Portrait of a Lady

updated 01/01/1993 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 01/01/1993 AT 01:00 AM EST

Her life as a screen goddess, she insisted with trademark modesty, was pure luck. But Audrey Hepburn's enraptured public knew better. For the actress—ethereal, mischievous and inherently wise—was the princess of all our fairy tales, the deserving Cinderella, the swan who never forgot what it was like to be an ugly duckling. Her appeal, of course, had something to do with that funny, stunning face of hers, that mercurial loveliness, but even more to do with her ever-startling contradictions. She was the quintessence of fashion, but wore the title lightly; she was a movie star, but remained above the Hollywood fray. Millions of women longed to be gadabout Holly Golightly or the French-finished Sabrina or Jo Stockton, the bookworm turned butterfly. But the actress transcended those flickering images. For Hepburn, herself a victim of childhood loss and wartime suffering, made it clear that she was happy to perform, but happier still to put on her blue jeans, roll up her sleeves and go to work. Right up until her death from cancer on January 20, 1993, at 63, she offered herself up as a symbol of hope to starving children—in Ethiopia, Bosnia, Somalia—beaming her smile, her graciousness and her goodness around the globe. In the 1940s in Holland, while she was still practicing her pirouettes and dreaming of becoming a ballerina, Hepburn's friends and family called her "a little sun." That sun set too soon, but it burned an indelible image on the world she left behind.

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