The Woman Who Inspired Baz Luhrmann’s “Moulin Rouge”

Sarah Ng

Jane Avril was the famous can-can dancer who inspired the character Satine in the musical film Moulin Rouge—and her life was just as tragic as Baz Luhrmann’s fictionalized interpretation of her.

A Troubling Childhood


Born in Paris in 1868, Jane Avril had a turbulent childhood. When she was only two, her father, an Italian aristocrat, left her courtesan mother, Léontine Clarisse. After the split, Avril lived with her grandparents in the countryside for a time. However, her mother eventually took her back—and she had some dark intentions up her sleeve.

Not only did Clarisse want to transform Avril into a courtesan, but she also treated her horrifically. Tired of her alcoholic mother’s brutality, a teenaged Avril fled her home, only to end up admitted to a hospital for a curious reason.

A Shocking Diagnosis

In 1882, doctors diagnosed Jane Avril with “St Vitus Dance”–a movement disorder characterized by nervous tics and jerking movements. After being discharged, she incorporated these mannerisms into her signature dance style. However, it’s unclear whether she actually had the disorder or adopted it for marketing purposes.

After her release, Avril pursued dance and made a name for herself, garnering nicknames that reflected her unique style: L’Etrange meaning “The Strange One”, Jane la Folle meaning “Jane the Crazy”, and La Mélinite (an explosive mineral).  She was even described as “an orchid in frenzy.” However, it wasn’t until 1889 that she began working at the Moulin Rouge nightclub.

Her Rise And Fall

Jane Avril’s notoriety skyrocketed after Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec painted her for a poster advertising a major concert. But that wasn’t all. By 1895, she had replaced the most famous dancer in Paris, Louise Weber, becoming a major star of the Parisian nightlife. But the turn of the century was not kind to her.

The last half of Jane Avril’s life was filled with heartbreak and struggle. She faced lung disease and a divorce, but her circumstances became especially dire after the Great Depression bankrupted her. Sadly, though Avril had shone so bright in her heyday, poverty plagued her final years and she died in complete obscurity.

Source: 1

Factinate Featured Logo Featured Article
My mom never told me how her best friend died. Years later, I was using her phone when I made an utterly chilling discovery.
The Truth Always Comes Out: Dark Family Secrets Exposed The Truth Always Comes Out: Dark Family Secrets Exposed
Factinate Featured Logo Featured Article
Madame de Pompadour was the alluring chief mistress of King Louis XV, but few people know her dark history—or the chilling secret shared by her and Louis.
Entrancing Facts About Madame de Pompadour, France's Most Powerful Mistress Entrancing Facts About Madame de Pompadour, France's Most Powerful Mistress
Factinate Featured Logo Featured Article
I tried to get my ex-wife served with divorce papers. I knew that she was going to take it badly, but I had no idea about the insane lengths she would go to just to get revenge and mess with my life.
These People Got Genius Revenges These People Got Genius Revenges
Factinate Featured Logo Featured Article
Catherine of Aragon is now infamous as King Henry VIII’s rejected queen—but few people know her even darker history.
Tragic Facts About Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s First Wife Tragic Facts About Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s First Wife

Dear reader,

Want to tell us to write facts on a topic? We’re always looking for your input! Please reach out to us to let us know what you’re interested in reading. Your suggestions can be as general or specific as you like, from “Life” to “Compact Cars and Trucks” to “A Subspecies of Capybara Called Hydrochoerus Isthmius.” We’ll get our writers on it because we want to create articles on the topics you’re interested in. Please submit feedback to Thanks for your time!

Do you question the accuracy of a fact you just read? At Factinate, we’re dedicated to getting things right. Our credibility is the turbo-charged engine of our success. We want our readers to trust us. Our editors are instructed to fact check thoroughly, including finding at least three references for each fact. However, despite our best efforts, we sometimes miss the mark. When we do, we depend on our loyal, helpful readers to point out how we can do better. Please let us know if a fact we’ve published is inaccurate (or even if you just suspect it’s inaccurate) by reaching out to us at Thanks for your help!

Warmest regards,

The Factinate team