Jane Birkin, the beloved British-born actress and singer, known for her iconic presence in the 1960s and her significant influence in France, has passed away in Paris at the age of 76. The French Culture Ministry mourns the loss of a «timeless Francophone icon.»
Reports from local media indicate that she was found deceased at her residence, as confirmed by individuals close to her. In 2021, Birkin had suffered a mild stroke after enduring heart issues in previous years.
While Birkin gained international fame for her 1969 hit song, «Je t’aime…moi non plus,» performed alongside her then-lover, the late French singer and songwriter Serge Gainsbourg, she had been a prominent figure in France since the late 1960s. Apart from her successful singing career and numerous film roles, she was cherished for her warm personality and her steadfast advocacy for women’s and LGBT rights.
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo paid tribute, saying, «The most Parisian of the English has left us. We will never forget her songs, her laughter, and her incomparable accent, which always accompanied us.»
Early Life and Career
Jane Mallory Birkin, born in London in December 1946 to British actress Judy Campbell and Royal Navy commander David Birkin, began her stage career at the age of 17. She gained notoriety for her role in the controversial 1966 Michelangelo Antonioni film «Blow-Up,» where she appeared in a provocative threesome scene before venturing to France at the age of 22.
Her Influence in France
In France, she captivated audiences not only with her romantic involvement with the tormented French star Gainsbourg but also for her tomboyish style and charming British accent when speaking French, which some believe she cultivated deliberately.
Following her breakup with Gainsbourg in 1981, Birkin continued to excel as a singer and actress. She released albums like «Baby Alone in Babylone» in 1983 and «Amour des Feintes» in 1990, both featuring words and music by Gainsbourg. In 2002, she wrote her own album, «Arabesque,» and in 2009, she released a collection of live recordings titled «Jane at the Palace.»
French singer Etienne Daho, who produced and composed Birkin’s last album in 2020, expressed his grief, saying, «It’s unimaginable to live in a world without you.»
Her Iconic Relationship with Serge Gainsbourg
Birkin and Gainsbourg’s love story began on the set of the film «Slogan» in 1969, shortly after Gainsbourg’s breakup with Brigitte Bardot. They released the provocative song «Je T’Aime… Moi Non Plus» («I Love You… Me Neither») that year, a song about physical love originally written for Bardot. The song was marked by Gainsbourg’s explicit lyrics and Birkin’s breathy moans and cries, leading to its ban by the BBC and condemnation by the Vatican.
Despite their passionate relationship, Birkin left Gainsbourg in 1981 and began living with film director Jacques Doillon. However, she remained close to Gainsbourg until his passing in March 1991.
The Iconic Birkin Bag
Around this time, Birkin inspired the famous Birkin bag by the French luxury house Hermes. The bag’s creation stemmed from Jean-Louis Dumas, the chief executive of Hermes, witnessing Birkin struggling with her straw bag during a flight to London, causing its contents to spill onto the floor.
Hermes paid tribute to Birkin, stating, «We have lost a close friend and a long-time companion. With a shared sensitivity, we grew to know each other, we discovered and appreciated the extent to which Jane Birkin’s soft elegance revealed an artist in her own right, committed, open-minded, with a natural curiosity of the world and others.»
Legacy and Family
Jane Birkin is survived by two daughters, the singer and actress Charlotte (born in 1971) and actress Lou Doillon (born in 1982). She also had a daughter, Kate, who was born in 1967 and tragically passed away in 2013. Her legacy as a cultural icon and her contributions to the world of entertainment and fashion will be cherished and remembered.