The two hid their blossoming affair from the eyes of the tabloids as it would have affected Hyepburn's Cinderella image, but their love wasn't meant to be.
Editor's note: This article was originally published on August 5, 2020. It has since been updated.
Before Audrey Hepburn had a relationship with Mel Ferrer and Andrea Dotti, the stunning and sophisticated beauty was head over heels in love with the handsome hunk of the 50s, William Holden. The secret affair came into the spotlight after it was detailed in a new book called Audrey And Bill.
While Hepburn was the queen of elegance and exuded royalty and grace in movies like Roman Holiday, Breakfast At Tiffany's, and My Fair Lady, Holden was the tough golden boy of Hollywood who had a number of critically acclaimed films under his name along with an Oscar and Emmy. When the two met on the sets of Sabrina (1954), neither of them could stop the sparks from flying, according to Express UK.
Hepburn thought of Holden as “the most handsome man I’ve ever met” and soon the pair were meeting secretly in Holden's dressing room, private dinners, and picnics. While for Hepburn, Holden was a “guardian angel”, for Holden she was "the one" for him. He once confessed, “Audrey was the love of my life. I fell in love. She wanted to get married.” The 44-year-old Holden was not only 11 years senior to Hepburn but he was also a married man with three children.
Their whirlwind romance on the sets of the comedy flick Sabrina became so serious that Holden decided to leave his then-wife, an actress herself, Ardis Ankerson who was better known by her screen name Brenda Marshall.
The two ladies had even met each other once when Holden invited Hepburn over to his house. According to the book's author Edward Epstein, Hepburn was a "wife's worst nightmare." She was well mannered, well-spoken, and had magnetic energy. It was soon clear to Ardis why her husband was so entrapped by the woman. As soon as Hepburn left the house, "the gloves came off and (she) went into attack mode," according to The Daily Mail.
Ardis asked Holden to never meet Hepburn ever again but he ignored her. It was only weeks after this encounter that Holden's heart broke into a million pieces. Holden could not wait any longer to be with Hepburn and proposed to her, promising to leave his wife, but Hepburn only had one thing in mind. She wanted kids of her own. “She told him she wanted three, maybe four, and would retire from the screen to raise them,” revealed Epstein.
When the love birds were discussing marriage and kids, Holden revealed something which broke their relationship forever. "Once while chatting brightly about the names of their future children, suddenly an embarrassed smile, tinged with fear, crept into Bill's face. He told her that the one thing, the only thing they could not have together, was children. She stood looking at him like a hurt, bewildered child as he explained that he’d had a vasectomy years earlier. She ended the affair on the spot.”
Epstein wrote, “They were everything to each other, crazy in love, and if Bill had been able to have children they would have married in an instant. But her desire for children was overwhelming and though it broke her heart to leave Bill she knew she wanted children of her own.”
The breakup led to Hepburn spiraling down. Soon after she got married, and she suffered some heartrending miscarriages and devastating news of her husband Mel Ferrer's affairs. But Holden didn't want to back out. He wanted Hepburn and him to be together forever. To win her back he tried making her jealous by having some public affairs. He admitted, “I set out around the world with the idea of [having] a woman in every country I visited. My plan succeeded.” But in Hepburn's eyes, it was just an adamant child trying to get something he can't and she replied with just an, “Oh, Bill.”
They came together again for the 1961 film Paris When It Sizzles and Holden "realized that I had to face Audrey and I had to deal with my drinking. I didn’t think I could handle either situation.” He drowned himself in booze, to the point where sometimes the shoot had to be canceled.
He once again tried to win her back by climbing up the tree that led to her dressing window and kissing her when she leaned in to help him climb up. “Bill, stop that!” she said, and that was it. She had made it clear that everything was over.
After divorcing Ferrer, Hepburn began an affair with Italian psychiatrist Andrea Dotti. The two got married. But soon she received the news of her husband's betrayal, once again, while she was pregnant with his baby.
While Hepburn was trying to build the family of her dream,s Holden was losing everything. His world-famous drinking habit had become worse after the breakup. After a two-year-long affair with French actress Capucine, Holden began a nine-year-long relationship with Stefanie Powers in 1972 which unfortunately ended too.
The actor who had lost his battle to alcoholism slipped on a bedroom rug in 1981 and hit his head on the table. His body was found four days later. He had bled to death. “Audrey was stunned,” wrote Epstein.
Hepburn eventually found the love she was searching for in Robert Wolders. She passed away at 63, the same age as Holden. “Audrey and Bill had one of Hollywood’s greatest secret love affairs,” wrote Epstein and added, “Had they married it would have been a love for the ages.”