Jane Birkin, Singer-Actress and ’60s ‘It Girl,’ Dies

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Jane Birkin, the English singer and actress who earned international acclaim in the ’60s for her small but impressionable roles in a variety of films including 1966’s Blow-Up, and for the sexually explicit duet single, “Je t’aime… moi non plus” (I love you… me neither), which she sang in French with her longtime romantic partner, Serge Gainsbourg, died today (July 16, 2023). Her death at age 76 was announced by the French culture ministry. Birkin, who had suffered a stroke in September 2021, was found dead in her Paris home.

Gainsbourg wrote “Je t’aime… moi non plus” for his then-girlfriend, Brigitte Bardot, in 1967. (The French film star was married to another man at the time.) A year later, with Gainsbourg and Birkin in a romantic relationship, the pair re-recorded the song. In a 2010 interview with the Daily Telegraph, Birkin said she “got a bit carried away with the heavy breathing–so much so, in fact, that I was told to calm down, which meant that at one point I stopped breathing altogether. If you listen to the record now, you can still hear that little gap.”

The song, released in 1969 on the Fontana label, ends with what sounds like Birkin having an orgasm. The single was a significant success in Europe, selling a reported three million copies. However, when it reached #2 in the U.K., it was suddenly banned. It was quickly reissued on another label, Major Minor, and, despite no airplay, it subsequently reached #1 in the U.K., achieving two notable firsts, as it became the first banned single and the first sung in a foreign language to top that chart.

Birkin, born December 14, 1946, married James Bond film composer John Barry while she was still in her teens. The marriage ended within a few years. (Their daughter, photographer Kate Barry, pre-deceased her.) She and Gainsbourg never married; they were together for over a decade as France’s most famous couple. Their daughter, Charlotte Gainsbourg, is a prolific actress and singer. Birkin had a third daughter, Lou Doillon, from her relationship with director Jacques Doillon. Besides a memorable nude scene in Blow-Up, her other film appearances of note include the ’60s films Kaleidoscope and Wonderwall. In 1973, she appeared in the Bardot film, Don Juan, or If Don Juan Were a Woman, directed by Roger Vadim, and later in the Agatha Christie film adaptations, Death on the Nile and Evil Under the Sun.

A Hermès Birkin bag. The price? Don’t ask

In 1984, she lent her name to luxury goods maker Hermès for their Birkin bag, born in the sky on a flight from Paris to London when the actress, sitting next to Jean-Louis Dumas, the company’s Executive Chairman, was complaining that she couldn’t find a bag suitable for her needs as a young mother.

There’s cool. And then there’s Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin posing for a photo in London cool.

Watch Birkin and Bardot in the 1973 film, Don Juan, or If Don Juan Were a Woman

She and her longtime friend, Marianne Faithfull, were born just weeks apart in London in December 1946. Faithfull wrote a lengthy tribute:

“Dearest Jane has gone. I admired her as an artist so much and I’m very glad we got to work together. I hope people remember that she made some of her best albums in recent years. She was so proud of continuing Serge’s musical legacy on all those wonderful records and now that’s part of her legacy too; how fitting.

“We first met several lifetimes ago – and from that day I always thought she possessed such beauty and style- effortlessly too, which we all know is the hardest thing to pull off. How I wanted to look like her and be like her! Her style will endure of course but she was a dear friend and I will always love her, I miss her already so very very much. Farewell my Jane, fly on. Love Marianne xxxx”

From the singer and lyricist for the band Portishead.

French Prime Minister, Emmanuel Macron wrote, “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.”

Serge Gainsbourg died in 1991 at age 62. In later years, Birkin worked on a variety of humanitarian issues with Amnesty International. She received an OBE from the British government in 2001.

Related: Musicians we’ve lost in 2023

Greg Brodsky

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  1. Jas
    #1 Jas 17 July, 2023, 00:50

    I remember when “Je t’aime mon non plus” first came out. I was living in Montreal and the French stations were playing it frequently. Even though I was young, I understood what that song was about. So beautiful. And I still have the original vinyl in my collection. So very sad to lose her. RIP Jane.

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