She seemed to move through the world with an effortless grace — a legendary beauty, acclaimed actress and a fashion icon. And so, when UNICEF officials offered Audrey Hepburn the largely ceremonial role of Goodwill Ambassador in 1989, they assumed she would be a figurehead. “UNICEF expected that Audrey Hepburn would be a pretty princess for them at galas,” her son, Luca Dotti, exclusively explains to Closer of the late star’s advocate work. “What they really got was a badass soldier.”

Indeed, beneath her luminous exterior, the real-life Audrey was a deep and complicated woman who had endured much suffering — both physical and emotional — and found herself shaped by it in ways her fans would never know. Empathetic to the struggles of others because of the horrors she’d known during World War II, Audrey transformed her UNICEF job into something much more than a title, risking her life to visit children in war-torn Somalia, Bangladesh and Ethiopia, and doing everything she could to make their plight known. “I never led what people think is this glamorous life,” she said at the time. “I’ve always been aware of what goes on in the world.”


That was an understatement. As a teenager living in Holland, Audrey almost died of starvation during five years of German occupation and witnessed the horrors of the Holocaust firsthand. “She was always kind of a sad person on the inside,” Robert Matzen, author of the new biography Warrior: Audrey Hepburn, says in Closer’s latest issue, on newsstands now. “She had lived through a lot of hardship.”

Despite her successful journey from ballet dancer to stage actress to the ethereal star of such movies as Roman Holiday, Sabrina and Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Audrey never forgot the ugliness she saw and experienced. “That’s what made such an impression on her. And her natural empathy, later in her life, is what drove her into UNICEF,” Matzen says. “She wanted to help those who were suffering as she’d once suffered.”

In many ways, Audrey came into her own as a UNICEF ambassador. While she took performing seriously — becoming one of the few actors in the world to win Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards — Matzen says it was her many visits to poverty-stricken villages that made her feel most valuable. “She knew that she could call attention to the plight of what she called the voiceless,” he shares. “To her, that was much more important than any acting she did.”


It was work that Audrey felt was worth risking her life for. “On her first night on the road for UNICEF in Ethiopia, the city of Asmara came under siege. She spent the night in a hotel with no running water and guards in the lobby,” says Matzen, who adds that Audrey didn’t shy away from difficult circumstances. “She was in areas where there was gunfire quite a lot. But she refused to live in fear or let anything stop her.”

In the last period of her life, Audrey eased into a peaceful semiretirement knowing she had made a difference in the lives of many children through her work with UNICEF. In fact, Audrey’s final chapter in Switzerland with her last companion, Dutch actor Robert Wolders, was by far the most content she’d ever known. “She really loved the quiet life that she achieved,” Matzen observes. “I would say she was as happy as she could have been.”