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|Audrey Hepburn (May 4, 1929 - January 20, 1993) was a Belgian-born actress, fashion model, and humanitarian. Born Audrey Kathleen Ruston in Brussels she was the daughter of Joseph Anthony Ruston, a British banker, and Baroness Ella van Heemstra, a Dutch aristocrat descended from French and English kings. Her father appended the name Hepburn to his surname, and Audrey became Audrey Hepburn-Ruston at the same time. She had two half-brothers, Alexander, and Ian Quarles van Ufford, by her mother's first marriage to a Dutch nobleman.
Life during World War Two
Hepburn attended private schools in England and the Netherlands, but after the 1935 divorce of her parents she was living with her mother at Arnhem when the German invasion and occupation of World War II occurred. At that time she adopted the pseudonym Edda Van Heemstra, modifying her mother's documents to do so, because an "English-sounding" name was considered dangerous. It was never her legal name.
After the landing of the Allied Forces on D-Day, things grew worse under the German occupiers. During the Dutch famine over the winter of 1944, brutality increased and the Nazis confiscated the Dutch people's limited food and fuel supply for themselves. Without heat in their homes, or food to eat, people in the Netherlands starved and froze to death in the streets; particularly so in Arnhem, which was devastated during Operation Market Garden. Suffering from malnutrition, Hepburn developed several health problems, and the impact of those times would shape her life and values.
Rise to Stardom
After the war, Hepburn and her mother moved to London where she studied ballet, worked as a model, and in 1951 began acting in films, mostly in minor or supporting roles; her first major performance was in the 1951 film The Secret People. After being chosen to play the lead character in the Broadway play Gigi (opened on November 24, 1951), and after a successful six-month run in New York, she was offered a starring role in the Hollywood motion picture Roman Holiday, co-starring Gregory Peck. For her performance in this movie she won the Academy Award for Best Actress, and over her illustrious career she would be nominated for best actress four more times. In the film Funny Face, Hepburn's mother appeared as the patron of a sidewalk café. Her performance as Holly Golightly in 1961's Breakfast at Tiffany's resulted in the creation of one of the most iconic characters in 20th Century American cinema. Having become one of Hollywood's most popular box-office attractions, Hepburn co-starred with other major actors such as Fred Astaire, Humphrey Bogart, Gary Cooper, Cary Grant, Rex Harrison, Peter O'Toole, and Sean Connery.
Work for UNICEF
From 1967 onward, after fifteen highly successful years in film, Hepburn acted only occasionally and her last role was filmed in 1988 just before she was appointed a special ambassador to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). Grateful for her own good fortune after being a victim of Nazi atrocities as a child, she dedicated the remainder of her life to helping impoverished children in the world's poorest nations. In 1992, President George Bush presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in recognition of her work with UNICEF. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded her The Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for her contribution to humanity, and her son accepted the award shortly after her death. She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 1652 Vine Street.
Marriages and Death
Hepburn married twice, to actor Mel Ferrer and to Italian doctor Andrea Dotti, and had two sons. At the time of her death she was the companion of Robert Wolders, a Dutch actor who was the widower of film star Merle Oberon. Hepburn died of colon cancer on January 20, 1993, in Tolochenaz, Vaud, Switzerland at the age of 63, and was interred there.
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