Celebrities often receive hyped attention for the causes they pursue. Some of it comes across as crass publicity, with the added benefit of an adopted child gained through dubious circumstances. Others are more discreet and just do the grunt work bereft of glamour in far-off places, like Brazilian musical artist Daniela Mercury. Then you have a Hollywood legend.

Let us not forget the hard work of Audrey Hepburn, a movie icon who is often named as one of the top 5—if not number 1—actresses of all time. Her performances have given us some of the most wondrous moments in film. Who can forget her movie debut in Roman Holiday, for which she won an Oscar playing a rogue princess in post-war Rome; her effect on 1960s fashion in Breakfast at Tiffany's; the cockney accent in My Fair Lady; and in her final film, Always, she gave us the only bright moment in a ho-hum movie. Those films so defined her that other movies like Sabrina are often forgotten. Thankfully cable TV and DVDs keep her acting alive; it is hard to believe she has been gone almost 18 years.

But Hepburn's finest legacy is her UNICEF work, which dated back to the 1950s. Her formative years were in German-occupied Holland, where she watched Nazi soldiers haul Jews to trains that unbeknownst at the time to locals, took them to the concentration camps; she witnessed hunger in the streets and experienced it herself; and danced to raise funds for the Dutch Resistance. That trauma, tempered by The Netherlands' eventual liberation, set the tone for her life's mission.

By the 1970s, Hepburn decided to slow down her work in movies to focus on raising her family. Duty eventually called, however, and she began work as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in 1988. Missions took her to some of the most dangerous and poorest places on earth. She visited Ethiopia shortly after signing on with UNICEF, and tours later took her to Central American countries in the middle of civil war. Sudan and Bangladesh ended up on her itinerary as well.

Her finest mission, and arguably Hepburn's most haunting experience, was in Somalia in late 1992. At the time up to eight million people were starving, and as she afterwards recalled:

The earth is red-an extraordinary sight-that deep terra-cotta red. And you see the villages, displacement camps and compounds, and the earth is all rippled around them like an ocean bed. And those were the graves. There are graves everywhere. Along the road, around the paths that you take, along the riverbeds, near every camp-there are graves everywhere.
UNICEF workers remembered Hepburn for her rush to embrace and console children, no matter how sick or disheveled they were, or whether they were covered in flies—she gave hugs freely, and delighted in the smiles on their faces—many of course, had no idea that she was an actress, nor did they care—she was simply there for them.

Sadly, her best work was cut short. Soon after her Somalia trip, she suffered abdominal pains, and visited several doctors. Inoperable colon cancer had metastasized through her nimble, wry body. Givenchy, whose fashion line had become famous thanks to Hepburn, flew her to Switzerland, where she passed away in January 1993. She was only 63.

But Audrey Hepburn will always be with us. Her garden hours, which she filmed to raise funds for UNICEF, will be released on DVD. And her sons, Luca and Sean, continue her work and advocacy through the Audrey Hepburn Fund, which also has a YouTube channel.

And of course, who can forget this one minute and 50 second clip, one of the most sublime film scenes in my books:

About The Author

Leon Kaye

Leon Kaye is the founder and editor of GreenGoPost.com. Based in California, he specializes in social media consulting and strategic communications. A journalist and writer since 2009, his work has appeared on Triple Pundit , The Guardian's Sustainable Business site and has appeared on Inhabitat and Earth911. His focus is making the business case for sustainability and corporate social responsibility. Areas of interest include the <a Middle East, sustainable development in The Balkans, Brazil and Korea. He was a new media journalism fellow at the International Reporting Project, for which he covered child survival in India during February 2013. Contact him at leon@greengopost.com. You can also reach out via Twitter (Leon Kaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost). Since 2013, he has spent much of his time in Abu Dhabi, UAE, working with Masdar, the emirate's renewable energy company. He lives in Fresno, California.