Jane Avril was the famous can-can dancer who inspired the character Satine in the musical film Moulin Rouge—and her life was just as tragic as Baz Luhrmann’s fictionalized interpretation of her.

A Troubling Childhood

Born in Paris in 1868, Jane Avril had a turbulent childhood. When she was only two, her father, an Italian aristocrat, left her courtesan mother, Léontine Clarisse. After the split, Avril lived with her grandparents in the countryside for a time. However, her mother eventually took her back—and she had some dark intentions up her sleeve.

Not only did Clarisse want to transform Avril into a courtesan, but she also treated her horrifically. Tired of her alcoholic mother’s brutality, a teenaged Avril fled her home, only to end up admitted to a hospital for a curious reason.

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