January 21, 2013 12:00 PM

She captivated the world with her doe-eyed beauty, but behind the Givenchy glamour, there was an Audrey Hepburn few people knew. She thought her nose too big, her feet too large and her neck too long. She loved to shop for groceries (but not clothes), didn’t wear makeup at home, never went to the gym and enjoyed two fingers of Scotch every night. “She was not this ethereal creature,” says Robert Wolders, 76, the Dutch actor who was her companion for the last 13 years of her life. “She was an earthy woman with a ribald sense of humor.” What she had, adds Wolders, “was more than beauty. It was this extraordinary mystique.”

Hepburn left Hollywood at age 34 at the height of her fame, moving into a 1732 farmhouse in Tolochenaz, a small Swiss village, where she found happiness raising two sons and purpose in her charity work for UNICEF. Two decades after her death from abdominal cancer at 63 on Jan. 20, 1993, her children and her last love remember the Audrey they adored. “She had a way of letting you know who she really was,” says Wolders. “She made you look into her soul.”

Her Early Years: A Reluctant Star

The Belgian-born actress, who trained to be a ballet dancer during her youth in Holland and England, “never thought she was a great actress,” says Wolders. And “becoming a fashion icon didn’t mean a lot to her.” Once, after catching 20 minutes of Breakfast at Tiffany’s on TV, she turned to Wolders and said, “That wasn’t too bad, was it?” But she loved the camaraderie of making movies. Recalls her son Luca Dotti, 42: “I’d meet her friends at our house and later find out they were Gregory Peck or Jimmy Stewart.”

Her Final Years: Family & Fulfillment

By 40, Hepburn turned down most roles. “She wanted to be a mother,” says Wolders. “That’s what mattered most.” As her second marriage (to Italian psychiatrist Andrea Dotti) was ending unhappily in 1980, she met Wolders, whom she never wed. (“Why ruin it?” Hepburn said.) She found what she called “her most important work” as one of UNICEF’s first Goodwill Ambassadors, traveling the world to call attention to the needs of suffering children. After she was diagnosed with cancer in 1992, she never complained. “She considered death a part of life,” says Wolders. She spent her final weeks with her loved ones, at times watching videos of her favorite Balanchine ballets. “She died too young,” says her son Luca, who now runs the Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund. “But she always said, ‘I was so lucky.'”

You May Like