If you’re at all a fan of ‘90s and ‘00s films, you know who Brittany Murphy is. The beautiful blonde starlet with impressive acting chops got her start as Tai in 1995’s Clueless, and her momentum continued with films like Girl, Interrupted (1999), 8 Mile (2002), and Uptown Girls (2003). She even dabbled in voice acting, with roles on King of the Hill and in Happy Feet (2006).
By the mid-aughts, it seemed like Murphy’s undeniable talent and irresistible charm would catapult her to the A-list—and it very well may have, had it not been for her tragically premature death.
Brittany Murphy’s Unexpected Death
On December 20, 2009, paramedics responded to a call from Murphy’s mother, Sharon, stating that the starlet had collapsed in the home she shared with Sharon and her husband, Simon Monjack. Despite medical personnel’s best efforts, Murphy was pronounced dead at 10 a.m. the next morning. She was only 32 years old.
The world was shocked that such a bright star had gone out so prematurely; it seemed impossible that she could have simply passed away. It would later be revealed in HBO Max’s 2021 documentary, What Happened, Brittany Murphy? that while those close to her were equally devastated to hear of her death, they weren’t quite as surprised.
According to testimony from the film, Murphy’s career had been going downhill in the years leading up to her passing. She hadn’t seemed like herself since 2007, and she was missing out on roles due to her increasingly scattered and faraway demeanor.
She kept forgetting her lines and friends of hers were noticing that she was getting dangerously thin. Those around Murphy were worried about her, but when they tried to voice their concerns, they didn’t feel like anything they said was getting through to her.
Murphy’s Marriage To Simon Monjack
Most of her loved ones attributed these changes to her marriage to Simon Monjack, a man who seemed like an odd choice for such a successful, beautiful starlet. Monjack had quite the criminal history, with charges including theft and credit card fraud, as well as multiple evictions and lawsuits filed against him over the years—and, as was posthumously revealed, two secret children (per The New York Post).
Despite catching wind of Monjack’s criminal history, Murphy had fallen under his spell and the two were married in 2007. Unfortunately, Monjack was extremely controlling toward his new bride, beginning by disconnecting her phone lines in an attempt to isolate her from her loved ones.
According to What Happened, Brittany Murphy?, Monjack made Murphy fire her whole team so that he could act as her stylist, makeup artist, and manager. He wouldn’t allow Murphy to film intimate scenes with other men, and he would often show up to sets under the influence of alcohol. Murphy was in fact fired from her final project as a result of Monjack’s unprofessional behavior (per LA Weekly).
To those around Murphy, it was clear that something was terribly wrong—and that something was Simon. However, there is only so much that a well-intentioned friend can do for a victim who is forcibly isolated and manipulated.
Monjack’s Sketchy Behavior Following Murphy’s Death
The L.A. County Coroner’s Office ruled that Murphy’s official cause of death was pneumonia with secondary factors of severe iron-deficiency anemia and multiple drug intoxication. Immediately, tongues began wagging about the reliability of this claim and all eyes were set on Monjack to see how he would react.
The first cause for speculation was the fact that Monjack wouldn’t allow an autopsy to be performed on Murphy’s body. While this was already considered suspicious by some due to the star’s young age at the time of her passing, Monjack dug himself a deeper hole during a now-infamous interview with Larry King.
“There was this woman who had just lost her daughter who—who, to us, it was such a shock, this pristine body that was curvy in all the right places and … the skin like silk and I—how could I say, in front of her mother, ‘cut her up?’ Monjack said of his decision.
And speaking of Murphy’s mother, Sharon, there was the matter of her strange relationship with Monjack. The pair admitted in the same Larry King interview that they had come to share a bed in the wake of Murphy’s passing. A questionable photoshoot they did together just added fuel to the rumors of an inappropriate dynamic between the in-laws.
These strange occurrences combined with Monjack’s history of fraud and abuse to create the perfect fodder for a conspiracy theory that has managed to endure for over a decade.
Just how accidental was Murphy’s death? Could Monjack have murdered Murphy for her money?
To this day, new video essays are being released on YouTube that detail the case and speculate about various ways she could have been murdered—and it’s understandable that we would want someone to blame, right?
The Fact Of The Matter
There’s no denying that Brittany Murphy’s death was a complete and total tragedy. It is absolutely true that Simon Monjack’s manipulation and abuse might have had something to do with her passing, but did he kill her in cold blood? It’s unlikely.
Monjack himself went on to pass away under identical circumstances just five months after his wife’s death. His family admitted to HBO filmmaker Cynthia Hill that he didn’t take good care of himself physically.
As for a financial motive? According to People, Monjack wasn’t the beneficiary of Murphy’s estate, Sharon was. It seems more likely that he cozied up to Sharon in the wake of Murphy’s passing in hopes of getting a piece of the pie.
All this is not to deny Monjack’s evident culpability in this devastating saga, but to emphasize that trying to turn Murphy’s demise into a sensationalized murder mystery is doing her legacy a disservice.
Brittany Murphy was a victim, absolutely. She was a victim of the cruel, unrelenting misogyny of Hollywood from the moment she stepped on the scene. She was denied roles due to being told she was “not f*ckable enough” (per Esquire).
When she made attempts to mold her appearance to the strict industry standards, she was still referred to as “the fat chick from Clueless” (per The Howard Stern Show).
Murphy, along with many young Hollywood starlets—perhaps especially in the early ’00s—was dehumanized beyond belief by media outlets. Perez Hilton told HBO he “didn’t even view Brittany Murphy or any of the celebrities [he] covered as real people.”
This relentless scrutiny and criticism left Murphy susceptible to Monjack’s conniving ways, and yes, she became the victim of his abuse and manipulation. Monjack sunk his claws into Murphy and didn’t let go until she was a shell of her former self. He fueled her eating disorder, contributed to her dependency on various pills, and finally, failed to deliver medical attention to his wife in her final days.
However, making Murphy’s story all about this vile man is missing the point. What Happened, Brittany Murphy? director Cynthia Hill put it nicely when speaking to Vanity Fair.
“I feel a little bit conflicted that Simon kind of hijacks Brittany’s story … I think that it is a story about power and control—in Hollywood and in relationships—and the damage that things can do to an individual and how things can get lost in that.”
Brittany Murphy’s Legacy
It’s been 13 years since the world lost Brittany Murphy, and it’s time we put the speculation and conspiracies to rest. It’s time we stopped giving her abuser any more attention than he deserves. It’s time we focused on the radiant, loving, talented woman who was Brittany Murphy and her impact on those close to her as well as her millions of adoring fans.
Hill had an amazing insight into Murphy’s life and legacy that seems like a great way to end this rant.
“…what I think surprised me is the consistency of the way people talk about Brittany—people who knew her as a child, who worked with her, even at the very end. The love and admiration they had for her…their descriptions of her generosity. That did not change about her.
She still was the same person who moved to L.A. with these bright, bright eyes and all this hope. Bad things happened to her, and the end of her life is very tragic and sad. But from talking to these people, even at the end, I do think she was still that same person.”
With all of this being said, let’s do Brittany Murphy a favor: Let’s stop making her legacy all about how her life ended, and focus on the impact she made on the world while she was physically here—an impact that lives on through her work to this day.