Audrey Hepburn was born in Brussels, Belgium, on May 4, 1929. Her mother, Dutch baroness Ella van Heemstra, and her father, wealthy British banker Joseph Hepburn-Ruston, named their baby girl Audrey Kathleen van Heemstra Ruston. At the age of five, her mother sent her to boarding school in England. Rather than returning to her family for holidays, Audrey was instead sent to visit a coal miner's family so she could remain immersed in English language and customs. In 1935, her father walked out, leaving no forwarding address - she would later describe his departure as "the most traumatic event in my life." Three years later her parents officially divorced, and while at Audrey's request her father was allowed visitation rights, he never used them.
By 1939, the first signs of World War II were beginning to appear in England. Believing Holland would be safer because of its neutrality, her mother moved her family to the town of Arnhem, forcing Audrey to learn Dutch quickly because she spoke only English at the time and it was not safe to speak English in the streets. All of the family's property - real estate, securities, jewelry - is confiscated by the German war machine. At the same time, Audrey's father is imprisoned without trial for being one of hundreds of fascists and pro-Nazi activists in England. Throughout the occupation, Audrey was exposed to the atrocities committed by the Germans, including the execution of her uncle, who with four other members of the Dutch underground had attempted to blow up a train. Having begun ballet lessons in 1935 and started serious training in 1941, by 1943 Audrey assisted the Resistance by appearing in "blackout performances" that were held in secret as fundraisers. She also served as a courier, carrying messages in her socks and shoes as many children did at the time. Audrey earned extra money for her family by giving under-the-table private lessons, but by 1944 food had become so scarce - at times she resorted to grass and tulip bulbs - she was too weak to continue dancing. When Holland was liberated on her sixteenth birthday, Audrey was suffering from asthma, jaundice, malnutrition, anemia, and severe edema. Her metabolism was permanently affected, making it nearly impossible for her to gain weight and causing rumors of eating disorders in the future.
Dancing and Drama
In late 1945, Audrey's mother decided to dedicate herself to Audrey's dancing career, and the pair moved to Amsterdam. Despite being unable to afford the lessons, Audrey is trained by Sonia Gaskell, the leading name in Dutch ballet, who decided that the teenager "deserved a chance." In 1948, Audrey was accepted to London's Marie Lambert ballet school, but because the school did not have the money to pay the scholarship it had awarded, her enrollment was postponed. She eventually moved to London with her mother, but realized that her height - five feet, seven inches - and comparative lack of training would always handicap her in ballet. She instead tried out for the chorus line in a show called High Button Shoes, and was one of ten chosen from the 1,000 girls who auditioned. She performed in several other plays and appeared on television a few times, eventually landing a role in Nous Irons à Monte Carlo ("We Go to Monte Carlo"), which is shot on location in the French Riviera in 1951.
While Audrey was in a hotel lobby filming Nous Irons à Monte Carlo, author Colette walked through and immediately selected her for the lead role in her Broadway production of Gigi. Back in London, she screen tested for Roman Holiday and was chosen for the lead role. For the first time without her mother, Audrey departed in late summer 1951 for New York. She had to spend a considerable amount of time in voice lessons, but her performance in Gigi was finally praised by critics. On May 31, 1952, the show closed early so Audrey could get to Rome to begin work on Roman Holiday. After shooting wrapped in September, she returned to the U.S. and began the eight-month road tour of Gigi.
In August 1953, Roman Holiday opened stateside and was an immediate hit with both audiences and critics. Audrey's waif-like look, clothed in Givenchy, suddenly became very popular and appeared in numerous fashion magazines. She received the 1954 Academy Award for Best Actress, but shortly thereafter had to close the Broadway show Ondine because she was suffering from exhaustion. Audrey took a vacation in Switzerland, then in November returned to Holland for a fundraising tour for the League of Dutch Military War Invalids. Over the next few years she continued to star in a number of films, including 1959's The Unforgiven. While filming that movie she fell off a horse, breaking four vertebrae, tearing muscles in her lower back, and spraining her foot. Despite all that, she recovered enough with in a month to complete the film in an orthopedic brace - but the film was panned by critics when it was released. She had become pregnant again following a miscarriage a few years previously, and on January 17, 1960 gave birth to a son in Lucerne, Switzerland. Having earlier accepted the lead in Breakfast at Tiffany's under the condition that filming would not begin until after the birth, she returns to New York and then to Hollywood for filming. Audrey continued to appear in a string of movies until late 1967, when following her divorce from producer Mel Ferrer she decided to quit working.
Retirement and Later Films
In 1969, Audrey settled in Rome with Andrea Dotti, an Italian psychiatrist and neurologist whom she had married on January 18. On February 8, 1970, she gave birth to Luca Dotti. She spent most of her time for the next few years as a wife and mother, though she did appear in a UNICEF television special and a series of Japanese wig commercials. In 1975 she starred opposite Sean Connery in Robin and Marian, then five years later took a small part in They All Laughed, a film by Peter Bogdonovich. By this time divorced from the philandering Dotti, Audrey went to Dublin in 1980 to visit her seriously ill father, who died three days after her arrival. She next went to Switzerland to care for her invalid mother, who died in 1984. Her last starring role was in Love Among Thieves, which also featured Richard Wagner.
UNICEF and Final Months
Because she had done fundraising for the group in the past, UNICEF appointed Audrey their Goodwill Ambassador in 1987. She traveled all over the world making appearances, and in 1988 began the fundraising TV program Danny Kaye International Children's Special, which was held annually until 1992. She testified before the House Select Subcommittee on Hunger in 1989, and continued to work actively for UNICEF until mid-1992. Her complaints of abdominal pain prompted friends and family to encourage her to undergo testing, and on November 2 she underwent an operation for colon cancer. Following the surgery, she returned to her Swiss estate, allowing Julia Roberts to accept the SAG Achievement Award on her behalf in Los Angeles, and then receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her UNICEF work from the U.S. ambassador to Switzerland. She also received the Academy's Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award. On January 20, 1993, she died at home in her sleep. Audrey Hepburn is buried in the cemetery at Tolochenaz-sur-Morges in Switzerland.
Honors and More
In addition to her 1954 Oscar for Roman Holiday, Audrey was also nominated for four other Academy Awards. She received two Golden Globe awards and was nominated for three others. In 1990 a white tulip was named after her, and the same year she was listed among People magazine's "50 Most Beautiful People," and the British magazine "Empire" listed Audrey as #8 in their 1995 list "100 Sexiest Stars in Film History" and as #50 in their October 1997 "The Top 100 Movie Stars of All Time" list. While it is commonly known that Marilyn Monroe sang "Happy Birthday Mr. President" to John F. Kennedy in 1962, few remember that Audrey sang the song at his last birthday celebration in 1963. Her children currently run the Audrey Hepburn Children's Fund, which continues to provide support to needy children worldwide.
The above was compiled from information at http://members.nbci.com/hepburn/biography.html and other sources.