Great elders of the world: Mia Farrow

Great elders of the world: Mia Farrow

Researching one of the world’s most influential women, 73-year-old Mia Farrow, was both exhausting and exhilarating. She has lived large in her professional and personal life and attracted a long-term media frenzy.

Yet despite her very public private life attracting the media hordes and critics, she has tirelessly devoted herself to improving the lives of children who have been affected by violence in conflict-affected regions in sub-Saharan Africa. 

It is this unrelenting commitment, along with her generosity and courage that caught our attention.

An Australian citizen and the brood of global talent

Actress, author, mother of 14 children (sadly, two are now deceased) and activist María de Lourdes "Mia" Villiers Farrow was born in the United States on February 9, 1945.

Her father, John Villiers Farrow was born in Sydney Australia just after the turn of the twentieth century.

If you take a read of his biography, it seems his global adventuring and love-of-film genes have lived on via Mia.

His wife, and Mia’s mother, Irish-American Maureen O’Sullivan may also have played a significant influence. She was an accomplished singer and actress with roles in more than sixty feature films.

In 1986 Mia and her mother took to the big screen together, with Maureen playing the role of Norma, mother of Hannah, played by Mia in the film Hannah and Her Sisters.

From model to one of the world’s most influential people

Mia’s was the face who graced the first cover of People magazine in March 1974. Modelling was her first professional foray in front of the camera. While she debuted in film in 1959, it was her role as Rosemary Woodhouse in Roman Polanski film Rosemary’s Baby in 1968 that propelled her to fame.

She won a Golden Globe award in 1965 and has been a nominee of many prestigious film awards.  In her humanitarian work she has been recognised and awarded a number of times for her unrelenting efforts to raise awareness and funding for children mostly in the sub-Saharan countries ravished by conflict.

In her very public personal life, Frank Sinatra, Andre Previn and Woody Allen have featured in her love life.

In 2008, Time magazine named Mia Farrow as a hero and pioneer and one of the most influential people in the world.

"For her work on behalf of these people, for her many years of hard work as a UNICEF goodwill ambassador, for her efforts to get China and the rest of the world to stop supporting the government of Sudan and to pay attention to the genocide in Darfur, I salute her. – Paul Ruseabagina, TIME Monday May 12 2008 (Rusesabagina helped save 1,268 Rwandans at his hotel during the genocide)

In today’s social media frenzy Twitter is a platform with predominantly a younger audience aged between 18 to 49 years. Yet, this 73-year-old has attracted over 350,000 Twitter followers and is very active in the Twitter-verse (

‘Activist, humanitarian, actress’ is the simplistic and humble description Mia Farrow shares on her social media accounts. Humble she may appear, but her reach across many countries and demographics is far from modest. Her willingness to leverage this reach and influence positive change is something she takes on like fury. Her commitment to improving the lives of children facing adversity is honourable.

Leveraging fame to serve humanity

When it comes to effecting change, Mia gets her hands dirty and throws herself into many of the war-torn territories that are affecting the children she is devoted to helping.

She demonstrates a seriousness about making a difference by getting involved directly as well as fundraising and advocating the United Nation of International Children’s Emergency Fund’s (UNICEF) mission.

 It’s crucial that everybody bands together to help, because as human beings, we have responsibility for each other. – Mia Farrow

Serving as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, advocating for children’s rights in impoverished and war-torn areas of the world,  she has toured many strife torn sub Saharan African countries to bring worldwide attention to impoverished communities and the impacts on children. Her work includes raising awareness and funding.

 As a powerful advocate for children, she campaigns tirelessly for their rights around the world, with a special focus on children impacted by armed conflict. –

The Darfur region of western Sudan is one she has immersed herself as part of her UNICEF ambassadorship, to advocate for action to stop the threat of genocide. To demonstrate the power behind her allegiance, headlines in the western world in 2008 were awash with news that film director Steven Spielberg quit his role in coordinating opening ceremonies for the 2008 Beijing Olympics due to Mia speaking out about China’s alleged role in supporting the Sudanese government.

This feisty and driven over-60s woman, in 2009 she famously undertook a hunger strike to protest the eviction of humanitarian agencies from the Darfur region. The extreme action of a hunger strike by a celebrity is the kind of attention that can make the world notice and feel compelled to act.

At the tender age of nine years old she was diagnosed with, and later recovered from, polio. Rather than reflect and forget her time spent in an iron lung, she has supported the fight against polio still affecting people in some areas of Africa and Asia.

Providing exposure to global atrocities and hardships is her ongoing legacy, and it would seem the energy that fuels her youthful approach to life.

Mia Farrow is one of the most committed artist activists in the world. Her work on behalf of children’s rights, in raising awareness for children in conflict affected regions, and on behalf of refugees around the globe is unparalleled and we are honored at her decision to accept this year’s Award. - Philadephia ex-Mayor Michael  Nutter, 2011

A very public life of tragedy and loss

While taking on the world to fight for humankind, Mia has faced much personal tragedy and loss in her life. From relationship breakdowns, the loss of two of her fourteen children, and two of her brothers, to the more recent public denunciation from her seventh child, son, Moses Farrow.

During her recovery from polio, at just 13 years old, her oldest brother Michael died in a plane crash while taking piloting lessons.  Then following recovery, when she was almost 18 years old, her father John passed away. 

Famously married to Frank Sinatra in 1966, they divorced in 1968. She went on to marry Andre Previn in 1970, only to divorce in 1979 and six children later.

Mia is the mother of 14, a mix of biological and adopted children. Sadly, two of her children have since passed away, and not without controversy.

Her sculptor brother Patrick Furrow’s alleged suicide hit the headlines in 2009. Combined with the more recent furore over the allegations against ex-partner Woody Allen of sexual assault of their adoptive daughter, it is a lot of public scrutiny to deal with.

This great elder of the world has not let her public private life distract from all the important humanitarian work that she has shone her spotlight on.  Exhausting. Exhilarating.

Mia Farrow is a woman who has lived, and is living, a very, very large life indeed.


UNICEF People Ambassadors

Top 20 Influential Women

Mia Farrow blogsite

Mia Farrow Twitter

Photos by Mia Farrow of sub Saharan Africa work

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