I was surprised to hear about the diverse, and ultimately happy, life for one of my favorite stars. Audrey Hepburn was much more than a beautiful face and body.
First came the glamorous career and world fame. Then most of the acting stopped – and for a time, she lived a luxurious life in Switzerland. At 59, Audrey began what she considered her most important work. She became an ambassador for the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which she had worked for since the 1950s. It became the focal point of her final years as she traveled to places like Somalia to bring attention to the famine and other important issues.
As a child in the Netherlands during World War II, Audrey lived under German occupation. Food and fuel were scarce, and at one point she had to resort to eating tulip bulbs. She developed several health problems due to malnutrition, yet persisted with ballet lessons until she was no longer strong enough to dance.
Later in life, Audrey was especially sensitive to children suffering from deprivation. She began her position with UNICEF, in which she helped impoverished children in the world’s poorest nations. Hepburn made more than 50 trips for UNICEF to Sudan, El Salvador, Vietnam, Ethiopia and Somalia.
“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. I have a long-lasting gratitude and trust for what UNICEF does.” -Audrey Hepburn, on her appointment as a Goodwill Ambassador in 1989
She said, “Somebody said to me the other day, ‘You know, it’s really senseless, what you’re doing. There’s always been suffering, there will always be suffering, and you’re just prolonging the suffering of these children [by rescuing them].’ My answer is, ‘Okay, then, let’s start with your grandchild. Don’t buy antibiotics if it gets pneumonia. Don’t take it to the hospital of it has an accident. It’s against life-against humanity-to think that way.
It makes me self-conscious. It’s because I’m known, in the limelight, that it’s getting all the gravy, but if you knew, if you saw some of the people who make it possible for UNICEF to help these children survive. These are the people who do the jobs-the unknowns, whose names you will never know…I at least get a dollar a year, but they don’t.
How shall I sum up my life? I think I’ve been particularly lucky. Does that have something to do with faith also? I know my mother always used to say, ‘Good things aren’t supposed to just fall in your lap. God is very generous, but he expects you to do your part first.’ So you have to make that effort. But at the end of a bad time or a huge effort, I’ve always had – how shall I say it? – the prize at the end. My whole life shows that.”
Hepburn’s last humanitarian mission for UNICEF was to Somalia in the summer of 1992. After her death from cancer in 1993, she was interred in Switzerland, and her sons and Robert Wolders – her companion – founded the Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund, which collects donations for school programs in Africa.
“She was an inspiration,” said UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy, “she brought enormous world attention to children. She raised the profile of the challenges they face.”
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