British-french actress and singer, Jane Birkin, who made France her home and charmed the country with her English grace, natural style and social activism, has died at age 76.
Birkin was found dead on Sunday, July 16 by her caregiver, Her cause of death is not yet known but ABC News reported that the actress has been plagued with health issues in recent years, including a stroke in 2021 and a broken shoulder blade earlier this year which has kept her from performing and appearing publicly.
Born in London in December 1946 to Judy Campbell and David Birkin, the actress found fame and a lifelong home in France after moving to Paris to work on the movie Slogan when she was 20. On the set of the 1968 film, she met and coupled up with the film’s star, French actor and singer-songwriter Serge Gainsbourg.
Later that same year, Birkin and Gainsbourg who became a nationwide French fascination collaborated on the actress’s most well-known song, sexually suggestive duet “Je T’Aime… Moi Non Plus,” which translates to “I Love You… Me Neither.”
Despite being banned on radio in several countries and condemned by the Vatican because of its overtly sexual lyrics, the song released in February 1969, achieved worldwide success and reached No 1 in the UK singles chart.
Their relationship was frequently described as “tumultuous”, and Birkin reportedly wrote in her 2020 diaries that there had been violence. During one of their rows, Birkin launched herself into the River Seine after throwing a custard pie in Gainsbourg’s face.
But she frequently defended the man with whom she became so closely associated, including against charges by one singer that he was a “harasser”, in an interview in the Times in 2020.
Even with her British roots, the singer became a fashion icon in France in the 1960s and ‘70s, inspiring the creation of one of the most expensive and highly sought-after luxury bags in the world; the Birkin bag by French luxury design house Hermès. It was reportedly born after a conversation between Birkin and the Hermès chief executive, Jean-Louis Dumas, on a flight from Paris to London, on which they discussed how difficult it was to find a bag that could fulfil Birkin’s needs as a mother of two.
She appeared in 70 or so films under some of France’s leading directors, including Bertrand Tavernier, Agnès Varda, Jean-Luc Godard, Alain Resnais and James Ivory. Some of her most famous acting credits included the 1966 crime comedy Kaleidoscope, a 1978 adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile and the 1982 mystery Evil Under the Sun.
Her first child, Kate Barry, a fashion photographer who worked for Vogue, died in 2013 at the age of 46. Birkin had another daughter, the singer Lou Doillon, from her 13-year relationship with the director Jacques Doillon. Birkin is also survived by daughter Charlotte Gainsbourg, a 51-year-old actress whom she shares with Gainsbourg.