Unlike many well-preserved European sex symbols of yesteryear (see: Sophia Loren, Catherine Deneuve, etc.), Brigitte Bardot — the original European sex kitten — has, well, let herself go ... for a cause. After raising pulses across the globe during the 1950s and '60s in films such as "And God Created Woman" and "Contempt," Paris-born Bardot retired from acting in 1973 at the age of 38 to pursue her true calling: animal rights.
Over the past several decades, the woman who popularized the bikini has taken on numerous animal welfare-related causes and often provoked controversy in the process. Having sold many of her possessions at auction to fund the Brigitte Bardot Foundation for the Welfare and Protection of Animals in 1986, the erstwhile actress has crusaded to stop the killing of dolphins in the Faroe Islands, the termination of wolves in Sweden, the massacre of baby seals in Canada, the slaughter of horses in France and the hunting of bears in ... New Jersey. In a more recent campaign, Bardot demanded that Russian authorities slap criminal charges on a man who forced a donkey to parasail over a beach.
Now 77 and living a semi-reclusive existence on a secluded, critter-filled villa in St. Tropez, Bardot's appearance — her "sun-weathered and unlifted features" — is shocking to those who have images of the actress circa 1965 emblazoned in their memories. In a rare interview with Vanity Fair in 2012, Bardot says: "I don't feel old or used up. And I don't have time to waste thinking about aging, because I live only for my cause. Today, there are more regulations on cars than for animals."