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British-born actress and singer Jane Birkin, who found fame in France, dies age 76

By Niamh Kennedy, Nicole Mowbray and Eve Brennan, CNN

(CNN) — Jane Birkin, the British singer and actress who found fame in France, has died aged 76, CNN affiliate BFMTV reported Sunday, citing its sources.

Birkin spent nearly six decades in the limelight in her adopted home, to which she moved at just 20 years old and without knowing the French language. She was affectionately regarded as France’s favorite “anglaise.”

Birkin’s rise to fame began shortly after her arrival in Paris, when she fell in love with French actor and singer Serge Gainsbourg. The two quickly became the subject of widespread public fascination, with Gainsbourg nearly 20 years older than Birkin. The couple often collaborated professionally, memorably performing together on “Je t’aime… moi non plus,” a sultry duet whose explicit lyrics saw the song banned in several countries.

“Because she embodied freedom, because she sang the most beautiful words in our language, Jane Birkin was a French icon,” President Emmanuel Macron tweeted shortly after news of her death broke.

While her relationship with Gainsbourg made Birkin a household name, Birkin quickly become a star in her own right and a fashion star in France, despite being British.

She was the inspiration for the famous Birkin bag by French luxury house Hermes.

“Mom represents a very Parisian style, which is funny because she’s not,” her daughter Lou Doillon told CNN in 2017.

Birkin’s cause of death is not yet known, but she had been in poor health in recent years and suffered a stroke in 2021. Her attendance of the premier of the documentary “Jane by Charlotte,” about Birkin’s relationship with her daughter Charlotte, was one of the star’s last public appearance before her death.

Birkin is survived by Doillon and actress Charlotte Gainsbourg, her daughter with Serge. Another daughter, Kate Barry, died in 2013 at the age of 46.

A darling of French cinema

Jane Birkin was born in London in 1946. She married legendary British composer John Barry in 1965, though the union didn’t last. Birkin said it was a “really miserable marriage” and the two split shortly after.

Birkin left for Paris in 1968 to work on a film called “Slogan,” where she met Gainsbourg. Gainsbourg went on to write “Je t’aime… moi non plus” for Birkin and the song became an international hit that same year.

Birkin went on to become a darling of French cinema, appearing in over 70 films and working with some of France’s most esteemed directors, including Jean-Luc Godard, Agnes Varda and Bertrand Tavernier. She starred in notable movies such as Blow Up (1966), La Piscine (The Swimming Pool) in 1969 and Death on the Nile (1978).

Gainsbourg and Birkin’s tumultuous relationship ended in 1981, but the two remained on good terms after their split and continued to collaborate on artistic projects.

Birkin garnered her first Cesar nomination, the French equivalent of the Oscars, in 1985 for her performance in the film “La Pirate,” directed by French director, Jacques Doillon who she went on to have a daughter with.

She also managed to carve out a prolific career in the world of music, releasing several records in the French language. Her most recent album, “Oh! Pardon tu dormais” released in 2020, delved into one of the great tragedies of her life: the death of her first daughter Kate.

The Birkin bag

While Birkin continued to sing, enjoyed success as an actor and remained a hugely successful model over many years, it was her part in creating the Birkin bag – one of fashion’s most enduring and iconic accessories – that made her the household name she is today.

In an interview with CNN’s Chief International Anchor Christiane Amanpour in February 2020, Birkin recounted how a chance encounter on an Air France flight to London sat next to Jean-Louis Dumas, the-then chairman of Hermes, inspired the much-coveted bag that bears her name.

As items spilled out of her oversized Kelly bag – an earlier design from the French luxury house popularized by Grace Kelly – Birkin told Amanpour she suggested a new design to Dumas.

“I said, Why don’t you make a bag that’s sort-of four times the (size of the) Kelly that you could just leave open,” she recalled, before drawing a sketch on the vomit bag in the airplane seat back.

Dumas was true to his word and the Birkin bag was introduced in 1984. One of the world’s most recognized and coveted bags to this day, rare varieties command hundreds of thousands of dollars at auction and, according to British Vogue, almost 40 years after their launch, demand for the style still “outstrips supply” at boutiques.

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