Anyone who does not believe in miracles is not a realist.”

-Audrey Hepburn

Audrey Hepburn’s life was not a storybook existence, even though she was born in Belgium into a well-to-do family, spending early years between England and the continent. When she was six, just as Europe was bracing for war, her father’s Nazi sympathies led to her parents’ divorce. Audrey and her siblings spent the duration of the war with their mother’s family in German-occupied Holland. She witnessed the horrors of violence and deprivation firsthand.

“At a young age I was very aware of suffering and fear,” She said.

Wartime malnutrition quashed her dreams of becoming a prima ballerina. Luckily for the world, she turned to modeling and acting, and became an almost overnight sensation, acclaimed for her childlike innocence and natural charm. Remembered as a talented actress and a style-setter of the 1950s and 60s, Hepburn was a serious introvert, who adored books, flowers and children. She downplayed her stardom as something she never aspired to, saying repeatedly that she decided early to simply accept life the way it happenedAudrey attributed much of her success to luck. Still, she stubbornly insisted, “Anyone who does not believe in miracles is not a realist.”

She all but withdrew from acting after only about 15 years in the spotlight, saying she wanted to devote time to her family, performing only sporadically on stage and in film. Her hopes for a house full of children, however, were not to be. She bore two sons, but also had multiple miscarriages. Married and divorced twice, Audrey Hepburn spent her last decade in a relationship with a Dutch actor, living in a small town in Switzerland. She called those years the happiest of her life.

In 1988, she was named a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF). Her work with UNICEF actually spanned about 40 years. In 1950, she had narrated two radio programs for the agency, retelling children’s stories of war. It was an immediate and effortless connection.

Since the world has existed, there has been injustice. But it is one world, the more so as it becomes smaller, more accessible.”

-Audrey Hepburn

“I can testify to what UNICEF means to children, because I was among those who received food and medical relief right after World War II,” she said.

Audrey considered it a moral obligation that those who have must help those who have nothing. Her humanitarian efforts defined her; it was her destiny. During the last five years of her life, she traveled extensively to some of the most impoverished nations on earth, cradling babies, spreading smiles, instilling hope. Audrey Hepburn railed against the term “third world countries,” insisting that we all live in the same world.

Since the world has existed, there has been injustice. But it is one world, the more so as it becomes smaller, more accessible.”

She died quietly at home in early 1993, of a rare form of cancer, just a month after receiving the U.S. Medal of Freedom from President George H.W. Bush. She was only 63. In 2002, a statue of the one-time actress was installed at UNICEF headquarters in New York. It is almost certain she would have taken more pride in that than in her star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.

As an adult, she said, “If I’m honest I have to tell you I still read fairy-tales and I like them best of all.”  

Audrey Hepburn spoke five languages, but the message was always the same: Accept life. Believe in miracles. Perhaps her life had a storybook ending after all.  

References:

https://www.unicef.org/newsline/02pr20audrey.htm

https://www.unicef.org/people/people_audrey_hepburn.html

https://www.ahepburn.com/work1.html