October 2, 2023

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Jane Birkin, French Music Icon and Mother of Charlotte Gainsbourg, Dies at 76

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Actress, singer, and style icon Jane Birkin has died, French news outlet Le Parisien reports, stating that she was found dead at her home in Paris. In May, Birkin had to cancel a string of concerts scheduled for June at Paris venues due to health reasons. A cause of death has not yet been announced. Upon the news of Birkin’s death, France’s Culture Ministry referred to her as a “timeless Francophone icon.” Birkin was 76.

In September 2021, Birkin’s family told the Agence France-Presse that Birkin was recovering from “a minor form of stroke.” As a result, she canceled her appearance at the American Film Festival in Deauville, France, where she was set to discuss her daughter Charlotte Gainsbourg’s documentary Jane by Charlotte. She had previously been diagnosed with leukemia in 2002. 

Birkin was born on December 14, 1946, growing up in London with an actress mother and a high-ranking Royal Navy official as a father. She took on minor acting parts beginning in the mid-1960s before landing bigger roles in the counter-culture films Blowup, Kaleidoscope, and Wonderwall. 

Birkin’s acting career led her to Serge Gainsbourg with 1968’s Slogan, and the two sang the film’s theme in addition to starring as its leads. Their 1969 single “Je t’aime moi non plus”—the opener of Jane Birkin et Serge Gainsbourg—caused a stir for its frank eroticism. The pair remained a couple for more than a decade, with Birkin appearing on the cover and singing on Gainsbourg’s landmark 1971 album Histoire de Melody Nelson. Birkin also starred in Je t’aime moi non plus, Gainsbourg’s debut film.

Gainsbourg and Birkin had a daughter, Charlotte Gainsbourg, in 1971; they never married, but separated in 1980. As a teenager, Birkin had been married to James Bond composer John Barry, and had a daughter named Kate with him in 1967 before their divorce the following year. In 1982, Birkin and her then partner, French filmmaker Jacques Doillon, welcomed their daughter—singer and actress Lou Doillon.

In addition to her acting career, Birkin continued her music pursuits beyond her relationship with Gainsbourg. She maintained her involvement in art throughout her life, including roles in Death on the Nile, Dark Places, and Evil Under the Sun. Her recording career continued well into the 2000s, a run that included more than 15 solo albums, in addition to a 2017 collection of songs by Serge Gainsbourg rewritten with orchestral arrangements. Her final album was 2020’s Oh! Pardon tu dormais….

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