The Sad Truth About Audrey Hepburn's Final Weeks

Actress Audrey Hepburn illuminated the big screen in such timeless films as "Roman Holiday" (1953), "Breakfast at Tiffany's" (1961), and "Wait Until Dark" (1967) (via IMDb). To this day, she is remembered for her talent and unique style. But few may know the difficult times she faced at the end of her life. Hepburn left Hollywood in the late 1960s to focus on her family, making an exit from the spotlight as her first son, Sean Ferrer, grew up (via Variety). While her marriage to actor Mel Ferrer ended in divorce in 1968, she soon married again. Hepburn wed Italian psychiatrist Andrea Dotti in 1970. That same year, the couple welcomed son Luca. 

Hepburn had returned to acting sporadically over the years, and her final film role was as an angel in Steven Spielberg's "Always" (via The New York Times). Her character helped guide a recently deceased pilot to the afterlife. Little did Hepburn know that she would soon be facing her own mortality.

Audrey Hepburn diagnosed with cancer

Audrey Hepburn seemed content in her later years, spending much of her time living in Switzerland and finding love with Dutch actor Robert Wolders (via The New York Times). She also devoted more time to charitable efforts, beginning her work with UNICEF as a goodwill ambassador in the 1980s. Hepburn and her mother had been in Holland when the Nazis invaded during World War II, and she knew what it was like to suffer great hardship. They were so hungry at one point that they ate tulip bulbs to survive. She also had an uncle and a cousin killed in the war, and one of her brothers spent time in a labor camp. 

As her son Sean Ferrer explained to Express, it was after one of her many trips on behalf of UNICEF in 1992 that she began to feel ill. "After traveling to Somalia, Audrey was suffering from crippling abdominal pains. Her doctor was wonderful and visited at home, but antibiotics only made the pains worse," he described. Hepburn traveled to Los Angeles for medical tests. There, doctors discovered she had a rare form of cancer called pseudomyxoma peritonei, which most commonly starts in the appendix as a tumor. With this type of cancer, it often takes years for symptoms to develop. While Hepburn underwent surgery to treat her condition, it proved to be too late.

Audrey Hepburn's final flight home

Audrey Hepburn took the news of her terminal condition with remarkable courage and acceptance. According to her son Sean, "she simply looked out of the window and said, 'how disappointing'" (via Express). Her final wish was to return home to Switzerland, but she was considered too sick to travel. Fortunately, a dear friend stepped in to make it possible.

According to People Magazine, fashion designer Hubert de Givenchy loaned Hepburn a private jet to take her back to Switzerland. She and Givenchy were very close, and Givenchy described their relationship to The Telegraph as "a kind of marriage" and there was never "any criticism of the other person, no upsets" (via Express).

Hepburn had to be transported with great care. Her longtime partner, Robert Wolders, told People that "she was basically on life support" during the trip and "the pilots descended carefully to reduce the pressure slowly." Despite the potential dangers to her health, Hepburn arrived home safely and was able to spend one last Christmas with her family. For that final holiday, Hepburn asked Wolders to buy three winter coats, which she gifted to Wolders, Givenchy, and her son Sean. Wolders explained that Hepburn hoped that they would "think of me when you wear them."

Hepburn's last days at home

Audrey Hepburn spent her final days at her home in Tolochenaz, Switzerland. As her condition worsened, she stayed in her bedroom while receiving hospice care. Hepburn, according to Wolders, was not "afraid of dying" (via People Magazine). Wolders did note that she was saddened over what her death would mean to her charitable efforts on behalf of UNICEF. "I know that in her last day she regretted that she could not carry on the work because she was very passionate about it," Wolders said.

On the night of January 20, 1993, Hepburn died in her sleep. The outpouring of grief at the loss of this gifted performer and kindhearted humanitarian came from around the world. Actress Elizabeth Taylor said in a statement that "God has a most beautiful angel" after learning about Hepburn's death (via Variety). A few days later, family and friends gathered to say goodbye at her funeral, held at the town's local church (via The New York Times). Gregory Peck, her friend and "Roman Holiday" co-star, read the poem "Unending Love," one of her favorites, at the service. Along with Givenchy, Wolders, and her sons, both of her ex-husbands were also in attendance (via Express).