With great beauty comes great controversy—as is the case with Brigitte Bardot, cinema darling of the French New Wave. As a model, actress, and singer, Bardot was the European beauty of the 50s and 60s. Her rebellious streak afforded her no shortage of scandal and heartbreak, and to this day, her volatile opinions continue to make headlines.
Born on September 28, 1934, Brigitte Bardot came into this world with every luxury at her fingertips. Her father was a wealthy engineer in Paris, and her mother came from money—the daughter of an insurance company director. But no amount of privilege could make young Bardot happy. As affluent as her family was, her home life was utterly miserable.
2. She Had A Stifling Upbringing
Everything about Bardot's childhood was tight, conservative, and oppressively Catholic. Both she and her sister, Minjanou, were raised to follow specific etiquette and were expected to behave like stiff little marionettes. Her mother didn't even allow her to choose her own friends and as a result, Bardot grew up terribly isolated. Still, that wasn't even the worst part.
On one harrowing occasion, Bardot and her sister accidentally broke their parents' most treasured vase...and the repercussions were so horrific—she never forgot it. After learning about the smashed vase, her father flew into a rage and viciously whipped the girls 20 times. And then, to add insult to injury, he pretended they were "strangers".
Bardot spent her days walking on thin ice and she despised every second of it. In fact, the whipping incident truly sparked her rebellious nature, and the more she resented her parents, the more she longed to defy them.
Throughout WWII, Bardot spent most of her time cooped up inside. To pass the time, she loved putting on one of her favorite records and dancing. Her mother, realizing Bardot's gracefulness and potential, decided to put her in dance lessons. She envisioned a prosperous ballet career for her daughter, but in a delightful twist, these lessons led Bardot to a rather different destiny—and a scandalous one at that.
By 1949, Bardot was busy studying ballet at the prestigious Conservatoire de Paris, tutored by the Russian choreographer Boris Knyazev. She was a striking girl in every way, and as such, her sweet face soon caught the eye of the director of Elle magazine, Hélène Gordon-Lazareff. Then he made her an offer that changed her life forever.
Gordon-Lazareff made Bardot a junior model, and by the next year, she'd already graced the cover of Elle magazine. She was only 15 years old. For such a young girl, these new opportunities blew her small world wide open. Before she knew it, the acting world had also taken notice of her, dropping a huge offer right into her lap. However, there was only one problem.
Bardot's parents were scandalized at the thought of their daughter starring in the movies. Luckily, she had one family member in her corner—her grandfather. He believed, "If this little girl is to become a wh*re, cinema will not be the cause". To her dismay, Bardot failed her first audition. But not all was lost. The bearer of bad news just happened to be a very handsome young man...
Although Bardot lost the role for Les Lauriers sont coupés, she did win the heart of screenwriter and burgeoning director, Roger Vadim. Unsurprisingly, her parents were livid. Vadim was everything they didn't want for their daughter. Bardot, however, saw him as an exciting new venture, describing him as "the bohemian type, without any morality".
An unsuitable lover was one of Bardot's first forays into unabashed rebellion, and she loved watching her parents squirm.
Every time Bardot invited her boyfriend over for dinner, her mother's paranoia spiraled out of control. The moment he'd gone for the night, her mother would feverishly count the silver spoons, certain he was out to pilfer their riches. Behind closed doors, however, they engaged in a love affair so passionate—it ruffled her father's feathers beyond belief.
Vadim began to teach Bardot the secrets of the bedroom. Passion. Seduction. Romance. This was a newfound liberation and flew in the face of everything she knew. Her lover was the very antithesis of her father. Incensed by Bardot's behavior, her father became determined to derail his daughter's bliss at all costs and concocted a plan to separate the lovers for good...
When her father told her that he'd be shipping her off to England to further her education, Bardot's reaction was utterly disturbing.
Completely heartbroken at the thought of being torn away from Vadim, Bardot stuck her head into an oven while the fire was on. Although her parents intervened, the incident absolutely terrified them, and they had no choice but to accept the relationship. They did, however, have one condition: They forbade Bardot from marrying Vadim until she turned 18.
But a delay to their nuptials didn't phase these two. Instead, they began collaborating professionally, bringing their risky, creative flair to the table.
Vadim set out to make Brigitte Bardot a star and did everything in his power to push her into the spotlight. The first step? Exposure. Whenever they frequented a social event, he made sure Bardot was front and center and that the photographers always got a decent photo of her. He even started bringing her to the attention of other directors and writing scripts tailor-made for her.
Bardot absolutely relished in the attention, and before long, her boyfriend's tireless efforts paid off.
Brigitte Bardot won a small debut role in 1952's Crazy for Love, however, it was her next film that truly catapulted her to scandalous new heights. In Manina, the Girl in the Bikini, Bardot spent most of the film wearing tiny bikinis and even had a brief bare-all scene. This sensuous kind of film would come to define Bardot's niche, and with her effortless beauty, she was well on her way to capturing global adoration.
In the meantime, however, the burgeoning actress turned 18, and to her parent's dismay, she kept her word and married her mentor, Roger Vadim. But as Bardot would soon learn, marrying Vadim was a double-edged sword.
Bardot's marriage to Vadim meant that her husband now had complete control over her. And as a result, a classic Pygmalion story emerged, with Vadim (the older man) turning Bardot (the impressionable young girl) into the woman of his dreams—or in this case—every man's dream. Bardot was "wild" and "rebellious," and certainly wasn't afraid to show some skin.
Molded into every man's fantasy, Bardot was on the brink of becoming a household name.
Next up for Bardot? A string of very revealing, light-hearted roles, such as Naughty Girl and Plucking the Daisy. But the film that changed the game—turning her into a bonafide superstar—was none other than 1956's And God Created Woman. With her husband at the helm, the film was both sensuous and serious. Not only was it something new for Bardot, but it also altered the course of her career and love life forever.
At first, And God Created Woman was just another drop in the ocean. In France, sensuality on film wasn't anything new. For England and America, however, this was a whole new ball game. During a time when Hollywood suppressed explicit intimacy onscreen, Bardot's film soon became the "forbidden fruit" everybody wanted a taste of.
Her popularity overseas practically exploded...But of course, not everybody was thrilled to see a woman so scantily clad.
Catholics completely condemned Bardot's film and believed that watching the film was equal to a mortal sin. However, this didn't dissuade movie-goers in the slightest. In fact, it had quite the opposite effect, and people flocked to the box office. Whether God made woman or the Devil, in the end, it didn't matter. Brigitte Bardot was an absolute hit.
Her rising popularity helped loosen Hollywood's stuffy constraints, and critics began to praise this 22-year-old actress for bringing something new and exciting to the table. And what was more? Brigitte Bardot wasn't afraid to bare all.
Bardot was, and is, proud of her rebellious nature: "I gave a new image of the way you should be in life in the movies: New, blonde, free, not stuffy, not hung up, not like a little lady's maid, no little corset, no little collar...but [completely unclothed]". She became known for showing off her posterior during a time when it was absolutely scandalous to do so. But that was just the tip of the iceberg.
Behind the scenes, Bardot's life was even more scintillating than her shocking onscreen reveals.
By the time Bardot became the talk of the town, her marriage to Roger Vadim was on its way out. While on the set of And God Created Woman, she and her costar Jean-Louis Trintignant shared romantic chemistry that neither of them could deny. In fact, it was Vadim himself who urged them to make the scenes as realistic as possible, possibly fanning the embers of their inevitable affair.
Bardot later said of Vadim, "He taught me how to be so free that, as a result, I left him for another man. That was his price to pay". She was so thirsty for new experiences, she never thought twice about shamelessly betraying her husband.
Although Bardot shacked up with Trintignant for two years, there were many forces working to tear them apart. Trintignant was a married man and an army man, meaning that his constant absences put a strain on their romance. Not only that, but Bardot continued to pursue another man entirely, falling into the arms of musician Gilbert Bécaud.
By 1958, Bardot's tentative relationship with Trintignant was over. Sadly, her response to the breakup was so heartbreaking, it's unforgettable.
Following her breakup, Bardot suffered a nervous breakdown, and many rumors suggested that she'd even tried to take her own life by overdosing on sleeping pills. But sadly, her disintegrating love life wasn't the only thing weighing on her mind. By 1959, the rigors of a celebrity lifestyle were starting to take their toll, and the criticism that followed her around was unrelenting.
The naysayers continued to demonize her roles, while out on the street paparazzi and avid fans dogged her every step. In the midst of all this chaos, Bardot finally found a soft place to land.
Even in the midst of some dark days, Brigitte Bardot managed to spark a romance with her dashing co-star, Jacques Charrier. They had met on the set of Babette Goes to War, and before long, he'd swept her off her feet. But there was something a little bit different about Charrier. Like her, he'd come from a well-to-do background, and unlike her other lovers, he was someone her father might just approve of.
But just as everything was looking up—an unexpected surprise rocked Bardot's world.
When the 24-year-old Bardot found out she was pregnant, her world turned upside down...and not in a good way. At the time, she had absolutely no desire to become a mother, and it was only at the urging of Charrier that she kept the baby and agreed to marry him. But from there on out, their relationship turned sour. Even their wedding day was a total disaster.
According to Bardot, the paparazzi ruined her wedding day: "It was terrible. It was a nightmare. The photographers had forced their way into city hall. It caused a scandal". Still, this was nothing compared to the pressures of raising a child she had never wanted in the first place. In 1960, the news of Bardot's motherhood became the subject of hot gossip—the media was out for blood.
Already overwhelmed by fame, Bardot had no idea how to properly raise a child. And so when Nicolas was born, she felt completely lost at sea. This was not the life she'd signed up for. But that wasn't all. The press began to take stabs at her, ruthlessly attacking her maternal deficiencies. And just when Bardot thought it couldn't get any worse...it did.
With her marriage already on the rocks, Bardot couldn't afford for her tenuous relationship to take another hit. Unfortunately, everything came crashing down when her husband Charrier was shipped off to Nice for a two-year stint in the army. His absence only fueled her resentment and her growing unhappiness. Consequently, it was never meant to last.
Bardot and Charrier divorced in 1962. But a husband wasn't the only thing she lost. In the end, Charrier gained custody of her son Nicolas...Brigitte Bardot was finally free (for now...more on that later). But even with the weight of motherhood off her shoulders, happiness seemed far out of reach: A normal life was out of the question. She could no longer walk down the street or go out to eat without being harassed by the press.
Little did she know, the worst was yet to come.
Brigitte Bardot was no stranger to death threats, for even though she had many adoring fans, she also had hordes of haters. However, one harrowing incident made these dangers far more real than ever before. One day, Bardot found herself in an elevator with a cleaning woman who recognized the star...But this was definitely not a loving fan.
Bardot found herself trapped in the elevator with a woman who completely resented her stardom. The woman absolutely lost it, lashing out at Bardot and screaming at her; she hurled insults at Bardot for being paid for promiscuity while her sons had to fight for their country. After this harrowing incident, the young actress feared for her life more than ever.
Unfortunately, her professional life didn't afford Bardot any respite, and the next role she took drove her closer toward another mental breakdown.
Bardot decided to switch things up and was eager to prove herself in a more serious role. Henri-Georges Clouzot's The Truth was a courtroom drama, but in reality, the greatest drama happened offscreen. In fact, Clouzot turned Bardot's life into a downright horror story. He would go to extreme lengths to get Bardot ready for a scene...
She later remembered, "Clouzot was diabolical. He would tell me things to put me in the right frame of mind for the movie: 'Your life is over,' 'You will never succeed at anything again, 'You have a bad reputation.'"
Simply put, The Truth absolutely destroyed Bardot's mental health. Although she was happy with her performance, and despite receiving rave reviews from critics, the filming experience ruined her. "He destroyed whatever strength I had in me in order to give me that appearance of distress in the film". After enduring Clouzot's manipulation and exploitation, Bardot was at her wit's end.
In 1960, on her 26th birthday, Bardot's body was found sprawled on the ground outside her home...Mimicking her character in The Truth, she had brutally slashed her wrists and overdosed on sleeping pills. The injured actress was rushed to the hospital, where, to everyone's relief, she pulled through. She was, however, diagnosed with nervous depression.
In remembering this anguished chapter of her life, Bardot said, "I felt cornered, trapped, smothered to the point of suffocation—to the point of just wanting to die".
A mere three months after she attempted to take her own life, Bardot returned to making movies, but with decidedly less joie de vivre than before. She seemed to be going through the motions; she'd sign contracts and show up to set, but her sense of caring had deserted her. It wasn't until 1964 that a real challenge presented itself—a role that reinvigorated her sense of purpose.
Viva Maria! made Bardot stand a little straighter and try a little harder. Paired with the famous French actress Jeanne Moreau, the stakes for Bardot were much higher. Instead of feeling numb to the world, she began to feel the fire of competition. In fact, both actresses enjoyed an inspiring rivalry that pushed them to perform at their very best; Bardot tried to outdo Moreau and vice versa.
Publicity for Viva Maria! brought Bardot overseas, where she had her first taste of the United States. But unfortunately, it wasn't everything she thought it would be.
If Bardot thought she could traipse freely around New York, she was sorely mistaken. Her fame kept her confined to her hotel room and she barely got to see even a sliver of the foreign country. Americans were absolutely crazy about her. And as such, American film studios wanted to get their hands on the wildly popular actress...but to no avail.
Bardot was French through and through, and there was only one way she'd ever agree to do an American film...
Bardot had witnessed the threat of Hollywood from afar as it devoured the likes of other blonde bombshells like Marilyn Monroe. If America wanted her, they'd have to come to her. And that's exactly what they did. 20th Century Fox decided to film Dear Brigitte in France, and as a result, she got the opportunity to work with Hollywood film star Jimmy Stewart.
This experience, more than anything else, convinced her that she would never have survived in Hollywood.
Jimmy Stewart's professionalism on the set of Dear Brigitte blew Bardot away, and she described him as "very disciplined". It made her realize that as a French actress, she would never fit in with Americans: "I would never have been able to have a career in the United States. I am too crazy". But if Bardot thought she was too much to handle, there was one person up to the challenge.
As a superstar, Bardot struggled to find a man who loved her for her, and not for her fortune or her notoriety. Enter: Gunter Sachs—the millionaire womanizer. One thing was for sure, Sachs definitely wasn't after Bardot for her riches or her fame. After all, he had that already. The year was 1966, and when Bardot met Sachs, she fell for his arsenal of charm and disposable income.
When it came to wooing Bardot, he planned to pull out all stops.
With millions at his fingertips, it was easy for Sachs to wow Bardot with every romantic gesture imaginable. Once, he went up in a helicopter in an effort to literally shower her with roses. She remembers the flowers gently falling into the garden, reminiscing on the moment fondly: "I was completely stunned—delighted". Completely swept up away by this whirlwind romance, Bardot made a hasty decision.
After only one month of courtship, Bardot and Sachs tied the knot in a Vegas ceremony. Of course, Sachs borrowed his friend Ted Kennedy's private jet, and together, he and his fiancée flew to the ceremony in style. But as new and exciting as this new life seemed, it wasn't long before Bardot began to detest the superficiality of it all. By 1968, cracks began appearing in the couple's thin veneer.
Bardot wasn't quite prepared for her husband's busy lifestyle. His travel schedule was relentless and to top it all off, they were always surrounded by people. No amount of luxury could make Bardot feel at home: "This was not at all the real me". By 1969, the marriage had seen its day in the sun, and Bardot was over it...It was time for another divorce.
Unfortunately, her love life wasn't the only aspect of her life to take a turn for the worse.
Professionally, Bardot scrambled to stay relevant. The 70s presented a whole new array of challenges as up-and-coming actresses filled the risqué niche that Bardot had once occupied. She tried pushing the envelope when it came to her love scenes, testing her limits like her other contemporaries. Sadly, her racy attempts failed to enthuse audiences.
It was time for Brigitte Bardot to take one long look in the mirror and consider the fate of her career.
Bardot decided to quit the game with her dignity intact. At first, nobody believed her; they all thought that she was throwing some kind of "tantrum" and that the actress would return in no time. They were wrong. At the age of 39, the iconic Brigitte Bardot waved goodbye to the movies for good. But this sure as heck didn't mean that Bardot had finished stirring up drama.
Forever a magnet for controversy, her most sensational years had only just begun.
Even after exiting the world of cinema, Bardot struggled to find even a modest amount of peace and quiet. Even more? Dangerous fans and obsessed stalkers continued to darken her doorstep and threaten her safety. Strange men broke into her home or arrived with luggage, insisting on staying with her. Bardot's fear was immeasurable, "I was very vulnerable when I was alone".
But, believe it or not, this was the least of her troubles.
As she approached her 50s, Bardot began to feel her isolation more and more, and for many reasons. For one, she attempted to salvage her relationship with her son Nicolas but failed spectacularly. Not only that, but she faced a harrowing personal struggle when she discovered that she had mammary cancer. She kept her illness as secret as possible and beat the disease away from prying eyes.
But even then, the tragedies just kept on coming...
Brigitte Bardot has a habit of making dramatic gestures on her birthday. When she celebrated her 39th birthday, she announced her retirement from acting. Then, on her 40th birthday, she shocked the world when she posed for Playboy magazine. But these were nothing compared to her 49th birthday in 1983, which culminated in an utterly heartbreaking incident.
Sadly, Bardot was no stranger to attempts on her own life. And so, on her 49th birthday, she overdosed on tranquilizers or sleeping pills and red wine. It was a close call, but after a trip to the hospital where she had her stomach pumped, Bardot was lucky to be alive. It was a dark time for the retired actress, but little did she know, it was about to get even darker.
When Brigitte Bardot decided to publish an autobiography, she didn't really give a second thought to the consequences of her actions. She wrote with passion, gusto, and a whole lot of spite. The things she wrote about her husband Jacques Charrier and son Nicolas were so slanderous—it completely destroyed her relationship with them forever.
Bardot unleashed damaging vitriol on her ex-husband, condemning Charrier as a "vulgar, dictatorial and uncontrolled macho, a gigolo and despicable alcoholic". But perhaps even more disturbing were her hateful comments about motherhood. In fact, Bardot made it painfully clear that she never wanted Nicolas in the first place.
When writing about her pregnancy, Bardot referred to her baby as a "tumor". She also wrote, "I looked at my flat, slender belly in the mirror like a dear friend upon whom I was about to close a coffin lid". But the most disturbing part of all was her heartbreaking attempts to abort her child. She remembers pounding on her stomach and trying to secure a prescription for morphine.
Enraged by his ex-wife's book, Charrier felt he had no choice but to seek revenge.
Charrier sued Bardot for the 80 pages of her autobiography wherein she tore down his reputation and scorned their son. But although he claimed over £1 million in damages, in the end, Bardot and her publisher only had to pay £28,000. Her lawyers argued that the superstar had every right to speak openly about her life and that the only privacy in danger was her own.
But if Bardot thought that Charrier was finished with his revenge, she was sorely mistaken...He had one more diabolical trick up his sleeve.
In response to her autobiography, Charrier decided to publish a book of his own. And when it came to the title, he certainly got straight to the point; he called it My Response to Brigitte Bardot. This clever, and somewhat petty, tit for tat absolutely enraged Bardot. But surprisingly, Charrier didn't use the book to solely rip into his ex-wife. In fact, he had something else in mind.
Instead of trying to tear Bardot down, Charrier instead tried to build her up: "By giving my version of the facts, I'm doing her a big favor. In a way, I rehabilitate her. The reality of her love for Nicolas, confirmed by the letters I kept, is much more to her credit than the horrors she wrote". But if you think this is the end of Bardot's scandals, think again.
The woman continues to make headlines, and the reason is more upsetting than we thought possible.
Bardot is a conservative through and through, and as we've seen, she's never shied away from sharing her strong opinions. Unfortunately, she crosses the line when it comes to the prejudiced slurs she's been known to use. In 2019, she became embroiled in a controversy after writing a letter so infused with racial prejudice—it incited a lawsuit.
The letter Bardot sent to the prefect of the French island of Reunion, as well as to the local media, used unforgivable language. She described the island's citizens as "aboriginals who have kept the genes of savages" and referred to them as a "degenerate population" for their treatment of animals. Of course, her prejudice revolted officials.
Sadly, this is only one example of many similar transgressions.
My mom never told me how her best friend died. Years later, I was using her phone when I made an utterly chilling discovery.
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.
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.
Catherine of Aragon is now infamous as King Henry VIII’s rejected queen—but few people know her even darker history.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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 email@example.com. Thanks for your help!
The Factinate team
If you like humaverse you may also consider subscribing to these newsletters: