Audrey Hepburn’s ‘sad’ childhood revealed in doc: ‘It was one of the traumas that left a very deep mark on me’

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Audrey Hepburn is still celebrated as a beloved Hollywood star. But in her lifetime, the actress endured a devastating heartbreak behind closed doors.

The screen legend is the subject of a new documentary titled “Audrey: More Than an Icon,” which features interviews with those who knew her best, including son Sean Ferrer. It also highlights rare photos and videos of Hepburn, who passed away in 1993 at age 63 from cancer.

In a never-before-heard interview, Hepburn explained how her father, Joseph Victor Anthony Ruston, walked out on her when she was just 6 years old, the U.K.’s DailyMail reported on Thursday. She described her father’s absence as a “trauma” that left a “very deep mark” on her.

“My dad said about my grandmother that the best-kept secret about Audrey is that she was sad,” Hepburn’s granddaughter Emma Ferrer tearfully explained, as quoted by the outlet.


“It makes me sad to think about [it],” the 27-year-old shared. “I really think she just wanted love, and to be loved. I think she got that in her life, but I don’t think she got that from a lot of people. You know, for the woman who is most loved in the world to have such a lack of love is so sad.”

It’s well-documented that the “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” icon grew up during World War II and suffered starvation while she was forced to hide from the Nazis.

The outlet shared Hepburn lived with her mother after her father, a supporter of the fascist movement, walked out days before the start of World War II in 1939.

“My parents divorced when I was 6,” Hepburn said. “It certainly stayed with me for the rest of my life. My father leaving us left me insecure, for life perhaps.”

Audrey Hepburn (1929 - 1993) as a teenager with her mother, Dutch baroness Ella Van Heemstra, 1946.

Audrey Hepburn (1929 – 1993) as a teenager with her mother, Dutch baroness Ella Van Heemstra, 1946.
(Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Hepburn said that her mother, Ella van Heemstra, told her that Ruston had “gone away on a trip” and didn’t think he would ever return.

“I thought my mother was never going to stop crying,” Hepburn recalled. “She sobbed through the night. I would hear her sobbing in the next room. I would just try and be with her. I missed him terribly from the day he disappeared.”

“As a child, you can’t quite understand,” Hepburn shared. “That sense of helplessness … the strangeness of it too. Not really understanding and just knowing daddy’s gone away. That was the first big blow I had as a child. It was one of the traumas that left a very deep mark on me.”

The film revealed that, in 1964, Hepburn expressed a desire to be reunited with her father.


According to a new documentary on Audrey Hepburn, the 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' actress always yearned for her father's love.

According to a new documentary on Audrey Hepburn, the ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ actress always yearned for her father’s love.
(Photo by Archive Photos/Getty Images)

“Curiosity took over,” she admitted in the film, as quoted by the outlet. “I wanted to know where he was, whether he was still alive. Through the Red Cross, I found where my father was — and that was in Ireland.”

Hepburn’s friend photographer John Isaac said the reunion left her devastated.

“When she was telling me the story she was crying,” he said. “She said he was so cold. He did not receive her — and she said that really hurt her.”

In 1968, Hepburn decided to put her Hollywood career on hold to focus on her family.


Audrey Hepburn was the proud mother of two sons.

Audrey Hepburn was the proud mother of two sons.
(Photo by Donaldson Collection/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

“… It was a very knowing and, if you like, selfish decision,” said Hepburn. “It’s what made me happy to stay at home with my children. It wasn’t a sacrifice because I thought I should take care of my children. That feeling of family is terribly important. I think it’s essential. I learned as a child it’s terribly important for a child to have a father. For having my father cut off, or he cut himself off, I was desperate.

“If I could have just seen him regularly, I would have felt he loved me, and I would have had a father,” she said. “You become very insecure about affection and terribly grateful for it, and you have an enormous desire to give it.”

Ruston passed away in 1980 at age 91.

Back in December, Sean Ferrer told Fox News his mother was determined to give her family a loving upbringing.


Sean Hepburn Ferrer said that despite his mother's Hollywood fame, she enjoyed a quiet life in Switzerland.

Sean Hepburn Ferrer said that despite his mother’s Hollywood fame, she enjoyed a quiet life in Switzerland.
(Photo by Fotos International/Getty Images)

“I think she felt she somehow lost a part of her childhood because of the war and the divorce of her parents,” the 60-year-old said at the time. “That’s something she talked about that really stuck with me. A child deserves love, affection, the chance to just play and do nothing, to sit under a tree, read a book, dream and not have a care in the world.”

Ferrer said Hepburn had always yearned to be a mother.

“… You know, I came late,” he said. “She lost a couple of pregnancies before me. It was sort of this great healing for her to finally have a child. She lost my little sister before me, almost six months into the pregnancy. It was very, very hard for her. She said it was one of the hardest things she ever had to go through. Being a mother brought her great joy in life. Whenever you see a photograph of her with her children — or any child for that matter — you can immediately feel her joy, even today.”

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