Covers of Moon River are ubiquitous. It seems the entire world loves this simple, beautiful song.
[Ed. note: YouTube removed this lovely tribute due to copyright infringement, so for this video I’ve switched to the French site Voila. High quality, so it may take a minute to load.]
But try finding a cover that does justice to the original, which was written byHenry Mancini and Johnny Mercer for Audrey Hepburn in the 1961 film Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
By her own admission, Hepburn could not carry a tune, so she performed “Moon River” in a breathy, conversational style. Even so, songwriter Mercer considered Hepburn’s version to be the definitive one amid dozens of hits by the biggest names in show business.
Many of the YouTube tributes to Hepburn, who died of cancer on January 20, 1993 at the age of 63, play “Moon River” over images from Breakfast at Tiffany’s. But in her personal life the actress had little in common with the troubled call girl created by novelist Truman Capote.
Hepburn’s lineage as a descendant of King Edward III of England — and her own classy persona — would seem to make the restless princess she plays in Roman Holiday a better fit.
An even closer fit might be her character in the compelling Fred Zinnemann film The Nun’s Story.
Hepburn plays the Belgian nun Sister Luke, who leaves her 17-year calling because she could not obey orders to remain neutral during World War II. In one devastating scene, Sister Luke learns that her physician father, attending to refugees, was gunned down by Nazis.
Hepburn’s own father was a Nazi sympathizer who abandoned the family in 1935. She moved to Holland in 1939 and studied ballet. Later she danced to raise money for the Dutch Resistance. “The best audience I ever had made not a single sound at the end of my performance,” she said.
Right in front of her, two of Hepburn’s relatives were shot for participating in the Resistance. During the desperate winter of 1944, Hepburn lived on tulip bulbs. In 1946 she read the galleys of Anne Frank’s diary. “I’ve never been the same again, it affected me so deeply,” she said.
Not exactly the life of a social butterfly in Manhattan.
Still, it’s the images from Breakfast at Tiffany’s no one can forget. While Hepburn’s sincerity, depth, warmth, compassion and humility made her an unlikely choice for the role of Holly Golightly, those same traits enshrined her forever in the hearts of the public.
Come January 20, won’t you raise a glass in memory of the one and only Audrey Hepburn? Or just sing a verse of “Moon River.”