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Born Audrey Kathleen Ruston, Audrey Hepburn (1929-1993) was an iconic actress and fashion icon that rose to fame during Hollywood’s Golden Age. Hepburn was born in Ixelles, Brussels and spent her childhood travelling between Belgium, the Netherlands and England. Early activism began in World War Two while Hepburn was growing up. Her parents were Nazi sympathisers, but Hepburn opposed her parent’s ideology. She participated in the Dutch resistance by delivering messages and packages and performing in ballet recitals in underground fundraising events.

At the time of the war, Hepburn went by the pseudonym “Edda Van Heemstra” because having an English sounding name was considered dangerous in most European countries affected by the war. Her alias brought confusion to the public when it resurfaced during her time in the limelight and people believed that to be her real birth name.
The impact of her experiences growing up in the Second World War served as a mould to her values throughout her life. Hepburn suffered from malnutrition after the Nazis confiscated the limited supplies the Dutch had remaining during the Dutch Famine in 1944, resulting in Hepburn resorting to digging up tulip bulbs to eat. In attempts to neglect the hunger, Hepburn would stay in bed and read and also dance ballet.

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After the war had ended, Hepburn moved to London and worked as a ballet dancer, model and later started Broadway acting in supportive roles under the stage name, Audrey Hepburn. She began acting as a financial aid to assist her mother so that she wasn’t solely supporting them. Hepburn landed a role in the film ‘The Secret People’ in September 1951 and from there on she spring boarded to stardom. Her background in ballet proved useful as she won critical acclaim for her talent. Only months after her debut in acting, Hepburn landed the starring role in the Broadway play ‘Gigi’ in November 1951.

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After many years of acting, Hepburn decided to end her illustrious career as an actress after her final cameo in Steven Spielberg’s ‘Always’ (1988). In early 1993, Hepburn passed away from colorectal cancer after months of surgery yet rejecting chemotherapy. Even in the latter months of her life, Hepburn worked tirelessly for UNICEF in South Asian and African countries.

“I can testify to what UNICEF means to children, because I was among those who received food and medical relief right after World War Two. I have a long-lasting gratitude and trust for what UNICEF does.”
– Audrey Hepburn on being appointed as UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, 1989.

After her withdrawal from the Hollywood limelight, Audrey Hepburn became an ambassador for the non-government organisation UNICEF. UNICEF aims to aid disadvantaged children’s survival, protection and development in over 190 countries worldwide. Shortly following her appointment as an ambassador, Hepburn travelled to parts of Africa and South Asia representing UNICEF.

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Hepburn would take her findings from her trips to developing countries and project them to media outlets in the United States, Canada and Europe in order to spread awareness on issues surrounding topics like poverty and disease. Throughout her reign as ambassador, Hepburn carried out other duties following her work in South Asia and Africa such as issuing vaccines for Polio in Turkey, running training programs for women in Venezuela, projects for children on the streets of Ecuador and providing clean drinking water in Ecuador. Her extensive list of accomplishments goes on, and she was rewarded for it through medals of recognition such as the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award.

Although it was revealed to Hepburn that she was cancer stricken by the end of 1992, she still prevailed as best she could to serve UNICEF. Ten years after her passing in her home in Switzerland, a seven-foot bronze sculpture commemorating Hepburn was built adjacent to the UNICEF headquarters in Manhattan, New York. During her time as a goodwill ambassador, Hepburn brought joy to hundreds of thousands of little children.

Audrey Hepburn became the heroine figure that she needed while growing up through war and a poverty-stricken background to many children who are in a similar circumstance. Her commitment to UNICEF, acting, modelling and ballet won her many awards and honours. A newly developed hybrid tulip was named after Hepburn for her long-time contribution as a humanitarian. Hepburn is now immortalised as a common household name for her many professions she excelled at in her life time. She will truly live on through her iconic movies and humanitarian work.

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