The life of Marilyn Monroe is one of Hollywood’s most enduring, intriguing and ultimately tragic stories, and it serves as the basis for Netflix’s film Blonde in which Ana de Armas stars as the beloved screen siren. Monroe passed away at age 36 in 1962, so those unfamiliar with the Some Like It Hot star’s tale will be wondering how Marilyn Monroe died.
Born Norma Jeane Mortenson in 1926, Monroe shot to fame in 1953 and she would soon cement herself as the comedic “blonde bombshell”. She was one of the world’s first true “sex symbols”, becoming an icon for a time of sexual revolution between the 1950s and 60s. But beneath her confident on-screen façade was a deeply sensitive person whom the tabloids and film executives exploited and objectified for their own personal gain; a part of her life Blonde (based on Joyce Carol Oates’ book of the same name) explores extensively. Upon her death, French poet and avant-garde filmmaker Jean Cocteau commented: “Marilyn Monroe’s tragic death should serve as a terrible lesson to all those, whose chief occupation consists of spying on and tormenting film stars,” he said, the New York Times reported in 1962. “Some of these reporters even spied on her from helicopters hovering over her house. That is scandalous.” This is the tragic story of how Marilyn Monroe died.
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How did Marilyn Monroe die?
How did Marilyn Monroe die? Her autopsy revealed a lethal dose of barbiturates, a.k.a. sleeping pills, in her system. Her housekeeper Eunice Murray had been staying overnight at Monroe’s home in Brentwood, Los Angeles, on the night Monroe passed away. The housekeeper is said to have awoken at 3am sensing something was wrong and, noticing a light on in Monroe’s bedroom, she tried to enter but the door was either blocked or locked. Murray called the star’s LA psychiatrist, Dr. Ralph Greenson, who broke into Monroe’s bedroom through the window and found the star unresponsive in her bed. At 3.50 am, Monroe’s doctor arrived and pronounced her dead at the scene.
In the months leading up to her death, Monroe’s mental health had spiraled. Her affair with President, John F. Kennedy was seemingly over and his treatment of her turned chilly, her marriage to the acclaimed playwright Arthur Miller was too and two films, Let’s Make Love and The Misfits were box-officers busts. In 1960, Monroe’s New York-based psychiatrist, Dr. Marianne Kris, persuaded her to enter the Payne Whitney Psychiatric Clinic. Monroe believed it was to help her withdraw from alcohol and sleeping pills, but she quickly learned it was because she was deemed “self-destructive” and placed in a straitjacket to sit in a maximum-security ward. Eventually, she was granted a phone call. She contacted her ex-husband, baseball god John DiMaggio, who got Monroe moved to another hospital where she was treated as a regular patient and her detox from alcohol and drugs could begin.
It seemed Monroe was back to her old self for a while. Her affair with JFK was apparently back on, and the iconic “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” moment would take place in May 1962 for his 45th birthday celebration at Madison Square Garden. But by June, she was spiraling once more into a pit of insecurity, depression and substance abuse. Monroe had been fired from her upcoming film, Something’s Got to Give, for repeated lateness and absences. “She couldn’t sleep, and she said how worthless she felt,” Dr. Greenson recalled in an article published in Vanity Fair in 1991. “She talked about being a waif, that she was ugly, that people were only nice to her for what they could get from her. She said life wasn’t worth living anymore.” Love letters and phone calls to the president were going unanswered and her affairs with both Jack and Bobby were considered a liability for the Whitehouse and both men distanced themselves from Monroe–rejection and loneliness hit her hard.
On the night of August 4, 1962, her friend Peter Lawford spoke to Monroe for what would be the last time. According to police reports from 1962, released in 1985, Lawford sensed “something was wrong” when he spoke to the star on the phone that evening. “She sounded despondent over her loss of contract with 20th Century-Fox Studios and some other personal matters,” the report quoted Lawford as saying, per AP. ″Lawford tried to convince her to forget about her problems and join him and his wife, Pat, for dinner that evening. She replied that she would consider joining them.” But she never showed. Lawford called Monroe again to see where she was, and with “slurred” speech she said despondently she was tired and wouldn’t be coming. ″Then she stated, ’Say goodbye to Pat, say goodbye to Jack (President John F. Kennedy) and say goodbye to yourself, because you’re a nice guy,” the report said. Then the phone went silent, not as if she’d hung up but “had just put the receiver down—or dropped it,” the Vanity Fair article observed. Lawford told detectives that he later regretted not checking in on her later in the evening. ″For some reason, however, he had a ‘gut feeling’ that something was wrong,” the police report said. ″He states he still blames himself for not going to her home himself.” The documents gave no new information about what had already been reported about her death, Police Chief Daryl Gates said during a press conference. “The evidence showed she was stressed, and she took her own life.”
Despite this, rumors and conspiracy theories have flown that Monroe didn’t die by suicide but that she was murdered. The shocking book, Bombshell: The Night Bobby Kennedy Murdered Marilyn Monroe by Douglas Thompson and M Rothmiller contended that Robert “Bobby Kennedy” was directly responsible for her death in a plot to silence her and protect his, and his brother’s, political career. Bobby and the Kennedy family have consistently denied this claim.
Hollywood grieved for Monroe following her death and many responded with bitterness, blaming the industry and the pressures of being in the public eye. Sir Laurence Olivier said she was “the complete victim of ballyhoo and sensation,” while director Josh Logan said, “She was one of the most unappreciated people in the world.” Her funeral, held on August 8, 1962, was intensely private and only attended by her closest friends. It was organized by DiMaggio, her ex-husband. For the next 20 years, he had six roses delivered to Monroe’s crypt in the Corridor of Memories three times a week.
If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health crisis or suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
For more about Marilyn Monroe, read her 1974 autobiography, My Story. Written in her own words, My Story takes readers through Marilyn’s life, from her childhood as an unwanted orphan to her rise as a movie star and sex symbol. The intimate book also tells all of Marilyn’s three marriages (including with her controversial second husband, Yankee Clipper Joe DiMaggio) and the vision she had of herself as “the kind of girl they found dead in the hall bedroom with an empty bottle of sleeping pills in her hand,” according to the publisher’s description. Illustrated with rare photos of Marilyn throughout her life, My Story tells the real story of how Marilyn became the American Hollywood icon the world knows and loves today.
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