With great beauty comes great controversy—as if the case with Brigitte Bardot, cinema darling of the French New Wave. As a model, actress, and singer, Bardot was the European sex symbol from the 1950s to 70s. These days, Bardot continues to make headlines—and pay court fines—for her animal work and her shocking comments about the state of France. Take a bow to these 42 scandalous facts about Brigitte Bardot.
1. This Engine is Going Places
In her 1959 essay “The Lolita Syndrome,” feminist philosopher Simone de Beauvoir referred to Brigitte Bardot as “the locomotive of women’s history.” Not unlike existentialism, Bardot’s success “interrupted” traditional ideas of what French postwar life could be for women. Bardot is remembered as the first “liberated” woman represented in pop culture in post-World War II France.
2. Practically Perfect in Every Way, or Else
Bardot was born to a wealthy Catholic family in Paris on September 28, 1934. Her privilege was often dampened by her parents’ conservative moral routine. Bardot wasn’t allowed to choose her own friends and had to refer to her parents in the formal French “vous” as opposed to the familial “tu.”
3. Adolescent Sweetheart
At the age of just 15, Bob Dylan used Brigitte Bardot as the inspiration for his first original song.
4. The Eyes Don’t Have It
Bardot was born with eye problems. She had decreased vision in her left eye as a result of amblyopia.
5. Hello Twinkle-Toes
Bardot’s childhood took place against the Nazi Occupation of France in World War II. It wasn’t all bad news, at least for Bardot: the military crisis forced her to stay home more often, where she would spend hours dancing to records. Her mother saw her potential, enrolling in her an elite private school that supported her dance efforts. When she was 15 years old, Bardot was accepted in the Conservatoire de Paris.
6. Strike a Pose into the Audition Room
Bardot began her modeling career in 1949, landing the cover of Elle magazine when she was just 15 years old. It was on this cover that she was “discovered” by director Marc Allégret, who offered her a role in Les Lauriers sont coupés.
7. Grandpa Know One When He Sees It
Bardot’s conservative parents were vehemently against her becoming an actress. Ballet and modeling were okay, but acting? It wasn’t a respectable profession for their class. It was Bardot’s grandfather who convinced them to support her efforts, classily explain that “If this little girl is to become a whore, cinema will not be a cause.” Thanks?
8. She Won the Lead in His Heart
Bardot didn’t get the role in Marc Allégret’s film, but she did find her future husband. At the failed audition, the young Bardot fell instantly in love with Roger Vadim. Ironically, Vadim was there to inform her that she did not get the part.
9. Almost as Good as the Real Thing
The Beatles were big fans of Brigitte Bardot. There were even plans to have her star in A Hard Days’ Night, although it never worked out. Nevertheless, their collective crush on the French actress made an impact on their love lives: George Harrison liked to compare his wife to Bardot, and John Lennon’s wife dyed her own hair to better resemble the blonde sex symbol.
10. No Small Roles, Only Big Paycheques
Bardot’s first official film role was in Crazy for Love (1952). Although her role was fairly minor—she played the cousin of the main character—the established model was paid 500,000 francs for this small part.
11. Blondes Have More Fun (in the Spotlight)
Bardot is naturally a brunette. She didn’t go blonde until her role in the Italian movie Mio figlio Nerone (1956). Back in this day, it was more common to put on a wig instead of outright dyeing your hair for a role. However, Bardot tried the peroxide and liked it so much that she never went back to brown. Is it any coincidence her star started to rise soon after?
12. Easy on the Eyes and the Box Office
And God Created Woman (1956) is largely credited with turning Bardot into an international star. The film follows a morally “loose” girl in a traditional small town. To some critics and historians, the role reduced Bardot’s character into an “object” in order to amplify what was still arguably a sexist view of female sexuality. Undoubtedly, it also engineered Bardot’s status as the world’s first “sex kitten” as the film achieved to international success.
13. Just Keep Singing
Bardot maintained her music career alongside her acting career. Overall, she has produced more than 60 singles over the course of her lifetime, including a duet with Serge Gainsbourg that she begged not to be released to the public.
14. Never Meet Your Heroes
John Lennon was incredibly nervous about meeting his long-time celebrity crush, Bridget Bardot. According to his biography, he took LSD just to calm his nerves. Unfortunately, neither Bardot nor Lennon lived up to the celebrity image in each other’s mind. To quote Lennon, “I was on acid, and she was on her way out.”
15. Beneath the Make-Up
In 1973, Bardot produced her last joint effort with her ex-husband, Roger Vadim. She plays a “Don Juan”-esque woman who recounts her sexual (and murderous) exploits in the subtly titled Don Juan, or If Don Juan Were a Woman. According to Vadim, this film was about deconstructing the cultural myth of his ex, although he put it in crude terms: “Underneath what people call ‘the Bardot myth’ was something interesting, even though she was never considered the most professional actress in the world […] Brigitte always gave the impression of sexual freedom–she is a completely open and free person, without any aggression. So, I gave her the part of a man–that amused me.”
16. Leave Them Wanting More
Right before her 39th birthday in 1979, Brigitte Bardot announced her retirement from acting. She wanted to “get out elegantly.” The Edifying and Joyous Story of Colinot was her last role.
17. Practice What You Preach
Bardot has spent her retirement as an active voice for animal rights. She established the Brigitte Bardot Foundation for the Welfare and Protection of Animals in 1986 and became a vegetarian.
18. Consider Her Sunk
Brigitte Bardot had a Canadian fast interceptor vessel named after her, the MV Brigitte Bardot, by the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society after coming to condemn the practice of seal-hunting.
19. Arms-Crossed Lovers
Bardot introduced what became known as the “Bardot pose” to the art of modeling. In a 1960 photoshoot, she was shown wearing nothing but black pantyhose, with her arms and legs crossed to make herself just “decent” enough. This posture has been emulated by the likes of every cover-girl from Monica Bellucci to Lindsay Lohan.
20. Bear with Her, Please
In 1999, Bardot penned a strongly worded letter to President of Jian Zemin of China. Her beef? According to the animal-minded actress, the Chinese were “torturing bears and killing the world’s last tigers and rhinos to make aphrodisiacs.” The graphic letter was published for all to read in the French magazine VSD.
21. Someone Please Think of Flipper
Bardot was not done publically appealing to world leaders on behalf of animals. In 2010, she wrote to Queen Margarethe II of Denmark demanding the end of dolphin hunting in the Faroe Islands. As with her letter to the Chinese, Bardot weaponized her wordy flourish, calling the practice a “macabre spectacle” that “is a shame for Denmark and the Faroe Islands.”
22. Meow or Nothing
If you ask Brigitte Bardot, we shouldn’t have to choose which animals to save. In 2015, she condemned Australia’s plan to euthanize millions of feral cats in order to save their endangered bird and animal species. Even though feral cats were behind 10% of native mammal extinctions in Australia, Bardot called this project “animal genocide” and “absolutely useless, since the rest of them will keep breeding.”
23. The Higher the Better
Who doesn’t like a good beehive ‘do? Thank Brigitte Bardot, who popularized the choucroute updo, a variation on the beehive. The weird part? Choucroute is actually French for sauerkraut. Weird thing to name a hairstyle!
24. Short Turnover Time
While both were still married to other people, Bardot dated her And God Created Men co-star Jean-Louis Trintignant for two years. Unfortunately, the relationship barely lasted a year after her divorce from Roger Vadim. What got in the way this time? Trintignant’s military service and Bardot’s other love affair, with the musician Gilbert Bécaud.
25. No Way Out
1958 was a tough year for Brigitte Bardot. Her divorce from Roger Vadim was quickly followed up by a break-up with her sidepiece of two years, Jean-Louis Trintignant. The double-loss led to rumors of a nervous breakdown and attempted suicide, although this was denied by her public relations team.
26. The Prodigal Son Returns, Eventually
Bardot had a strained relationship with her only son, Nicolas-Jacques Charrier. For one, he was conceived well before she married his father, actor Jacques Charrier, in June 1959. Bardot and Charrier divorced less than three years later in 1962, after which Nicholas was raised by his father’s family. Bardot and her only child would have almost no relationship until he was an adult.
27. Business with Pleasure
Bardot has been romantically attached to singer Serge Gainsbourg, writer John Gilmore, and actor Warren Beatty. She also dated Laurent Vergez, her co-star in Don Juan, or If Don Juan Were a Woman…, which was directed by her first-ex husband. We can’t say she casts a wide net.
28. Would a Rose by Any Other Name Mess Up Your Lawn?
In 1966, Bardot married her third husband, the German millionaire playboy, Gunter Sachs, who was heir to one of Germany’s biggest automobile suppliers. The industrialist gave Bardot a Hollywood courtship, flying over her French home via helicopter and dropping dozens of roses onto her property. Sweet, but maybe it wasn’t worth the clean up: Bardot and Sachs divorced just three years later, in 1969.
29. She Found Mr. “Right”
Bardot’s current (and fourth) husband is a notorious name in right-wing politics. He is none other than Bernard d’Ormale, former advisor to Jean-Marie Le Pen, AKA the former leader of France’s far-right party, National Front.
30. Happy Birthday, World
For her 40th birthday, Bardot bore it all in a nude photoshoot for Playboy magazine. Talk about a “birthday” suit.
31. Neck and Shoulders Above the Flock
The Bardot neckline was named after the iconic French actress. Bardot had a personal penchant for open-necked knitted sweaters and jumpers, which inspired this cut of shoulder-exposing and wide-necked jumpers.
32. Sainted by the Sex Symbol
Bardot endorsed Marine le Pen for the 2017 French Presidential election, referring to the National Front party leader as “the Joan of Arc of the 21st century.”
33. The High Cost of Hatred
To date, Bardot has been charged five times with inciting racial hatred against Muslims in France. In 2008, she fined €15,000 after sending an open letter to the Interior Minister where she condemns the practice of killing sheep during the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha and writes that she is “fed up with being under the thumb of this population which is destroying us, destroying our country and imposing its habits.” Her first charge came in 2000, after her book made expressed sentiments against Muslim immigration and the “Islamicization of France.”
34. Is Pure Always Better?
Bardot has also openly critiqued “racial mixing.” Her 2003 book, Un cri dans le silence (A Scream in the Silence), applauds her French ancestors for keeping their genes pure and pushing out invaders.
35. Back in My Day
Bardot is also openly critical of today’s generation of LGTBQ folk. In 2003, she compared their public behavior to that of “fairground freaks.” She defended her stance in a gay French magazine, citing her circle of close gay friends from the previous, more “refined” generation.
36. Less is More
Bardot is also credited with popularizing the bikini in modern culture. One of her most famous appearances at the Cannes Film festival displayed her in this “new” bathing suit, as did her early film roles in the likes of Manina (1952).
37. Daddy’s Not-So-Dearest
According to Bardot, her father forever treated her and her sister as “strangers” after the two broke his favorite vase. For their accident, each sister received 20 lashes. This incident forever changed the course of her parental relationship and is cited as the cause of Bardot’s rebellious streak.
38. Half-Baked Plans Go Smooth
Bardot’s relationship with Roger Vadim was the latest in a long line of disappointments for her parents. The Bardots were vehemently against the match and insisted that Brigitte finish her education in England. It took a suicide attempt on Bardot’s part—she stuck her head in active oven—to make them budge…at least on the condition that the couple marry when Bardot turned 18.
39. Easy to Replace
In 1967, Bardot and her then-boyfriend Serge Gainsbourg wrote and recorded the notoriously steamy love song, “Je t’aime… moi non plus.” Bardot was married to a powerful man at the time, who refused to let the single be released. Bardot begged Gainsbourg not to let the song out to the public; he consented. The next year, Gainsbourg re-recorded the song with his new girlfriend, Jane Birkin. This version was an international success. Nevertheless, the version with Bardot made it to public ears in 1986, and was officially released as a download in 2006.
40. Stay in Touch?
According to Bardot, her first marriage to Roger Vadim broke down as a result of Vadim’s affairs with men. For her part, Bardot embarked on an affair with her And God Created Woman co-star, Jean-Louis Trintignant. She and Vadim officially divorced in 1957 after less than five years of marriage. While they had no children, the two would remain friends and creative collaborators for the rest of her career.
41. Came Back with Something Missing
Although Bardot loves animals, you might not trust her to pet-sit. In 1989, she looked after her neighbor’s pet donkey while he was away…only to castrate the creature without his owner’s consent. The owner took Bardot to court, where she argued the donkey was “sexually harassing” the actress’s own pet donkey and mare. She simply took “things” into her own hands.
42. Not Everything Mixes Well with the Red
From her retirement to her nude photoshoot, Bardot’s birthday gifts to herself have always been eventful. This one is more tragic: on her 49th birthday in 1983, she was taken to hospital for a stomach pumping after an overdose of sleeping pills or tranquilizers with red wine.