In the last months of her life, Audrey Hepburn comforted her two sons with a dream. “She was sick in bed but talked about taking us all to Australia, because she had heard it was very beautiful,” her youngest, Luca Dotti, recalls to Closer. “That dream was what kept us all going.” Audrey retreated to La Paisible, her rural farmhouse in Switzerland, in the winter of 1992 after being diagnosed with an incurable cancer. “I remember the important things that she left us with,” her elder son, Sean Ferrer, tells Closer. “And the conversations that we had in the last few weeks.”
A few months earlier, Audrey and her love, Robert Wolders, whom she called Robbie, had undertaken a grueling tour of war-torn Somalia on behalf of UNICEF. Witnessing so much suffering weighed on Audrey, but she felt she was in a rare position to use her fame to bring aid to innocent children in dire need. “I want people to know that the largest part of humanity is suffering,” Audrey said.
When Audrey began feeling stomach pains on the trip, she suspected it was serious. “She knew her own body,” explains Luca. Exploratory surgery would reveal an incurable cancer that had spread from Audrey’s appendix to other organs. But when Sean broke the news to his mother, she took it with grace. “How disappointing,” Audrey said quietly.
Her close friend, designer Hubert de Givenchy, arranged to have a private plane fly Audrey and Robbie home to La Paisible. “She always felt grounded at that place, with its garden and fruit trees,” says Robert Matzen, author of Warrior: Audrey Hepburn. “She was never happy if she was away from there for too long.”
Audrey threw the last of her strength into planning Christmas, her favorite holiday. At lunch, she gave everyone something to remember her by — mostly practical gifts like coats and scarves. “There was no resentment, no bitterness,” Robbie said. “She even said it might have been the best time of her life because she felt the boys and I closer to her than ever.”
Her best friend, Doris Kleiner, the ex-wife of actor Yul Brynner, came and stayed. Luca wanted to remain, too, but Audrey insisted that her son, who had just begun his first job in Milan, continue with his life and come out only on weekends.
When Audrey’s energy was good, she’d walk the orchards with groundskeeper Giovanni Orunesu, discussing plans for the coming spring. “Don’t worry, Giovanni,” she told him, according to Matzen’s book. “I will help you, but not like before.”
Audrey “remained stoic until the end,” says Matzen. She felt grateful for her sons, her friends and Robbie, and regretted that she wouldn’t be able to continue her charity work with UNICEF. “She died at 63, which is young,” admits Sean. “But she had lived a very full life. I think 63 years as Audrey Hepburn would equal 120 years of experience for somebody else.”
—Reporting by Katie Bruno
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