Jane Birkin, the English singer, actor, and Francophile canonized for her spitfire Sixties style, died on Sunday, July 16 at the age of 76, according to a report from Le Parisien. Her death has shocked and saddened millions of fans around the world, who admired her for her talent, beauty and charisma.
Birkin was best known for her 1969 hit Je t’aime … moi non plus, a sexually explicit duet with her lover, the late French singer-songwriter Serge Gainsbourg. The song, which featured Birkin’s breathy moans and whispers, was banned on radio in several countries and condemned by the Vatican, but became a worldwide success. It was the epitome of their passionate and turbulent relationship, which lasted for 13 years and made them France’s most famous couple.
Birkin met Gainsbourg in 1968, when she was 22 and he was 40. She had moved to France to star in a film alongside him, after making waves in her film debut in 1966 with a full frontal nude scene in the swinging sixties classic Blow-Up by Michelangelo Antonioni. She fell in love with Gainsbourg’s charm and wit, and he was captivated by her doe-eyed beauty and soft voice. They had a daughter, Charlotte, who became a successful actor and singer herself.
Birkin and Gainsbourg were the epitome of bohemian chic, living a hedonistic lifestyle that often involved drugs, alcohol and affairs. They were also prolific artists, collaborating on several albums and films, and influencing generations of musicians and filmmakers with their style and sensibility. They broke up in 1980, but remained close friends until Gainsbourg’s death in 1991.
Birkin continued to blaze her own trail after their split, branching out from more ditsy roles to arthouse productions. She gained three nominations at the Césars – France’s Oscars – starting with La Pirate in 1985. She also directed four films, including Boxes in 2007, which starred her three daughters from different fathers: Kate Barry (who died in 2013), Charlotte Gainsbourg and Lou Doillon.
Birkin was also a humanitarian activist, supporting causes such as Amnesty International, Aids research and Tibetan independence. She was awarded the OBE in 2001 and the Legion of Honour in 2017 for her contributions to arts and culture. She was loved and respected by her peers and admirers, who praised her for her authenticity, generosity and courage.
Jane Birkin was more than a sex symbol or a muse. She was an icon who transcended boundaries of nationality, language and genre. She embodied a certain idea of French elegance, sophistication and freedom that enchanted the world. She will be dearly missed by all who knew her or were touched by her work.