Singer and actor Jane Birkin, known for being a Sixties wild child and for the steamy song “Je t’aime... moi non plus” that she released with her former partner Serge Gainsbourg, has died at the age of 76.
The British star was found at her home by her care-giver, French media reported. In 2021, she’d had a mild stroke after suffering heart problems in previous years.
The London native, born to stage star Judy Campbell and Royal Navy lieutenant commander David Birkin, began her career as an actor, with an early role in 1966 British comedy Kaleidoscope starring Warren Beatty and Susannah York.
Birkin achieved notoriety quickly by appearing naked in a threesome sex scene in the controversial 1966 Michelangelo Antonioni film Blow-Up.
During those years she was married to the British James Bond composer John Barry.
When she later moved to France at the end of the 1960s, in her twenties, the young star gained international fame for her decade-long on and off-screen relationship with French pop poet Gainsbourg. The pair became Paris’s most iconic couple, known for their bohemian and hedonistic lifestyles.
The two met while co-starring in the 1969 French satirical romantic comedy Slogan and went on to release a debut album in the same year.
One particular song from that album, “Je t’aime... moi non plus”, became a worldwide success and reached number one on the UK Singles Chart, despite being banned from a number of radio stations and the Vatican for its sexually explicit content.
The two were together for 12 years but never married, and welcomed a daughter, Charlotte Gainsbourg, who went on to become a successful singer and actor.
Speaking to The Observer in 2007 about her first date with Gainsbourg, Birkin said: “Serge sweetly doesn’t know how to dance but we go to Regine’s, then to a Russian club, and Serge pushes 100-franc notes into the musicians’ violins so they will play the ‘Valse triste’ of Sibelius as we get into a taxi; after that we went to an amazing place where Mexican singers Serge knew were playing with Joe Turner, the great jazz man; from there to Madame Arthur, a transvestite club, where Serge’s father played the piano before the war.
“These gentlemen dressed up as ladies, who I had never seen the like of, come and sit on Serge’s knee; after that, at dawn, we went to have a croissant on the Pigalle and all the prostitutes said hello to Serge. I just thought, ‘Wow.’ He had the keys to the city, or to all of the cities of Paris.”
Their relationshio was famously tumultuous, with Birkin once jumping into the River Seine after throwing a custard pie in Gainsbourg’s face.
They seperated in 1980, with Birkin continuing to appear in multiple films and recording numerous solo albums, such as Baby Alone in Babylone in 1983, and Amour des Feintes in 1990, both with words and music by Gainsbourg, who died in 1991.
She wrote her own album Arabesque in 2002, and in 2009 released a collection of live recordings, Jane at the Palace.
In 1991, Birkin appeared in the miniseries Red Fox, and in the American drama film A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries, in 1998. In 2016, she starred in the Oscar-nominated short film La femme et le TGV, as a lonely widow who forms a relationship with a train driver.
Throughout her career, Birkin starred in around 70 films and was directed by filmmakers from Jean-Luc Godard to Agnès Varda.
Birkin’s legacy includes being the name behind the iconic Hermes Birkin handbag, which was launched in 1983. She was also a model, and considered a style icon.
The French culture ministry said the country had lost a “timeless Francophone icon”, while Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said the “most Parisian of the English has left us”, adding: “We will never forget her songs, her laughs and her incomparable accent which always accompanied us.”
Birkin’s first daughter, the photographer Kate Barry who she had with her first husband John Barry, died in 2013, apparently by suicide.
She is survived by her other daughters, Charlotte Gainsbourg and musician Lou Doillon, who she had with director Jacques Doillon.