Jane Birkin, a British-born actor and singer who gained fame and admiration in France, passed away on Sunday in Paris at the age of 76.
The French Culture Ministry described her as a “timeless Francophone icon” and expressed the country’s loss, per NBC.
Reports from local media indicate that she was found dead at her home, as confirmed by individuals close to her. Birkin had previously experienced heart problems and suffered a mild stroke in 2021.
Birkin is perhaps best known internationally for her sexually explicit 1969 hit Je t’aime… moi non plus, which she performed with her former partner, the late French singer and songwriter Serge Gainsbourg.
Her legendary status extended beyond her music, however. Having lived in France since the late 1960s, Birkin was also admired for her warm personality and unwavering advocacy for women’s and LGBTQ rights, in addition to her singing career and numerous film roles.
Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo described her as the “most Parisian of the English,” and emphasized that Birkin’s songs, laughter, and distinctive accent, which charmed many, will always be remembered, per The Daily Mail.
British ambassador to France Menna Rawlings also described Birkin as “the most French of British artists.”
French President Emmanuel Macron took to Twitter to write (translated from French): “Because she embodied freedom, because she sang the most beautiful words of our language, Jane Birkin was a French icon. A complete artist, her voice was as sweet as her engagements were fiery. She bequeaths us tunes and images that will never leave us.”
Birkin initially attracted controversy with her nude appearance in a threesome sex scene in the 1966 film Blow-Up later achieving true stardom in France. Her relationship with Gainsbourg, along with her tomboyish style and endearing British accent when speaking French, contributed to her fame.
Birkin first met Gainsbourg on the set of the film Slogan in 1969, during his recovery from a breakup with famed French actress and model Brigitte Bardot. Their love affair quickly captured the nation’s attention. That same year, they released Je t’aime… moi non plus, a song about physical love originally intended to be sung by Bardot, featuring explicit lyrics from Gainsbourg and Birkin’s breathy moans and cries.
The song ended up faced a ban from the BBC and criticism from the Vatican.
Gainsbourg’s drinking ultimately strained their relationship, leading Birkin to leave him in 1981 for film director Jacques Doillon.
Throughout the next few decades – and after breaking up with Gainsbourg in 1981 – Birkin continued her career as a singer and actor. She released albums such as 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.
During this period, Birkin inspired the famous Birkin bag by the French luxury house Hermès. The bag’s design was prompted when Jean-Louis Dumas, the company’s CEO, witnessed Birkin struggling with her straw bag on a flight to London, resulting in its contents spilling onto the floor.
Birkin is survived by her two daughters, singer and actor Charlotte Gainsbourg, born in 1971, and actor Lou Doillon, born in 1982. Her first child, daughter Kate Barry, tragically passed away in Paris in 2013 aged 46.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to the family, friends, and fans of Jane Birkin at this tragic time.
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