Jean Seberg was born on November 13, 1938, in Marshalltown, Iowa, where she quite likely would have remained had it not been for a worldwide contest organised by Otto Preminger, in search of a fresh face to star is his new film. at just 17 years old, Jean was chosen from 18,000 hopefuls to play Joan of Arc in St. Joan (1957). unfortunately, the film was a marked failure, and Seberg's next film, Bonjour Tristesse (1958), was only a moderate success. [Jean is absolutely marvelous in Bonjour Tristesse, by the way, which was written by then 17 year old Françoise Sagan, and if you haven't yet seen it, you absolutely should.]
then along came Jean-Luc Godard, who cast Seberg in his New Wave masterpiece Breathless (1960), bringing her renewed international attention. this would prove to be the role Seberg is most associated with, and her two most famous American films were Paint Your Wagon (1969) with Clint Eastwood and Airport (1970), which would become a trend setter for '70s disaster films.
Jean starred in 37 films in Hollywood and in France, but much of the publicity she garnered in her short lifetime surrounded the actress' personal life. Seberg had four husbands. her first marriage, in 1958, was to French film director Francois Moreuil, who directed her in La Récréation (1961), a year or so after the couple had divorced. this first marriage failed as a result of Jean's affair with French author and diplomat Romain Gary, who would become her second husband the subsequent year. Seberg and Gary had a child together, Alexander Diego, but this marriage would not last either as Gary discovered Seberg was having an affair with Clint Eastwood during the shooting of Paint Your Wagon. Gary reportedly confronted them both and challenged Eastwood to a duel, which he declined.
during the late '60s and early '70s, Sebreng became increasingly involved in anti-war politics. because of her association with several members of the Black Panther party, FBI director J. Edgar Hoover considered her a threat to the American state and began an undercover campaign to discredit her. Jean's telephone was tapped and her private life closely observed. in 1970, the FBI circulated a false story via gossip columnist Joyce Haber, that Seberg, now seven months pregnant, was carrying a child fathered not by her husband Romain Gary, but by a member of the Black Panthers Party, Raymond Hewitt. although Gary acknowledged the child as his own, Seberg confessed to him that the pregnancy had been the result of an affair she'd had with student revolutionary Carlos Nevarra during their separation.
the FBI scrutiny took a tremendous tole on Jean. she gave birth prematurely to a daughter, Nina, who died two days later. Seberg shocked the press and crushed their inuendos by presenting the body of her dead (caucasian) child at a press conference. she and Gary were divorced by year's end. on each subsequent anniversary of her daughter Nina's death, Jean attempted suicide. in 1978, she miraculously survived an attempt to take her life by throwing herself under a train on the Paris Metro.
in 1972, Jean married film director Dennis berry. the two remained married until Jean's death, though they were separated during the last few years of her life. suffering from clinical depression, Seberg became increasingly dependent on alcoholol and prescription drugs. on May 31, 1979, she was married to Algerian playboy Ahmed Hasni in a brief ceremony. this marriage held no legal weight, however, as Jean was still married to Berry. Hasni persuaded Jean to sell her apartment on Rue du Bac, and kept the proceeds fro himself (reportedly 11 million francs in cash), announcing that he would use the money to open a restaurant in Barcelona. the couple departed for Spain but Jean was soon back in Paris alone, and went into hiding from Hasni, whom she claimed had grievously abused her.
in August of 1979, Seberg was reported missing. eleven days later, she was found dead in the back seat of her car, parked close to her Paris apartment. the police report stated that she had taken a massive overdose of barbiturates and alcohol. a note found in her hand read "Forgive me. I can no longer live with my nerves." while 'probable suicide' was the official cause of death as stated by the French coroner, many questioned how she could have operated a vehicle with such a high amount of alcohol in her body, and without the corrective lenses she had maintained were absolutely necessary for driving. rumours flew that Jean's suicide was masterminded by the FBI, but this has not been proven. at just 40 years old, survived by her 16-year old son Diego and her three ex-husbands, Seberg was interred in the Cimetière du Montparnasse, Paris, France. her funeral was attended by such notables as Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. a year later, Romain Gary, Jean's second husband, took his own life.