Jane Birkin, the singer and actress who rose to fame in the late 1960s as the lover of French bad boy Serge Gainsbourg and became a beloved figure in her adopted France, has died. She was 76.
The French culture minister announced the news on Sunday following reports in Le Parisien newspaper and BFM television that said Birkin had been found dead at her home in Paris. She had suffered a mild stroke in 2021.
Although born in London, Birkin would find fame singing in French. Her duet with Gainsbourg on the sexually explicit song “Je t’aime…moi non plus” (which was banned in several countries and condemned by the Vatican) made her a household name around the world.
The song was recorded in 1968, just months after the pair — Birkin then 22-year-old and Gainsbourg 40 — had first met on the set of the film Slogan, forging a turbulent relationship that would last 13 years and see them become France’s most famous couple. The two — whose notorious rows once saw her fling herself into the River Seine after throwing a custard pie in Gainsbourg’s face — would have a daughter, the actress, singer and director Charlotte Gainsbourg (who in 2021 debuted her documentary about her mother, Jane by Charlotte, in Cannes).
“He and I became the most famous of couples in that strange way because of ‘Je t’aime’ and because we stuck together for 13 years, and he went on being my best friend until the day he died,” Birkin told CNN in 2006.
Birkin’s film debut was Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1966 classic Blow-Up, where she had a small role noted for a full-frontal scene. Other credits include the 1972 adaptation of Death on the Nile and 1982’s Evil Under the Sun. Later moving to more arthouse productions, she earned three Cesar nominations, beginning with 1985’s La Pirate.
Thanks to her style, Birkin became a major fashion icon and It-girl of the 1970s. In 1984, Hermes named its Birkin bag — still a highly sought-after accessory four decades on — after her.
Alongside Charlotte, Birkin had a daughter, Kate Barry, with the James Bond composer John Barry, whom she married at the age of 17 (a marriage that lasted just three years). Barry tragically died in 2013 of an apparent suicide. Birkin also had another daughter, the singer Lou Doillon, from a relationship with French director Jacques Dillon.