“Probable suicide” was scribbled on her death certificate, which indicates great doubt surrounding the circumstances. Many speculate it was an accidental overdose. Others believe it was homicide. She was a beautiful starlet and an international sensation whose life came to a tragic, unnecessary, abrupt end. She has been hailed as the greatest star of the 20th century. Norma Jeane Mortensen was born on June 1, 1926. Marilyn Monroe died on August 5, 1962. She was 36 years old.
Norma Jeane was the third child born to Gladys Pearl Monroe (Baker Mortenson Eley). Gladys was born around 1900 and married Jack Baker in California as a teen. Two children were born of the marriage. Gladys and Jack divorced, and Jack took their children away from her and left for Kentucky. Gladys started a new life in California on her own and married Edward Mortenson, but the marriage was brief, and he was long gone by the time Norma Jeane was born. Mortenson was believed to be one of two men who may have fathered Marilyn Monroe. The other is C. Stanley Gifford, who was a coworker of Gladys. Only 12 days after her birth, Gladys put her infant into a foster home. When Norma Jeane was 8, Gladys purchased a small home, took her out of foster care, and they lived there together. However, some things are just not meant to be, and in less than a year, Gladys suffered a nervous breakdown and was institutionalized in a state asylum. Her diagnosis was paranoid schizophrenia. This left Norma Jeane once again in the midst of foster care, orphanages, and insecurity. To say that her childhood had been difficult would be an understatement. As a child, Norma Jeane never had the opportunity to truly develop a relationship with her mother, and never knew her father. Later in life, Marilyn stated she had grown up as an orphan and that her parents were dead. Eventually the public learned about Gladys, and Marilyn told the press that she had “lied” about her mother to protect Gladys’ fragile state and maintain her privacy. Marilyn earned public support, sympathy, and empathy through the gesture.
Norma Jeane first married at age 16. It was an arranged marriage to James Dougherty to keep her out of the orphanage system. By 1944, her discontent with the marriage became apparent, and Marilyn later recalled that during that marriage she made a suicide attempt, though “not a very serious one.” In 1944, Jim shipped overseas and Norma Jeane took a job at a military defense plant called Radio Plane Company. It was at that time that she also embarked on a modest modeling career. In 1946, Norma Jeane filed for divorce and made a quick exit out of the life of Dougherty to pursue her acting career.
1946 brought new opportunities for Norma Jeane and, under the advice of studio executives, she changed her name to Marilyn Monroe, retaining her mother’s maiden name as the only link to her past. She bid goodbye to Norma Jean and truly became Marilyn Monroe. While still modeling, she began landing small movie parts, including Love Happy with the Marx Brothers and a press tour (1949), eventually taking her to All About Eve (1950), where she drew national attention and acclaim. By 1952, she had her first starring role in Don’t Bother to Knock, and her fame exploded onto the Hollywood scene, quickly bubbling up to an international level.
“We should all start to live before we get too old. Fear is stupid. So are regrets.”
— Marilyn Monroe
In 1952, Marilyn began a relationship with baseball legend Joe DiMaggio. In January 1954, they were wed in San Francisco. The union did not work out and they were divorced in October 1954 after just 274 days of marriage. Marilyn’s petition charged DiMaggio with mental cruelty. However, the two remained close, and DiMaggio continued to look after Marilyn.
Marilyn rebounded quickly and found love again with playwright Arthur Miller, and they married in 1956. Things in the marriage with Miller went steadily from bad to worse, and in 1961, they divorced.
Over the course of many years, Marilyn had several miscarriages, and reportedly aborted pregnancies as well. Marilyn had become known for episodes of depression, substance abuse, the staging of suicides, and mental illness. After her marriage to Miller ended, she was in a very fragile state of mind and was admitted to a psychiatric clinic for what amounted to a nervous breakdown. Joe DiMaggio secured her release and took her to Florida for a period of rest and mental relaxation.
Recuperated and rejuvenated, Marilyn returned to California. During this period of time, Marilyn became a pal of the Rat Pack (Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop). She purportedly had an intense love affair with President John Kennedy, and perhaps his brother Robert as well. Even though Marilyn was too ill to work on her last film, Something’s Got to Give, with Dean Martin, she still traveled to perform at JFK’s birthday bash, where she seductively sang Happy Birthday to the president. After Marilyn’s passing, the film was ultimately cancelled.
On August 4th, 1962, there was quite a cast of characters surrounding Marilyn. There was her doctor, Hyman Engelberg, who stated that Marilyn was in a good mood and stable. Her psychiatrist, Dr. Ralph Greenson, had spent part of the day with Marilyn. Her housekeeper, Eunice Murray, was on the premises all day, and discovered Marilyn in a comatose state. Norman Jeffries, handyman and former son-in-law of Eunice Murray, was working on the property. Witnesses reported that Robert Kennedy had been by as well, with two men in tow. She had a telephone conversation with Joe DiMaggio Jr., and he corroborated that she was in a perfectly good mood. Peter Lawford and Pat Newcomb have been placed at Marilyn’s home that evening. So how did the actress who has been named by TV Guide Network as Film’s Sexiest Woman of All Time end up dead?
There are several theories regarding the death of Marilyn Monroe. These theories have been covered by multiple books, television shows, documentaries, interviews, and more. Let’s re-examine the most popular scenarios.
The Kennedys and/or the CIA did it.
Witnesses, including Norman Jeffries, state that Robert Kennedy visited with Marilyn that day. Jeffries reportedly claimed that Kennedy asked him and Eunice Murray to leave the premises upon their arrival. He further claimed that after Kennedy and company left, he and Eunice found Marilyn comatose in the guest house, and her cabinets had all been disturbed. It’s been said that Marilyn had become unrealistic about her affair with JFK, and her telephone calls and letters to him had gotten out of control.
The Mafia did it.
Marilyn was acquainted with top mob men, but why would they want her dead? Some believe it was a ploy by the Mafia to blame her death on the Kennedys and topple the presidency of JFK. Could Marilyn have known things about Sam Giancana and the Kennedys, potentially something that could have cost her life?
The doctors did it (accidental overdose).
Many theorize that Marilyn’s two doctors, Engelberg and Greenson, had both given her prescriptions for barbiturates. Neither had advised the other of the scripts. Engelberg disputed the claim. Seconal and chloral hydrate had been found in her system. If one were oral and the other a barbiturate enema, it is plausible that an accidental death by acute barbiturate poisoning could have occurred. It would seem likely that Eunice Murray would have assisted with the enema, and would have subsequently gone back to check on Marilyn. Eunice reportedly noticed something was wrong with Marilyn sometime around 3:25 am, and contacted her doctors. Eunice did not call the police department until 4:25 am, and was running the washing machine and straightening up when the police arrived.
It was a suicide.
Marilyn wanted to die and overdosed herself? Her doctor and her stepson both reported that she was in good spirits. She didn’t leave a note for her fans, who meant the world to her. A 1982 district attorney’s report states that roughly 15 prescription bottles were found at the scene. Peter Lawford supposedly got a “good-bye” telephone call from Marilyn earlier in the evening. Did her state of depression lead her down the dark road of ingesting a lethal amount of pills?
On August 3, 1962, Life Magazine published the last interview given by Marilyn. During it, she talked about fame and how it had affected her life.
Other leading roles she portrayed and left to her fans include those inNiagra, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, How to Marry a Millionaire, River of No Return, The Seven Year Itch, Bus Stop, The Prince and the Showgirl, Some Like It Hot, and her last movie with Clark Gable, The Misfits, where she had developed a reputation for unreliability, instability, and drug use.
Exactly how Marilyn died has been debated for over 50 years. Her death, classified as a “probable suicide” due to barbiturates, leaves open conjecture that there was the possibility of an accidental overdose or potential homicide. In 1982, the case was reopened due to a coroner’s investigator who claimed he had been coerced. The police officer who arrived on the scene that night always felt something wasn’t quite right.
What do you think happened to Marilyn?
- Bell R. Marilyn Monroe. Tru TV Web site. http://www.trutv.com/library/crime/notorious_murders/celebrity/marilyn_monroe/index.html.
- Biography for Marilyn Monroe. IMDb.com. http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000054/bio.
- Brilliant stardom and personal tragedy punctuated the life of Marilyn Monroe. New York Times Web site. August 6, 1962. http://www.nytimes.com/learning/general/onthisday/bday/0601.html.
- Hannity S. How did Marilyn Monroe really die? Fox News Web site. July 27, 2009. http://www.foxnews.com/on-air/hannity/2009/07/27/how-did-marilyn-monroe-really-die.
- Marilyn Monroe. American National Biography Online Web site. http://www.anb.org/articles/18/18-00856.html.
- Marilyn Monroe. Biography Web site. http://www.biography.com/people/marilyn-monroe-9412123.
- Marilyn Monroe dead, pills near. New York Times Web site. August 6, 1962. http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/11/22/specials/monroe-obit1.html.
- New Chapter in the Mystery of Marilyn: Her Own Words? Fox News Web site. December 29, 2012. http://www.foxnews.com/entertainment/2012/12/28/new-fbi-files-on-marilyn-monroe-reveal-lefty-politics-little-on-death/.
- Welkos RW. New chapter in the mystery of Marilyn: her own words? Los Angeles Times Web site. August 5, 2005. http://articles.latimes.com/2005/aug/05/entertainment/et-marilyn5.
- Audio Interview, 1955: http://pastdaily.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/marilyn-monroe-interview-1955.mp3.
- Audio Interview, 1956: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FQj3nRZT3Dc.