Receive free Jane Birkin updates
Jane Birkin, the British-born actor and singer who had transfixed her adopted country of France since the 1960s, has died in Paris aged 76.
Birkin’s waif-like, almost androgynous style made her a hit with French audiences after she became a star through a series of collaborations with the late singer and songwriter Serge Gainsbourg.
The duo, who were lovers, became notorious for the provocative 1969 song “Je t’aime… moi non plus”, though Birkin went on to release many of her own albums, appeared in film roles and had a long career of touring and performing, particularly in France.
France’s culture ministry confirmed Birkin’s death on Sunday and lauded her collaborations with some of the country’s biggest figures in film and music, from the singer Étienne Daho to the late director Agnès Varda. The ministry called Birkin a “timeless francophone icon”.
Prime minister Élisabeth Borne, writing on Twitter, called Birkin “unforgettable, with a unique voice and charm”.
Birkin was found at home in her Parisian apartment by a nursing aide on Sunday, according to Le Parisien newspaper and BFM TV, which first reported news of her death. She had recently cancelled a series of planned concerts, citing health problems.
Birkin was born in London in 1946; her mother was an actress, her father a navy commander. She captured the imagination of French audiences with her tumultuous love life as well as her style and music. Part of her charm came from the English accent she never lost. Her wide-eyed look, straight locks and fringe, and tomboyish style were much admired and copied.
In later decades she even came to inspire the luxury Hermès leather “Birkin” bags, whose prices start at $10,000, which were designed in her honour and launched in 1984.
Birkin’s life was also marked by tragedy. A daughter, Kate Barry, from a relationship with composer John Barry, died in 2013 at 46. Birkin is survived by two other daughters — Charlotte Gainsbourg, whose father was Serge Gainsbourg, and Lou Doillon, her daughter with French director Jacques Doillon. Both are actresses.
Birkin met Gainsbourg on the British set of her film Slogan. The pair went on to record “Je t’aime… moi non plus”, which Gainsbourg had originally written for former partner Brigitte Bardot. The song’s conspicuous sighs and sexually explicit lyrics shocked at the time, and it was banned by the BBC and radio stations from Brazil to Spain, though it still reached number one in Britain.
The pair became regulars on the buzzing Parisian nightclub scene, but Birkin’s relationship with Gainsbourg, a heavy drinker, fell apart in the early 1980s.
Birkin also starred in La Piscine, a 1969 movie with French film grandees Alain Delon and the late Romy Schneider.
She had kept her status as a fashion idol in recent years, performing her hit “Baby Alone in Babylone” in the middle of a Gucci catwalk show at the former Palace nightclub in Paris in 2018.
Singer Daho, who collaborated on albums with Birkin, said on social media on Sunday: “It’s unimaginable to live in a world without your light.”