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The Truth About Audrey Hepburn's Slim Figure — and How She Nearly Starved to Death During WWII

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Nearly 25 years after her death, Audrey Hepburn is still celebrated for her classic movies, her philanthropy and her delicate, gamine glamour. In PEOPLE’s new cover story, those closest to Hepburn reveal the icon’s private world, joys and struggles — and address her famously slim figure.

“People think because she was skinny that she had an eating disorder, but it’s not true,” says her son, Luca Dotti. “She loved Italian food and pasta. She ate a lot of grains, not a lot of meat, and a little bit of everything.”

At 5’7″, Hepburn weighed 110 lbs. her entire adult life, and Christie’s even ordered mannequins with a 22-in. waist for its upcoming auction of some of her iconic outfits and other treasured possessions.

Robert Wolders, her romantic partner from 1980 until her death in 1993, says that Hepburn didn’t diet, but enjoyed exercise, chocolate and Scotch.

“We’d walk for miles. She could outwalk me,” he says. “She had a healthy metabolism, but she was not excessive. She never said, ‘I have to do five miles today.’ She didn’t diet. We had brown bread with jam for breakfast, lunch would be chicken or veal or pasta, often with vegetables from the garden, and for dinner we often had soup with chicken and vegetables. She had chocolate after dinner, baking chocolate. She had a finger or two of Scotch at night.”

Courtesy Audrey Hepburn Estate Collection
Hepburn with her mother, Baroness Ella von Heemstra, in 1938

Hepburn survived starvation during World War II, which her family has said may have contributed to her lifelong thinnness. The daughter of a Dutch baroness and a British father who left the family when Hepburn was 6, she barely survived the German occupation of Holland, which began when she was 11.

“By the end of the war, she was very close to death,” says Dotti. “She survived by eating nettles and tulip bulbs and drinking water to fill her stomach. She was almost 5 6 and weighed 88 lbs. She had jaundice and edema. She suffered from anemia the rest of her life, possibly as a consequence. …  She was the same age as Anne Frank and [later] said: “That was the girl who didn’t make it and I did.” Her voice would crack, and her eyes would fill with tears.”

For much more about Audrey Hepburn, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday. 

MPTV Images
Courtesy Audrey Hepburn Estate Collection
Hepburn at age 16 in 1945, just after Holland’s liberation.

Hepburn’s family, including Dotti, who chairs the Audrey Hepburn Children’s Fund, and her other son Sean Ferrer, who heads the Audrey Hepburn Society at UNICEF, are working with Christie’s for the family’s first-ever auction of some of Hepburn’s personal collection of dresses, memorabilia and more in London on Sept. 27. The auction house is hosting a preview in L.A. Sept. 12-14 and an online auction runs Sept. 19-Oct. 3.

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