Angelina Jolie's mother died in 2007 from cancer
Angelina Jolie’s late mom, Marcheline Bertrand, was her best friend and her biggest supporter.
Bertrand was born in 1950 and raised in Chicago, but as a teenager, her family relocated to Los Angeles. While pursuing an acting career, a then-20-year-old Bertrand met actor Jon Voight, and the pair began dating. In 1971, they got married, and during their union, the couple welcomed two children — Jolie and her brother James Haven.
Five years after exchanging wedding vows, Bertrand and Voight separated before finalizing their divorce in 1978. She would go on to be a single mother to Jolie and Haven, fostering a tight-knit relationship with them that lasted throughout her life.
Bertrand was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1999, and she was later diagnosed with breast cancer. She died on Jan. 27, 2007, at the age of 56, in L.A. from cancer.
Speaking to Vanity Fair the following year, Jolie opened up about how her mom's death impacted her and her views on motherhood. (Jolie has six children of her own, whom she shares with ex-husband Brad Pitt.)
“When [my mother] passed, I realized that somebody who lives life with that kind of dedication to their family is the most noble," she said. "In her passing she reminded me what matters. And what's most fun — to put yourself aside for these other little people you're raising."
Here’s everything to know about Angelina Jolie’s late mom, Marcheline Bertrand.
Bertrand was born and raised in Illinois
Bertrand was born on May 9, 1950, and "raised Catholic on the South Side of Chicago," according to Jolie's 2020 op-ed for The New York Times. She was one of three children, which included her sister Debbie and her brother Raleigh.
Jolie shared that Bertrand's father, a World War II veteran, ran a bowling alley. "Before my grandparents moved to Los Angeles in the 1960s, they ran a bowling alley. Their parents before them ran a bar,” the Lara Croft: Tomb Raider actress wrote.
In a 2010 interview with Parade, she added that Bertrand was skilled at the game, saying, "She could bowl like nobody’s business."
Bertrand was a teenager when her family relocated to L.A., where she attended Beverly Hills High School. According to Jolie, she “hung out on the Sunset Strip, was a hippie [and] loved the Rolling Stones.”
There, she developed a passion for acting and began taking classes with The Actors Studio director Lee Strasberg.
She married Voight in 1971
While pursuing acting in Los Angeles, Bertrand met Voight, who had recently earned his first Oscars nomination for Best Actor for Midnight Cowboy in 1970. At the time, Bertrand was 20 years old, and Voight was 12 years her senior. Bertrand and Voight began dating and officially tied the knot on Dec. 12, 1971.
She welcomed two children
Following their nuptials, the couple became pregnant in 1972 but unfortunately experienced a miscarriage. Voight spoke about the experience decades later, expressing how it had affected them.
“My wife and I lost a child during pregnancy. It was a great, great loss. It was a great trauma for my wife,” Voight shared with Page Six in 2021. “She was very disturbed by that. There has been a sadness for the rest of my life, so it’s a serious thing.”
The next year, Bertrand gave birth to their son, James Haven, on May 11, 1973. The couple welcomed Jolie to the family on June 4, 1975.
Bertrand was a single mother
A year after Jolie was born, Bertrand and Voight separated before divorcing in 1978. In her New York Times op-ed piece, Jolie said that her mom was forever changed by what she claims was Voight’s infidelity during their marriage.
“When my father had an affair, it changed her life. It set her dream of family life ablaze. But she still loved being a mother,” the Maleficent star wrote.
Following the split, Bertrand focused on being a mom, raising her children mostly on her own in Palisades, New York, and L.A. While Jolie admitted that things weren’t easy and the family often faced “financial troubles” and were “always conscious of money,” there was no shortage of love.
“There was very much that home feeling when we came back from school. Angie and I would walk in and comment on how we could smell things cooking and baking in the kitchen,” Haven told the Daily Mail in 2007.
He continued, “My mom was methodical in making sure we did our homework perfectly. She would do outlines to help us. When we were younger, she used flashcards. Or she’d be in the middle of cooking and pick up a carrot and teach us about the vegetable or the fruit so that it was visual as well.”
In the final moments of her life, Jolie recalled to Parade that Bertrand told her that “her greatest success was being a mother.”
She was an aspiring actress
Before becoming a mother, Bertrand had a short-lived acting career. She appeared in an episode of NBC's crime drama TV show Ironside and later was cast in the films Lookin’ To Get Out and The Man Who Loved Women — the former also starred Voight as the main lead.
While she dreamed of becoming an actress, Jolie says her mother gave it all up to raise her children.
“Her dreams of being an actor faded as she found herself, at the age of 26, raising two children," she wrote in her New York Times op-ed. "After she died, I found a video of her acting in a short film. She was good. It was all possible for her."
Despite this, Jolie also shared that Bertrand revealed that her acting aspirations weren't entirely hers. "Before her death, she told me that dreams can simply change shape," the Salt star added. "Her dream to be an artist was in fact her mother’s dream. And later she hoped it would be mine."
"I think of how true that must be for so many women before us, whose dreams have taken generations to realize," she continued.
Bertrand focused on producing later in her career
After taking a step back from acting, Bertrand decided to start her own production company, Woods Road Production, according to NBC News.
While not much is known about her work as a producer, Bertrand helped fund the 2005 documentary Trudell, based on the life of her then-partner, Native American poet and activist John Trudell, per PBS. Jolie also funded and executive-produced the award-winning film.
She was a dedicated humanitarian
Throughout her life, Bertrand was dedicated to helping those less fortunate and needing assistance. In 2001, Bertrand, alongside Jolie and Trudell, founded the All Tribes Foundation to support Indigenous communities both culturally and economically. Over several years, the foundation issued over $800,000 in grants.
Bertrand also founded the Give Love, Give Life organization to raise awareness about gynecological cancers through music. In 2004, she hosted a benefit concert at the Roxy in Los Angeles and later helped campaign for the Gynecologic Cancer Education and Awareness Act to be signed into law. Also known as Johanna's Law, the legislation aimed to fund research on gynecological cancers and raise awareness.
Shortly after Bertrand’s death, a second Give Love, Give Life benefit concert was held, featuring performances from Trudell, Willie Nelson and Jackson Browne.
Jolie later shared that it was her mother who inspired her own philanthropic work. While being honored with the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award at the 2013 Governors Awards, Jolie paid tribute to Bertrand.
“She was very clear that nothing would mean anything if I didn't live a life of use to others,” she said. “I will do as my mother asks, and I will do the best I can with this life to be of use. And to stand here today means that I did as she asked. And if she were alive, she'd be very proud.”
Bertrand died in 2007 from ovarian and breast cancer
Bertrand was diagnosed with ovarian cancer when she was 49 years old, according to Jolie. She was also diagnosed with breast cancer. Jolie recalled Bertrand receiving chemotherapy as treatment in a 2019 personal essay for TIME magazine.
Nearly a decade after her first cancer diagnosis, Bertrand died on Jan. 27, 2007, at the age of 56, surrounded by her children.
“There are no words to express what an amazing woman and mother she was,” Jolie and Haven told PEOPLE in a statement. “She was our best friend.”
She inspired Jolie to undergo preventative cancer treatments
Following Bertrand’s death, Jolie took her health matters into her own hands. Upon finding out that she carried the BRCA1 gene mutation that predisposed her to breast cancer, she opted to have a preventative double mastectomy in 2013. In an op-ed piece for The New York Times, Jolie opened up about her decision to undergo surgery.
“I wanted to write this to tell other women that the decision to have a mastectomy was not easy. But it is one I am very happy that I made. My chances of developing breast cancer have dropped from 87 percent to under 5 percent. I can tell my children that they don’t need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer,” Jolie wrote.
Then, in 2015, a doctor detected possible signs of early cancer in Jolie’s ovaries, so she decided to have them removed. She detailed the process in another op-ed piece for The New York Times, revealing that the same surgeon treated her as her mom.
While reflecting on her surgeries, Jolie expressed that she wished it had been an option for her mother as it could have given her more time with her family.
“I thought that I had gained information that I wish my mother would have known. I wish she had the option. I wish she had the surgery, in fact, and it might have given her more years with my family,” she said on BBC Radio 4’s Women’s Hour in 2016.
She was honored at Jolie's wedding to Pitt
While Bertrand couldn't be there for Jolie’s 2014 wedding to Pitt, her daughter honored her during the nuptials.
In addition to wearing a flower ring from her mother’s collection, Jolie said Pitt had a tribute etched onto a special stone used in the ceremony.
“Brad had a dedication to Marcheline engraved inside the chapel where we stood,” Jolie told PEOPLE.
Jolie was inspired by her mom while writing By The Sea
Eight years after losing her mom, Jolie and Pitt partnered up for her drama film By The Sea, which she wrote, directed, produced and starred in. Jolie revealed to Vogue that the grief she felt during that time inspired her character, Vanessa.
“My mother was an Earth Mother and the nicest person in the world,” Jolie said in 2015, noting that Vanessa was not as nice in the film. “But the specific grief came from the woman I was closest to, seeing her art slip away, her body fail her.”
Jolie feels connected to her mother through her children
In 2014, Jolie opened up to French Marie Claire about how Bertrand remained a constant presence in her life, explaining she felt connected to her through her kids.
“I feel in contact with my mother when I look at my children,” she told the outlet. “I can feel her influence over me then. I see that my way of raising them resembles the way she raised my brother and I. ... Therefore, yes, my mother is there, present in this influence, all the time.”
Although Bertrand didn’t get to meet all of Jolie’s children, Jolie said she “would have thrived as a grandmother.”
“I know how much she would have contributed to their lives and I am sad they will miss out on that,” she told Elle France in 2017. “I would give anything for her to be with me at this time. I've needed her. I talk to her often in my mind and try to think what she might say and how she might guide me.”
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