Back in the 1950s and ’60s, Brigitte Bardot was a superstar whose beauty made her a major sex symbol. But although Bardot’s career could have run and run, she retired before she even hit 40 – seemingly having decided that a Hollywood life wasn’t for her. And while the French former actress still gives interviews and makes headlines, she now looks remarkably different to how she appeared in her heyday. In fact, you may not even recognize her at all.
Way before Bardot rose to fame, though, she entered the world in 1934 in the French capital of Paris. And while her parents, Louis and Anne-Marie, may have been wealthy, they were also abusive. They didn’t allow their daughter to have many friends or pick her own clothes, and on occasion they were physically violent. When a young Bardot and her sister broke a vase, for example, their father whipped them.
As a child, Bardot also suffered from the medical condition amblyopia. This meant her eyes weren’t quite aligned, and her left one had trouble focusing. It may surprise you, too, to hear that the future icon considered herself to be ugly before she grew up.
Then World War II broke out, and Bardot and her family moved across the country to take up residence in the town of Dinard. But, of course, life in Nazi-occupied France was far from easy. When German planes launched a bombing raid prior to capturing Dinard in June 1940, the Bardots hid in the basement of their accommodation, and the ex-actress is still traumatized by the sound of sirens to this day.
As Bardot grew older, though, her mother decided to push her towards becoming a ballet dancer. And more abuse unfortunately followed. During part of her training, Bardot was made to walk around the family’s living space balancing a pot of water on her head; if the container fell off, she would receive a slap around the face.
Naturally, Bardot didn’t take up dancing professionally, although she did get her big break at the tail-end of the 1940s. After the war had ended, you see, the young woman had been put to work by her mother modeling hats in a boutique. And when the editor of Jardin des Modes magazine noticed Bardot, he offered her a job posing for the publication. Elle ultimately took an interest, too.
In 1949, in fact, Bardot appeared on the cover of Elle – although she only used the initials “BB” as per her mother’s demands. And, as it happens, one of the people who saw the magazine was a screenwriter called Roger Vadim. Vadim then shared the shot with film director Marc Allégret, who in turn decided to ask Bardot in for a screen test.
Vadim took the initiative in the form of a letter addressed to Bardot’s home – though it’s unclear how he’d got her address. And while the young woman’s parents adamantly refused to let their daughter participate in the screen test, her grandparents were more forthcoming.
In the end, Bardot didn’t get a movie role from Allégret. But she did meet Vadim at the audition, and the two were instantly attracted to each other. At just 15, then, Bardot began dating the writer – something to which her strict parents almost inevitably didn’t approve in the slightest. For a while, in fact, Louis and Anne-Marie tried to set their eldest child up with different, richer men instead.
That period of Bardot’s life was also an extremely dramatic one. In 1952 she received a small role in the film Le Trou Normand – or Crazy for Love in English. At around the same time, her personal life was in turmoil; after the fledgling actress found out that she was pregnant, she ultimately decided to get an abortion. Later on, Bardot also reportedly tried to commit suicide by putting her head in an oven.
But by the end of 1952, things seemed to have taken a turn for the better for Bardot. In December of that year, you see, the teenager was permitted to marry Vadim, with the wedding taking place at the Notre-Dame-de-Grâce Church of Passy in Paris. Then, the following year, she began nabbing more film roles.
Bardot was gradually making the jump to Hollywood, in fact, first appearing in the Kirk Douglas film Paris, Act of Love in 1953. Then after a few more French films – including one for Allégret – she took on her first major English-language part. The up-and-coming actress would star opposite Dirk Bogarde in the 1955 movie Doctor at Sea.
Then, during filming of the Italian film Mio figlio Nerone – or Nero’s Mistress – in 1956, Bardot was asked to dye her hair blonde. And as it happens, she liked the shade so much that it would become her signature hair color. That year was also an extremely successful one for the actress, seeing her appear in four hit movies – three of which were either written or directed by her husband.
In particular, the 1956 movie And God Created Woman – which also happened to be Vadim’s directorial debut – made Bardot into an international megastar. But owing to the actress’ sex appeal, she did rub a number of people up the wrong way. Some even outright protested screenings of And God Created Woman.
Meanwhile, it turned out that Bardot herself had mixed feelings about the movie. In 2012 she told Vanity Fair, “All my life, during that film, and before and after, I was never what I wanted to be, which was frank, honest and straightforward. I wasn’t scandalous – I didn’t want to be. I wanted to be myself. Only myself.”
The year after And God Created Woman came out, however, Bardot would divorce Vadim. Apparently, she’d been having an affair with co-star Jean-Louis Trintignant – who was himself a married man. And to further complicate matters, it emerged that Bardot had also cheated on Trintignant with the musician Gilbert Bécaud. Yet, perhaps surprisingly, the star and her ex-husband remained friends.
Sadly, Bardot’s personal life would eventually begin spiraling down again. After the divorce from Vadim went through, she also broke up with Trintignant, with newspapers going on to report that she was having a nervous breakdown. The press also declared that Bardot had made a suicide attempt using sleeping pills – although her PR manager firmly denied this allegation.
After that, Bardot took actor Jacques Charrier as a lover and got pregnant once again. The couple also wed in June 1959, with their son, Nicolas-Jacques arriving six months later. However, Bardot would not have much of a hand in raising her first-born; after she divorced Charrier in 1962, the child was instead looked after by his father’s family.
Nevertheless, Bardot continued to shine on screen. In 1963, for example, she starred in Jean-Luc Godard’s Le Mépris, which received rave reviews from critics. Then she took a role in the comedy flick Une ravissante idiote – a.k.a. The Ravishing Idiot – with Anthony Perkins before appearing as herself in the film Dear Brigitte.
Then, in 1966, Bardot married her third husband, the German millionaire Gunter Sachs. And while this marriage ultimately fizzled out at the three-year point, the actress’ career remained much more successful. Even so, Bardot was beginning to tire of life in the spotlight.
In addition to all that, Bardot simply preferred the company of animals to people. So, in 1973, she made one more film with her ex-husband Vadim: Don Juan, or If Don Juan Were a Woman. Then, she announced she would be retiring from the acting business and spending her time working towards animal rights issues instead.
In her 2019 book Tears of Battle: An Animal Rights Memoir, Bardot wrote of that time, explaining, “In the beginning, I enjoyed having people talking about me, but very quickly it suffocated and destroyed me. Throughout my 20 years starring in movies, each time filming began I would break out with herpes.”
Bardot also hated the media intrusion, adding in her memoir, “People will come up to me. They’ll be watching what Brigitte Bardot is eating, how she holds her fork. They will ask for yet another photo. I have never refused. But I still can’t stand being watched. Certain people… want to embrace me, to touch me.”
In the book, Bardot went on, “The majority of great actresses met tragic ends. When I said goodbye to this job, to this life of opulence and glitter, images and adoration, the quest to be desired, I was saving my life.” And she added, “Humans have hurt me. Deeply. And it is only with animals, with nature, that I found peace.”
After her retirement, Bardot then put her plans into action. She created the Brigitte Bardot Foundation for the Welfare and Protection of Animals and raised money – the equivalent of over €800,000 today – for the organization by auctioning off her jewelry and personal items.
But as Bardot grew older, she began to indulge in some fairly controversial behavior. For example, at one point the ex-actress allegedly tried to raid a dog pound. On a different occasion, she even accused a florist in Saint-Tropez of killing a cat – a claim that would see her on the receiving end of a lawsuit for defamation.
Then in 1983 Bardot reportedly made another suicide attempt. According to People magazine, on the night of her 49th birthday party, she took a number of sleeping pills and then walked into the sea. Fortunately, the star was subsequently pulled out of the water and rushed to hospital, where she had her stomach pumped.
People also spoke to Bardot’s good friend Gérard Montel, who told the magazine, “[Bardot] didn’t want to be with anyone that night. It was her birthday, and she was depressed. She wanted to forget, so she took some pills to sleep and – voilà. I don’t think she wanted to go that far. She’s never wanted to die.”
Another friend, who remained anonymous, said to People, “This is typical [Bardot] behavior. I think she is desperately crying out for love and attention – something she claims she finds in her dogs alone. But for heaven’s sake, she’s not a dog, she’s a human being. I’m seriously worried that she could be going crazy.”
And there were other incidents involving animals and the law. In 1989 Bardot allegedly castrated a donkey in her care on the grounds that it had been getting too sexually close to her own animals. Understandably, the owner of the donkey would later take the former actress to court over the matter.
Then, in 1992, Bardot married Bernard d’Ormale – a controversial figure in his own right. D’Ormale had been an adviser of Jean-Marie Le Pen, who at one time had acted as the head of France’s right-wing National Front party. And Bardot would also go on to express her support for Le Pen – a man who would later be fined by the French authorities for inciting racial hatred.
Furthermore, Bardot would receive her own admonishment for what were perceived to be racist remarks. In the late 1990s, she published a piece called “Open Letter to My Lost France” in which she wrote, “My country, France, my homeland, my land is again invaded by an overpopulation of foreigners – especially Muslims.” That wasn’t the end of it, either.
You see, after the publication of her 2003 book Un cri dans le silence – or A Scream in the Silence – Bardot found herself in hot water once more. She claimed in the work that modern-day gay people “jiggle their bottoms, put their little fingers in the air and with their little castrato voices moan about what those ghastly heteros put them through.” In addition, the star criticized what she called the “mixing of genes.”
Bardot was thus charged with inciting hatred, although she eventually apologized when her case went to court in 2004. Expressing her remorse, she said, “I never knowingly wanted to hurt anybody. It is not in my character.” The former actress added, “Among Muslims, I think there are some who are very good and some hoodlums, like everywhere.”
But despite this, Bardot was back on the attack a few years later, sending a letter to then-Interior Minister of France Nicolas Sarkozy about Muslim people. The star had strong words to share, too, writing that she was “fed up with being under the thumb of this population which is destroying us, destroying our country and imposing its habits.” And again, in 2008 she was convicted of inciting racial hatred and fined.
Yet Bardot has still continued to express support for far-right policies and parties. In 2014, for instance, she declared to Paris Match that Marine Le Pen, the daughter of Jean-Marie, was “the Joan of Arc of the 21st century.” She continued, “I mourn the fact that my beautiful country has deteriorated in every way. It’s criminal to submit to these depths.”
Plus, Bardot has also voiced what some may consider to be controversial opinions on feminism. In a 2015 interview with Vogue, the interviewer suggested that Bardot had been a symbol of women’s liberation. The star answered to the contrary, however, saying, “That’s a load of absolute rubbish. I don’t know where they got that from. I don’t give a hoot for women’s lib. And they know where they can put it. As for sexual freedom, women didn’t wait for me to come along to liberate themselves.”
In 2018 Bardot similarly disappointed many when she slammed the growing #MeToo movement against sexual abuse in Hollywood. In January of that year, she told Paris Match, “Many actresses flirt with producers to get a role. Then when they tell the story afterwards, they say they have been harassed… In actual fact, rather than benefit them, it only harms them.”
Bardot went on, “I was never the victim of sexual harassment. And I found it charming when men told me that I was beautiful or I had a nice little backside.” She also signed a letter that year complaining that men had been “forced out of their jobs when all they did was touch someone’s knee or try to steal a kiss.”
So, while Bardot may have changed since those heady days of the 1960s, she can still create headlines when she wants to. And she has an opinion about what will happen to her when her time on Earth finally ends, too. After her passing, Bardot wants to be buried with her beloved animals at her Saint-Tropez villa.