FOR A 58-YEAR-OLD FORMER SEX SYMBOL who hasn’t made a film in nearly two decades, Brigitte Bardot can still cause a commotion. Witness the latest contretemps de Bardot, wherein French newspapers screamed the bulletin that B.B., their national treasure, had once again apparently taken an overdose of sedatives in her Saint-Tropez home. Declared Nice-Matin, the Riviera’s leading gazette: “Brigitte Bardot: Saint-Tropez Feared for Its Myth.”
A tempest in an espresso cup, scoffed her fourth husband, importer-exporter Bernard d’Ormale, 51. Sometime around the dinner hour on Saturday, Nov. 14, he later explained, “Brigitte was overcome with fatigue and took too much medication to go to sleep.” D’Ormale reported that his wife “was very woozy when she arrived at the clinic, and at first she was not sure where she was. But,” he noted, “she did not have her stomach pumped and was fine after a few hours.” A spokesman for Saint-Tropez’s L’Oasis clinic, where Bardot was admitted, issued this reassuring prognosis: “France can rest easy. It was nothing serious.”
Perhaps so, but B.B.—from her early days as the world’s most publicized sex kitten to her later career as the world’s most passionate animal-rights activist—has never been safe from notoriety or, perhaps, from herself. In 1960, a year after her second marriage (to actor Jacques Charrier) and nine months after the birth of her only child, Nicolas, Bardot took an overdose of sleeping pills and was found unconscious and with bleeding wrists at a friend’s villa near Nice. Then, in 1983, on the eve of her 49th birthday, Bardot canceled a dinner party in Saint-Tropez and again downed too many pills. That time she was rushed to L’Oasis to have her stomach pumped—and there were no denials. “I really wanted to die at certain periods in my life,” she once reflected. “Death was like love, a romantic escape. I look pills because I didn’t want to throw myself off my balcony and know people would photograph me lying dead below.” Roger Vadim, the director (and husband No. 1) who fashioned Bardot’s sexgoddess image in her trademark 1956 film And God Created Woman, once observed that “every birthday is a test for her, and it’s usually a desperate time.”
Bardot celebrated her birthday on Sept. 28, and friends had been saying she was much happier of late, thanks to her sudden, secret marriage last August to d’Ormale, whom she had met in June. According to reports, the couple had begun living together at Bardot’s 10-room beachfront house, La Madrague, in Saint-Tropez, but few of her friends actually believed that Brigitte (who had divorced her third husband, Gunther Sachs, in 1969) would remarry. In fact, as late as Sept. 20, when she and d’Ormale appeared in public, photographers thought she was joking when she referred to the French businessman as “my latest husband.” But on Oct. 15 the marriage was confirmed with an announcement from the right-wing National Front, for which d’Ormale has worked as a technical consultant.
D’Ormale apparently made his bundle in radio and television in French-speaking Africa and has more recently been involved in import-export trade. The marriage took place in a small wooden church outside Oslo where Bardot’s son, Nicolas Charrier, 32, lives with his wife of eight years, Anna Lina Bjerkan, the daughter of a Norwegian diplomat, and Brigitte’s two granddaughters, Anna, 7, and Thea, 2. It was a doubly important moment for Bardot, who had been estranged from Nicolas for years, having allowed him to be raised by his father’s parents. “I was completely unbalanced and lost in that crazy world,” she once said of her jet-set days. “I didn’t want him to know my depressions and my fragility.”
But B.B. decided to reach out to her son last summer. “Two weeks after we met,” d’Ormale explained, “Brigitte phoned Nicolas because she wanted him to meet me, and we agreed to go and see him in Norway. Just before we left, she said, ‘Why don’t we get married while we are there?’ So we did. But quietly. I am not a man for the limelight. Only close friends of ours knew.”
Nor would the public suspect. In recent years. Bardot has become better known for her devotion to animals than for her interest in men. In 1986 she created the Brigitte Bardot Foundation and has been the most ardent celebrity advocate of animal rights. Marriage has not tempered her enthusiasm. D’Ormale contends that her recent bout with what he calls fatigue stems from her empathy with all creatures great and small. In October, he says, hunters trespassed on her other property in Saint-Tropez and took potshots at a wild boar. Then, earlier this month, Bardot was reportedly traumatized by the news that a flock of sheep had been allowed to starve in a fold in nearby Ramatuelle.
Over the years Bardot has gone to the barricades for virtually every species on the planet, from endangered elephants to common house cats. She travels to the Médoc region annually to protest the opening of hunting season. Many of her own animals (some dozen dogs, 40 cats and assorted livestock) were saved from pounds or the butcher’s block. A cemetery at La Madrague is fretted with crosses bearing the names of deceased pets.
Vadim once said of Bardot, “She did not get much affection from her parents, and when we started dating, she didn’t want jewels, but a dog.” He added, “She was always allergic to fame, power and everything that connoted success. The innocence and honesty of animals reassured her.”
Of course, Vadim was not the answer either. Perhaps d’Ormale will fill the void so pitifully deep in Bardot’s heart, or perhaps she can turn to the son she so long neglected. As the actress said in 1956, what she missed most amid the glamor and turbulence was “a life without drama. That would have been wonderful.”
JOEL STRATTE-MCCLURE in Saint-Tropez, France