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Style icon Jane Birkin dies at 76

The singer and actress was the inspiration behind the famous Birkin bag

Jane Birkin at the 74th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, in 2021
Jane Birkin at the 74th international film festival, Cannes, southern France, in 2021 (AP)

Jane Birkin, the British-born singer and actress who became a style icon in her adopted France, has died, a close source said on Sunday. She was 76.

Birkin had been suffering from health problems in recent years that had forced her to cancel concerts.

The cause of death and other details were not immediately available.

Birkin catapulted to fame through her turbulent relationship with legendary singer-songwriter Serge Gainsbourg and her heavily accented French.

With her flared jeans, mini dresses and messy bangs, Birkin was a fashion icon in the 1970s.

In 1984, Hermes named one of its handbags after her, which remains a sought-after status symbol.

Also read: Is it metaverse fashion art or Birkin ripoff?

Turbulent love affair

She crossed the Channel in 1968 at the age of 22 to star in a film alongside Gainsbourg, who was 18 years her senior.

It was the start of a 13-year relationship that made them France's most famous couple, in the spotlight as much for their bohemian and hedonistic lifestyle as for their work.

Birkin, with her soft voice and androgynous silhouette, quickly became a sex symbol, recording a steamy duo with a growling Gainsbourg in 1969, "Je t'aime... moi non plus".

Banned on radio in several countries and condemned by the Vatican, the song was a worldwide success.

"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 friend until the day he died. Who could ask for more?" Birkin told CNN in 2006.

"So Paris became my home. I've been adopted here. They like my accent," she said.

Style icon

The daughter of an actress and a naval officer, Birkin married James Bond composer John Barry, with whom she had a daughter, Kate. The marriage lasted three years.

She moved to France after meeting Gainsbourg on the set of a romantic comedy in which he was her co-star.

They had a daughter, Charlotte, who became a hugely successful actress and singer.

The musical and romantic relationship between Gainsbourg and Birkin was famously tempestuous.

During one of their raging rows, Birkin tossed herself into the River Seine after throwing a custard pie in Gainsbourg's face.

She blazed her own trail after walking out on France's favourite bad boy in 1980.

In her around 70 films she has worked with leading French directors including Bertrand Tavernier, Jean-Luc Godard, Alain Resnais, James Ivory and Agnes Varda.

But she remained forever associated with Gainsbourg, who continued to write songs for her after their split, including "Les dessous chics" about lingerie being used to try to cover up a relationship on the rocks.

"It's the most beautiful song about separation you could ever have," Birkin told AFP in a 2018 interview.

Her oldest daughter, Kate Barry, a photographer, died in an apparent suicide in 2013.

Birkin is survived by her daughter with Gainsbourg, Charlotte, and her daughter Lou Doillon, a singer, whom she had during a 13-year relationship with French director Jacques Doillon. 

Also read: Pierre Cardin returns to Paris, space-age style

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