How Did Marilyn Monroe Die? All the Rumors and Conspiracy Theories Explained
New Netflix drama 'Blonde' resurfaces many old questions about Marilyn Monroe's death.
Marilyn Monroe was the most captivating, glamorous movie star of her time, and her 1962 death at the far-too-young age of 36 remains one of Hollywood’s most tragic losses. Perhaps that's why the rumors surrounding her death—and the belief that her passing was somehow more nefarious than it appeared to be on the surface—have persisted for 60 years.
In 1985, journalist Anthony Summers published the book Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe, for which he compiled hundreds of recorded interviews with more than 600 people: showbiz insiders, Monroe’s inner circle of friends (and friends of those friends), law enforcement officers, private investigators and more. It was an immediate bestseller—and now, 60 years after Monroe’s death, Summers is publishing an update to his book which promises to include new information. Netflix has also premiered a documentary special on Monroe that draws from Summers’ work and puts his investigation into her life and death at the forefront, with actors giving lip readings of his previously undisclosed interviews. The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe: The Unheard Tapes, which arrived earlier in 2022, isn't the only Marilyn Monroe movie on Netflix this year.
The highly anticipated, Blonde, based on the Joyce Carol Oates novel of the same name dropped on Netflix on Sept. 30 and immediately shot to the top of the streamer's movie chart.
The new movie, starring Ana de Armas as Monroe, loosely recreates the many heartbreaks and tragedies of blonde starlet’s life and career. While the movie itself is being widely panned by critics and viewers (43% approval on Rotten Tomatoes), de Armas is being lauded for her portrayal of Monroe.
Keep reading to find out what we know about Marilyn Monroe's death and how she died—plus, the facts surrounding the most persistent rumors.
When did Marilyn Monroe die?
Marilyn Monroe was found dead in her home on August 4, 1962. She was discovered lying nude on her bed, face down, with a telephone in one hand.
How did Marilyn Monroe die?
Monroe died from an overdose of sleeping pills. The coroner’s toxicology report stated the official cause of death was acute barbiturate poisoning and ruled out the possibility that it was accidental, because the dosages were well over the lethal limit. However, rumors almost immediately began to surface that foul play was involved—and those rumors have persisted in the decades since. In 1982, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office began looking into whether there was enough evidence to support opening a criminal investigation into her death, but did not find any credible evidence to support the idea that Monroe was murdered. Still, rumors and theories to this day suggest that Monroe’s death was more than it seemed.
Related: 50 Marilyn Monroe Quotes That'll Have You Feeling Empowered, Inspired and Confident
Was the CIA involved in Marilyn Monroe’s death?
Speculation that the Central Intelligence Agency was behind Monroe’s death originated in the late 1960s, drawing their tenuous support from rumors about Monroe’s romantic involvement with Robert Kennedy, who was the U.S. Attorney General at the time. There were also rumors of her involvement with President John F. Kennedy, which started when he was a senator. The theory posits that the CIA arranged to have Monroe killed either because the Kennedy brothers shared too many state secrets with her, thus making her a threat to national security, or because they were “getting even” with the Kennedys for the Bay of Pigs fiasco. This theory gained traction with Norman Mailer’s 1973 biography of Monroe, in which he speculated that she was killed by either the FBI or CIA to put pressure on the Kennedys. However, Mailer publicly retracted his theory on 60 Minutes later that year and no evidence exists to support any theory that a government agency was involved in Monroe’s death.
Did the Mafia arrange to have Marilyn Monroe killed?
The conspiracy theories about Mafia involvement in Monroe’s death derive in large part from a 1982 book titled Marilyn Monroe: Murder Cover-Up, written by Milo Speriglio, a private investigator. Speriglio pointed the finger at Jimmy Hoffa and mob boss Sam Giancana as Monroe’s killers. In 1992, Giancana’s brother and godson published Double Cross, which alleged that the CIA put out a contract on Monroe’s life because of her involvement with Robert Kennedy, and Giancana accepted that contract. There is no evidence to support any theory of Mafia involvement in Monroe’s death.
Related: These 14 Candid Photos of Marilyn Monroe Show the Actress Like We've Never Seen Her Before
Was Marilyn Monroe in a relationship with John F. Kennedy?
Rumors about Monroe’s affair with JFK have persisted for decades, largely based on her performance of “Happy Birthday” at the president’s celebration in May 1962. Those who deny they were having a long-term affair speculate that there was a “dalliance,” but nothing more, pointing to the fact that there’s only one photo of them together as evidence. Donald Spoto, who authored a 1993 biography of Monroe, writes, “No serious biographer can maintain the existence of an affair between Marilyn and the Kennedys. All we can say for sure is that the actress and the President have met four times, between October 1961 and August 1962, and it was during one of those meetings, that they called to a friendly relation of Marilyn from a bedroom. Shortly after, Marilyn confided this sexual relation to her close relatives, insisting about the fact that their affair ended there.”
The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe leans in to the idea that the relationship between Monroe and John F. Kennedy was more than a dalliance, with some of the previously unheard tapes suggesting that their affair began long before Kennedy became president, and that they were assisted in their trysts by actor Peter Lawford, who was married to Kennedy’s sister, Patricia.
Was Marilyn Monroe in a relationship with Robert Kennedy?
The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe alleges that the Kennedy who had claimed Monroe’s heart was not John, but his younger brother Robert, and that she was sleeping with both brothers during the same time period. Further, it suggests that the deep depression which led to Monroe's overdose was prompted by Robert Kennedy ending their affair.
Related: See Rare Images from Marilyn Monroe's Last Photo Shoot
Were the Kennedys involved in Marilyn Monroe’s death?
As with the conspiracy theory about the CIA involvement in Monroe’s death, the idea that either John or Robert Kennedy (or both) had ordered her death revolves around the notion that Monroe was a Communist, or Communist sympathizer–suspicions that began with her marriage to famed playwright Arthur Miller because of his own potential links to Communism. This theory posits that Robert Kennedy had Monroe killed because she knew too many state secrets and had threatened to expose them. Alternatively, it's been suggested that Kennedy had her killed before she could reveal their affair to the public and endanger his career. The origin of this theory comes from the 1962 book The Strange Death of Marilyn Monroe by Frank A. Capell, who was a known anti-Communist activist. His theories never received serious consideration.
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Summers’ tapes, as revealed in The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe, further his own theory, first put forth in his book, that while Robert Kennedy was not directly involved in Monroe’s death, he was partially responsible for covering up some key details about her overdose. Summers' research has suggested that Robert Kennedy was at Monroe’s house on the day she died and that a reporter at the time claimed to have found evidence of this visit, but was encouraged by Kennedy’s people not to run the story. (To be fair, most of these tapes are of people who provide second- or third-hand details of stories they heard from other people.)
Did the FBI cover up Marilyn Monroe’s death?
Again, Summers’ tapes point to FBI assistance in hiding key details about the night Monroe died, based on his interview with Monroe’s housekeeper, Eunice Murray. They also indicate a number of discrepancies between the official story about her death given to the press and various private accounts—the wife of Monroe’s press agent, for one, and an ambulance driver called to Monroe’s house, for another. Again, the tapes are of people at least once removed from the individuals who were on the scene, giving their opinions without hard documentation. Summers also explains why only one photograph of Monroe and the Kennedys exists: men “claiming to be FBI” seized other photos from at least one agency after Monroe’s death. There is also an interview with a former FBI agent who claims to have been aware that records of the affairs between Monroe and the Kennedys were removed by the FBI, either acting from the orders of then-Director J. Edgar Hoover or one of the Kennedys.
Did Marilyn Monroe’s doctors cover up her death?
Summers’ tapes played during The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe also suggest that Dr. Greenson, the psychiatrist treating Monroe for depression, played a part in creating the public version of the story of her death, given to the press. Once more, the primary accounts are secondhand, at least two years after Monroe’s death, and Greenson’s surviving family members are clearly guarded in their responses to Summers’ questioning. On one tape, Greenson’s widow indicates that her husband kept some details of the night of Monroe’s death from his family, so as not to burden them. What burden he meant is left unsaid.
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