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Bardot turns 75 with no regrets

Published on 28/09/2009

Paris — Brigitte Bardot turns 75 on Monday but she does not rue her past as a sultry screen goddess, symbol of feminism and sexual liberation, who threw up everything.

"I regret nothing," she said in an interview with AFP to mark her special day.

Ostracised in recent years for comments about Islam, Bardot is back in the public eye with France holding its first ever exhibition in her honour.

A virtual recluse who walks on crutches because of arthritis, Bardot will not be attending the launch of "Brigitte Bardot: The Carefree Years" on Tuesday.

Since abandoning her film career in 1973, aged just 39, Bardot has made headlines as an animal rights firebrand, and in recent years for fiery comments about Islam that landed her in court.

"I say what I think and I think what I say," she told AFP in a short written interview. "In a democracy one must have the right to express oneself and that’s what I do, even if it displeases."

The little girl who loved stuffed animals and ballet dancing wound up embodying the spirit of the times — the empowerment of women and the tide of sexual liberation in the 1950s and 60s.

But it all became too much.

News footage at the exhibit shows Bardot being mobbed at the Cannes festival by hysterical fans who are beaten back and sent flying to the ground by police as they tear at the star.

Suddenly Bardot shrieks, lets out a piercing cry, drops to the ground in a faint, and has to be hauled off to safety on the shoulders of police.

The Paris exhibition gathering some 2,000 photos, films and mementos spans B.B.’s life and times from her teens, when she rocketed to stardom, to her retirement in 1973.

They include portraits by Andy Warhol on loan from her third husband, millionaire German playboy Gunter Sachs, and the wedding dress she wore for husband number two, Jacques Charrier, which made country-bumpkin pink gingham stylish worldwide.

Charrier brought up the son they had together.

Holed up since 1973 with her beloved animals in the French Riviera resort of Saint Tropez, Bardot has said the last years were not easy, facing a fall in grace after a lifetime in the limelight.

She is married — for the fourth time — to a former aide of far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen.

Unlike many, the woman often dubbed the barefoot goddess for her natural and unsophisticated beauty and style, never attempted to make a secret of her age and never resorted to cosmetic surgery.

Spontaneity and sincerity in fact are part and parcel of the Bardot myth.

"She does what she pleases and that is what upsets," wrote the feminist philosopher Simone de Beauvoir, who famously penned a 1959 essay on the Bardot phenomenon titled "The Lolita Syndrome."

Bardot titillated the intelligentsia after unleashing a moral storm worldwide with "And God Created Woman ," directed by first husband Roger Vadim.

A 1956 trailer for the film describes heroine Juliette, an amoral girl with a sound sexual appetite, as "a demon-driven temptress." Husband Vadim, also married four times including to Jane Fonda, said: "You will become the unattainable fantasy of all married men."

As Juliette, Bardot danced barefoot, sweaty and dishevelled to a mambo beat in a scene that became a defining moment in film and embodied the end of the prudish postwar era. Teenagers were now free.

"A saint would sell his soul to the devil to see Bardot dance," said de Beauvoir, who described her as the "locomotive of women’s history."

"She has no idea what her rights or her duties could be. She follows her inclinations. She eats when she’s hungry and makes love as simply."

But freedom had its ups and downs for the woman raised in a well-off, straight-laced and well-connected Parisian family.

She scored the first of many magazine covers with Elle when barely 16 with the help of her mother, and at age 18 starred in her first film.

Marriages and relationships came and went; motherhood turned out to be too difficult. "I was never a great actress," Bardot said last week. "I lived what I was asked to act."

Unable to cope with life as a celebrity, she retired from films to pose on icebergs with baby seals as she switched from sex symbol to saviour of nature, selling off everything she owned to fund her animal rights foundation.

"I was never that interested in life. If I hadn’t had the animals to look after, I think I would’ve quickly stopped enjoying it, like Marilyn (Monroe) or like Romy (Schneider)," she said this week.

"Brigitte Bardot: Les Annees Insouciance" runs until January 31 at the Espace Landowski in Paris. Details at www.expobrigittebardot.com

APF / Expatica