Born in London on 14 December 1946, Jane Birkin was raised in Chelsea, and described herself as a “shy English girl.” She attended Miss Ironside’s School in Kensington. She was also educated at Upper Chine School, Isle of Wight. At the age of 17, she met composer John Barry, whom she married in 1965, and had her first daughter, Kate, in 1967. After Barry left for the United States, the couple divorced in 1968 and Birkin returned to live with her family in London. She began auditioning for film and television roles in England and in Los Angeles.
Birkin emerged in the Swinging London scene of the 1960s, appearing in an uncredited part in The Knack …and How to Get It (1965). She had a small role in Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blowup (1966) as a blonde model. At the time the movie gained notoriety because of Birkin’s nude scene, which she later said she did because John Barry had told her she wouldn’t have the courage to show up naked on set. She’s also said on the day of her audition she had no idea who Antonioni was. She had a more substantial role in the counterculture era film Kaleidoscope (1966) and appeared as a fantasy-like model in the psychedelic film Wonderwall (1968). In 1968, she auditioned for the lead female role in the French film Slogan (1969). Though she did not speak French she won the role, co-starring alongside Serge Gainsbourg, and she performed with him on the film’s theme song, ‘La Chanson de Slogan’ – the first of many collaborations between the two. After filming Slogan, Birkin relocated to France permanently.
In 1969, Gainsbourg and she released the duet ‘Je T’Aime… Moi Non Plus’ (‘I Love You… Me Neither’). Gainsbourg originally had written the song for Brigitte Bardot. Birkin has said it was “jealousy” that drove her to sing the song. The song caused a scandal for its sexual explicitness, and was banned by radio stations in Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom. It was the biggest-selling single ever for a completely foreign-language record. Birkin and Gainsbourg were together for 12 years but never married, despite rumours and misreporting to the contrary. In 1971, they had a daughter, actress and singer Charlotte Gainsbourg. They separated in 1980, due to Gainsbourg’s alcoholism and violence.
On 4 September 1982, Birkin gave birth to her third daughter, Lou Doillon, from her relationship with director Jacques Doillon. They separated in the 1990s. Later, Birkin had a relationship with French writer Olivier Rolin.
Between 1969 and 2020, Birkin released more than a dozen albums. The album Fictions (2006) featured a cover version of Mother Stands For Comfort.
On 6 September 2021, it was reported that Birkin was doing well after having had a stroke. Birkin was found dead at her home in Paris on 16 July 2023, aged 76.