Jane Birkin, the The iconic British-born actress, singer and model who became a chart-topping artist in France thanks to her collaborations with then-partner Serge Gainsbourg has died at the age of 76.
Birkin’s death was announced on Sunday by France’s culture ministry, which said Birkin was found dead at her Paris home. No cause of death was provided. Birkin recently canceled concerts for unspecified health reasons; in recent years, she has also suffered a stroke and battled leukemia.
French President Emmanuel Macron tweeted Sunday, “Because she embodied freedom, because she sang the most beautiful words of our language, Jane Birkin was a French icon. A complete artist, her voice was as sweet as her engagements were fiery. She bequeaths us tunes and images that will never leave us.
A staple of London’s Swinging London scene, Birkin had small roles in films like Michelangelo Antonioni Explode and the soundtrack by George Harrison wall of wonders before landing the lead role in the French film Slogan alongside crooner Serge Gainsbourg.
After moving to France, Birkin and Gainsbourg re-recorded her song “Je t’aime… moi non plus” – previously a duet between Gainsbourg and Brigette Bardot – in 1969, the track becoming a UK number one single, the first foreign language. song to reach the number one spot in this country.
Birkin and the much older Gainsbourg’s personal and professional relationship spanned a decade; together they had a daughter, French singer and actress Charlotte Gainsbourg. Birkin also served as a narrator of sorts and album cover template on Serge Gainsbourg’s classic 1971 LP. Melody Nelson’s Story. Birkin then starred in Gainsbourg’s 1976 film I love you toowhich was so sexually explicit that it was banned in the UK
During a film career that spanned seven decades, Birkin appeared in films by legendary directors like Jean-Luc Godard (Keep your right!), Jacques Rivette (The Beautiful Noiseuse), Agnes Varda (one hundred and one nights, Kung Fu Master, And Jane B. by Agnès V.), Alain Resnais (Same old song) and Roger Vadim (Don Juan or if Don Juan was a woman).
American audiences discovered Birkin in a pair of Agatha Christie adaptations – 1978 Death on the Nile and 1982 Evil under the sun – as well as movies like James Ivory A soldier’s daughter never cries. Birkin made her directorial debut in 2006 with her film Boxes; her last screen role was in the documentary Jeanne by Charlotte, which served as the first film for his daughter Charlotte. Birkin was also the mother of French singer Lou Doillon through her decade-long relationship with director Jacques Doillion.
Birkin also served as the inspiration for one of fashion’s most desirable items: Hermès’ Birkin bag, created in the 1980s after a chance meeting on a plane between the actress-singer and Jean-Louis Dumas. from the fashion house. During the flight, Birkin complained about the lack of quality leather handbags, and the now revered bag was produced soon after. (Decades later, the bag and Birkin herself were the subject of a famous name check on “Jane” from Migos.)
Despite their tumultuous (and sometimes abusive) relationship, Birkin remained a strong supporter of Serge Gainsbourg’s music long after that French singer’s death; in 2020, she participated in Birkin Gainsbourg the Symphonic Starring Jane Birkin, an all-star staging of her collaborative work; Charlotte Gainsbourg and Iggy Pop took part in the New York performance.