In addition to her acting abilities and good looks, Angelina Jolie inherited the genetic predisposition to ovarian and breast cancer from her mother, Marcheline Bertrand.
“My mother fought cancer for almost a decade and died at 56,” Jolie wrote in an op-ed piece for The New York Times.
After watching her beloved mother battle and eventually die from ovarian cancer, Jolie got tested and learned she carries the “faulty gene,” BRCA1. According to a doctor’s estimate, this raised Jolie’s risk of breast cancer to 87 percent and her risk of ovarian cancer to 50 percent.
Inspired by her mother’s strength, Jolie made the difficult decision to undergo a double mastectomy. She is reportedly now planning to get a oophorectomy, the surgical removal her ovaries.
“I can tell my children that they don’t need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer,” Jolie wrote.
Although it was the final years of Bertrand’s life that Jolie wrote about in The New York Times, Bertrand was a woman of many achievements.
Despite the misconception she was a French actress, Marcia Lynne “Marcheline” Bertrand was born in Illinois during the Baby Boom. Bertrand, her parents and two younger siblings relocated from Illinois to Beverly Hills when she was in high school. She went on to graduate from the famed Beverly Hill High School.
Following high school, Bertrand went into acting. She also married actor Jon Voight in 1971, when she was 21 years old.
After suffering a miscarriage in 1972, Bertrand and Voight went on to have a son, James Haven, and daughter, Jolie. Bertrand filed for divorce in 1978, allegedly because of Voight’s infidelity.
During the early 1980s, Bertrand appeared in Lookin’ to Get Out and The Man Who Loved Women. However, her starring role was as mother.
“I will never be as good a mother as she was,” Jolie said of Bertrand on 60 Minutes in 2011. “I will try my best, but I don’t think I could ever be. She was grace incarnate, the most generous, loving – she’s better than me.”
Bertrand’s influence on her daughter’s life was all the more prominent because of Jolie’s turbulent relationship with her father. (Although she’s reconciled with him in recent years, Voight only learned of his daughter’s mastectomy when she wrote the op-ed.)
After her acting career in the early 1980s, Bertrand turned her attention to producing. She founded Woods Road Productions with then-partner Bill Day in 1983.
Two years before her death, Trudell, a film that Bertrand executive produced, was an official selection at the Sundance and Tribeca film festivals.That film chronicled the life and experiences of her partner, John Trudell, a Santee Sioux musician and activist.
It was also with Trudell that Bertrand founded the All Tribes Foundation. She reportedly had Iroquois ancesters, although Voight once claimed she was “not seriously Iroquois.” Regardless, Bertrand established herself as real humanitarian for Native American causes. At the time of her death, All Tribes Foundation had raised nearly $1 million in grants.
After she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1999, Bertrand tackled the cause head-on by founding the Give Love Give Life organization with Trudell. With this organization, she aimed to raise awareness of ovarian and gynecological cancers.
Now, more than six years after Bertrand’s untimely death, her daughter is carrying on her mission by bringing a new level of attention to ovarian cancer.
UPDATE: Angelina is set to play her mother in an upcoming movie to be produced by her partner Brad Pitt’s production company Plan B.