Audrey Hepburn's Son Reveals the Sad Reason She Was So Slim

Audrey Hepburn and son Luca Dotti (Getty Images)
Audrey Hepburn and son Luca Dotti (Getty Images)

The thought of Audrey Hepburn conjures up images of a slim, elegant, and graceful body.

The elegance and grace were the result of her years of ballet training. The actress's youngest son, Luca Dotti, recounts in a book to be released next month that her slender physique was the result of something more sinister.

He explains in an interview with People that, "from the time she was 9 to 16, during World War II, she was extremely malnourished. The time she most needed nourishment, she didn't have enough food."

Dotti, 45, further explains in Audrey at Home: Memories of My Mother's Kitchen that, "When the Nazis locked down Holland in 1944, they called it the Winter of Hunger and my mom didn't have enough to eat. Almost to the point of her body failing."

At the time, the future star survived primarily on the leafy green vegetable endive, tulip bulbs that she dug out of the ground, and water. She sometimes felt too weak to stand up, Dotti — whose father is Hepburn's late second husband, Italian psychiatrist Andrea Dotti — recalls.

"She would spend entire days in bed with a book, thus hoping to expel from her mind obsessive thoughts about food," Dotti writes.

At the end of the war, the 16-year-old Hepburn's 5-foot-6-inch frame weighed just 88 pounds.

Hepburn remained slim. (Getty Images)
Hepburn remained slim. (Getty Images)

"She suffered from asthma, jaundice, and other illnesses caused by malnutrition," Dotti notes, "including acute anemia and a serious form of edema which Mum explained like this: 'It begins with your feet and when it reaches your heart, you die. With me, it was above the ankles when I was liberated.'"

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The Roman Holiday actress became a ferocious eater after being without food for so long. One of her favorites was chocolate, because she recalled a Dutch soldier giving her seven candy bars on one of the last days of the ordeal. Hepburn ate them all with some condensed milk from a United Nations relief organization, which she later supported.

"The liberation forces came in with all sorts of things, cigarettes and chocolate, and my mother hadn't eaten for months," Dotti tells People. "She ate it up but her stomach wasn't prepared. It was too small. She couldn't keep it down. Her stomach had been empty for too long."

"Still, the taste of chocolate for her was connected with liberation," he added. "It was the real taste of freedom."

For the rest of her life, the wispy leading lady kept chocolate in a chest of drawers in her living room and regularly made chocolate cake with whipped cream.

The British cigarettes carried by the Allied troops became a lifelong obsession, too. They were the ones she smoked until she died of cancer in 1993. She was 63 years old.

But for the rest of her life, she remained slim, although not for lack of trying. Dotti writes that his mother consumed large portions, especially when it came to pasta.

"A plate of spaghetti al pomodoro was always waiting for her" when she arrived home from a trip, he recalls.

Although, that wasn't really necessary since Hepburn often tucked pasta, olive oil, and cheese in her suitcase.