Musicians, actors, models and the President – tributes have come in from all corners of France for actress and singer Jane Birkin.
She died aged 76 at her home in Paris on Sunday (July 16) and was affectionately known as France’s petite anglaise, charming the country with her strong British accent and mannerisms.
Birkin was born in Marylebone, London but found fame singing in French, and relocated to France in the 1970s.
‘Unimaginable without your light’
French musician Étienne Daho, who helped produce Birkin’s last album Oh! Pardon tu dormais in 2020, posted this tribute to her on Instagram.
The caption reads “Jane. Unimaginable to live in a world without your light.”
Another tribute came from French actor Pierre Richard.
“A piece of my heart goes with her,” he said, adding she was “so funny, so intelligent, so fragile so generous… so everything”.
Actors and musicians including Patrick Bruel, Brigitte Bardot and Carla Bruni led social media tributes to Birkin.
French actress and singer Françoise Hardy, who rose to prominence in France in the 1960s, said she was “shocked” by Birkin’s death.
“I hope her death wasn't too painful, because she's suffered enough as it is,” she said,
After suffering a stroke in 2021, Birkin broke her shoulder after a fall in 2022 and cancelled a series of concerts earlier this year due to poor health.
She twice fought leukaemia, beating the disease in 1998 and again in 2013.
As of Monday, the cause of her death has not been announced.
Ms Hardy added Birkin was “a wonderful performer for Serge,” highlighting Birkin’s professional – and personal – relationship with singer Serge Gainsbourg.
The pair met while co-starring in the French satirical romantic comedy Slogan and went on to release a debut album in 1968. It famously featured the sexually explicit song Je t'aime...moi non plus.
Birkin and Gainsbourg were together over ten years, and had a daughter, Charlotte, and even after their split remained friends.
Charlotte Gainsbourg released a film about her relationship with her mother in 2021, which you can watch below.
Ms Birkin had two other daughters. Kate Barry, a fashion photographer (from her relationship with British composer John Barry before she moved to France), who died in 2013 as a result of a fall from her fourth-floor apartment in Paris, and Lou Doillon, a model and musician from her 1980s relationship with French film director Jacques Doillon.
Her mother was the English actress Judy Campbell, known as Noël Coward's muse. Her father was David Birkin, a Royal Navy commander and World War Two spy. The Connexion interviewed her brother, Andrew Birkin, last year, about his book on the behind-the-scenes story of Ms Birkin’s relationship with Serge Gainsbourg.
Politicians across France also paid tribute to Ms Birkin.
Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne tweeted: “Sad to learn of Jane Birkin's passing. Through her music and talent, she transcended generations. Thank you for the emotions aroused and this legacy that will live on forever.”
President Emmanuel Macron called her a “French icon”, who "embodied freedom" and "sang the most beautiful words of our language”.
Parce qu'elle incarnait la liberté, qu'elle chantait les plus beaux mots de notre langue, Jane Birkin était une icône française.— Emmanuel Macron (@EmmanuelMacron) July 16, 2023
Artiste complète, sa voix était aussi douce que ses engagements étaient ardents.
Elle nous lègue des airs et des images qui ne nous quitteront pas. pic.twitter.com/Ad27ngF54R
Jack Lang, France’s former culture minister (1981-86 and 1988-93) called her “a unique star… a woman of principles, a woman committed to modern struggles such as ecology”.
Ms Birkin received titles including a British OBE and commander of the l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres from France but refused the Legion d’honneur in 1989.
She refused the title because she believed “only heroes” should be awarded the medal.
Menna Rawlings, the British ambassador to France, paid tribute to her on Twitter, describing her as "the most French of British artists".
Je suis triste d'apprendre le décès de Jane Birkin OBE: "la plus française des artistes britanniques".— Menna Rawlings (@MennaRawlings) July 16, 2023
A strong personality
It is not just for her talent, but for her interpersonal relationships and kindness that others admired her.
Musician Alain Chamfort highlighted how Birkin “could not remain insensitive to the misfortunes of others” and was “very concerned” if those near to her were upset.
A number of news sites, such as Libération and Le Monde, highlighted Ms Birkin’s political advocacy, which included support for refugees, as well as pro-feminist stances on topics such as abortion.
She was also vehemently against the political far-right, joining a march against Jean-Marie Le Pen in the second round of the 2002 Presidential election.