edgier performances in the thriller Wait Until Dark, as a blind woman trapped by a killer, Hepburn glided into semiretirement with the grace of a star who is loath to overstay her welcome. She later made only sporadic screen appearances. But she scored a critical triumph with her one starring role, in Robin and Marian (1976), playing a middle-aged Maid Marian opposite Sean Connery’s Robin Hood. Later came smaller parts in Bloodline {1979) and They All Laughed (1989). But, on the whole, Hepburn seemed content to leave acting behind.

Even at the height of her career, she kept her distance from Hollywood, living in Switzerland since the mid-1950s. She went through two marriages, to actor Mel Ferrer and to Italian psychiatrist Andrea Dotti, both of which ended in divorce. She leaves two sons, one from each marriage, and the man who lived with her since 1980, Dutch actor Robert Wolders. Hepburn was working in Somalia when she first fell ill last fall. After an operation in Los Angeles, her friend (and Roman Holiday co-star) Gregory Peck chartered a jet to take her home to Switzerland. She was to have joined Elizabeth Taylor at the Oscars next March 29 to receive a special humanitarian award.

Hepburn’s two decades of active - stardom seem like a Cinderella interlude in a life affected by forces that make most movies seem frivolous—from Nazi oppression to the Somalian famine. Announcing her death, UNICEF executive director James Grant said, “She repeatedly put aside the comforts of home to visit some of the most deprived and often forgotten people on this planet.” And her work may just be beginning, according to Taylor, who declared: “God has a most beautiful new angel now that will know just what to do in heaven.”