Wednesday, 10 June 2009

At the end of the road: Helle Virkner (1925-2009), actress and former “first lady” of Denmark

The much-loved Danish actress Helle Virkner, who was married to former Prime Minister Jens Otto Krag, died from cancer in her home in Charlottenlund outside Copenhagen this morning. She was 83.
She made her stage debut in March 1945, but was perhaps best known for her roles in many films and TV dramas such as Matador. During her long and active life she was also the manager of two theatres and made a career in local politics.
In 1959 she married, as her third husband, the Social Democratic Party’s rising star Jens Otto Krag, who was then Foreign Minister and went on to become Prime Minister two years later. The beautiful and glamorous Helle Virkner filled the position as prime ministerial spouse so well that she came to be referred to as “first lady”, which is still informally used for the Prime Minister’s wife (although the Queen is the actual first lady of the country). “Since then the role as Denmark’s first lady has never been carried out better”, writes her obituarist Ebbe Mørk today. Some obituaries even draw parallels to Jacqueline Kennedy.
Krag resigned as Prime Minister in 1972 and divorce followed in 1973. In 1994 Helle Virkner published her very candid memoirs Hils fra mig og kongen, which became an instant bestseller. In the book she described Krag, who had died in 1978, as the great love of her life, but also dealt with the many difficulties caused by his adultery and heavy drinking.
All the Danish broadsheets have extensive obituaries:

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