Love Stories: The true story of Audrey Hepburn’s two greatest romances


Audrey Hepburn is often remembered as one of the most charming and beloved actresses of Hollywood’s golden age.

On the silver screen she was a magnetic presence, winning the love of her on-screen love interests and her audience in equal measures.

But behind the scenes, Hepburn had a winding and complicated love life.

Two marriages, multiple heartbreaks, and reports of several affairs coloured the star’s life, but two great romances truly defined it.

Mel Ferrer, 1953 – 1968

In 1953, Hepburn starred in her first lead role in Roman Holiday, giving a performance that would shoot her to stardom.

The new darling of Hollywood, it was clear Hepburn, then 24, had an incredible acting career ahead of her when she met her first great love.

Mel Ferrer was an actor and director with two ex-wives, four children and 12 years on Hepburn when they were introduced at a party at Roman Holiday’s British opening.

There was no doubt the pair were an odd match, but Hepburn quickly developed a fondness for Ferrer.

The following year they starred together in the Broadway play Ondine, where their romance bloomed, and Hepburn’s star continued to rise.

She was nominated for a Tony for her performance, receiving an Academy Award nomination for Roman Holiday soon after, which she won.

Hepburn was going to be a leading lady, but behind the scenes she and Ferrer were falling even more in love, and by the end of the year she was a married woman.

On September 25, 1954, the couple hosted an intimate wedding ceremony in Switzerland, exchanging vows far from public eye.

“We want to keep it a dark secret in order to have it without the ‘press’,” Hepburn wrote in a letter to a close friend.

She had been engaged once before, but this was her first romance in the spotlight and Hepburn was hesitant about press involvement.

Still, her marriage to Ferrer started out happy and the pair acted together again shortly after their nuptials, starring in the 1955 the film adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace.

Eager to start a family, Hepburn quickly fell pregnant but lost the child to a miscarriage in 1955 – a tragedy she would become all too familiar with.

She lost a second child in 1959, supposedly after falling from a horse while filming The Unforgiven, and would suffer two more miscarriages in 1965 and 1967.

But between the heartbreaks, she and Ferrer found joy and welcomed their first and only child.

Sean Hepburn Ferrer was born on 17 July, 1960, Hepburn having taken a year off work while pregnant to ensure her unborn son’s safety.

Welcoming their first child should have cemented Hepburn and Ferrer’s status as a Hollywood golden couple, but behind the scenes their marriage was anything but simple.

Though Hepburn insisted they were happy together for years, Ferrer was reportedly jealous and controlling.

“Ferrer used Audrey’s crush on him to rule her with an iron fist,” claimed film director Alfred Lunt.

Hepburn’s mother once described Ferrer as a “frog faced delinquent with the spindly legs” in a letter, going on to accuse him of causing “sufficient havoc to last a long time.”

There were affairs on both sides of the marriage; Hepburn had a secret relationship with Sabrina co-star William Holden, who was also married.

Holden was deeply in love with Hepburn, according to reports, and even once called her the “love of his life”.

The actress also reportedly had a dalliance with screenwriter Robert Anderson, while Ferrer had several affairs of his own.

Though their marriage was clearly struggling, Hepburn was hesitant to end the relationship, especially after Sean was born.

Hepburn herself had been a child of divorce and there were rumours she didn’t want to submit her son to the same childhood she’d had.

Her father had abandoned Hepburn and her mother when she was just six years old, leaving her heartbroken.

“I was destroyed at the time and cried for days and days,” Hepburn once recalled.

“My parents’ divorce was the first big blow I had as a child… I worshipped my father and missed him terribly from the day he disappeared.”

She later reconnected with her father, but the experience had left its mark on her.

Still, by the late 1960s even Hepburn couldn’t deny her 14-year romance with Ferrer had well and truly run its course.

They announced their divorce in November 1968, and though Hepburn would marry again, her other great love wouldn’t arrive for over a decade.

Robert Wolders, 1980 – 1993

Hepburn’s second great romance came as a surprise.

She was introduced to widower Robert Wolders in 1980 through a mutual friend, though Hepburn was still married to her second husband at the time.

A Dutch businessman and television actor, Wolders was hesitant when he asked Hepburn on a date after their first meeting, only for her to tell him she had a night shoot and couldn’t make it.

Actress Audrey Hepburn and Robert Wolders, circa 1981. (Getty)

He assumed she was trying to let him down gently, but the very next day she asked him to go for a drink, which turned into dinner.

Soon after the pair were spending hours on the phone together, Wolders telling People magazine in 2017: “We were ready for each other.

“At the time in our lives that we met, we had both made our mistakes.

“If chance would have had it that we would have met at an earlier stage, we might not have had the discoveries together that we did have and found those things in life together that were valuable to us at a later point in life when we were both more mature.”

Audrey Hepburn poses with her new husband, Italian psychiatrist Dr. Andrea Dotti, after their wedding, 1969. (Bettmann Archive)

At the time, Hepburn was still married to Italian psychiatrist Andrea Dotti, whom she has met in 1968 and wed the following year. They also had a child together, Luca.

Though the marriage was effectively over by the time Hepburn and Wolders became serious, she wanted to “prepare” Dotti and Luca for the news that she had found someone new.

According to Wolders, Dotti took the news well and even told his soon-to-be-ex-wife, “You look very beautiful, you must be in love.” She replied, “I am”.

For more than a decade, Hepburn and Wolders made a life together, juggling their careers and their romance.

The pair never wed, though Hepburn very much viewed herself and Wolders as a married couple, even introducing him as “My husband, Rob” on many occasions.

Though fans may have loved to see Hepburn dressed up in white again, she and Wolders were happy as they were.

Robert Wolders and Audrey Hepburn attend a gala at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, New York, 1988. (Getty)

“When Audrey would be asked, she’d also say, ‘Why mess with a good thing?” Wolders told People.

“I remember her saying to one interviewer it’s more romantic this way because it’s not another piece of paper, but out of loyalty to each other that binds us together.”

The pair remained together, unmarried but very much in love, until Hepburn’s untimely ԁеаtһ in 1993 after a battle with a rare form of abdominal cancer.

Just 63 years old when she ԁıеԁ at home on January 20, 1993, the golden girl of Hollywood was remembered in an emotional funeral four days later.

Hepburn and her partner, Dutch actor Robert Wolders, arriving at a White House dinner, Washington DC, 1989. (Getty)

Wolders and Hepburn’s children attended, as did her ex-husbands Dotti and Ferrer.

Though Hepburn’s love life was complex, before her ԁеаtһ she called her years with Wolders the happiest of her life, and he was by her side in her final days.

“They say the pain lessens over time,” he told People magazine in 1994, after her ԁеаtһ. “That’s a crock.”

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