What we still don't know about Brittany Murphy's death

Brittany Murphy won the hearts and minds of movie lovers with her performances in such late '90s and early aughts classics as Clueless, 8 Mile, Riding in Cars with Boys, and Girl, Interrupted. Fans and critics alike hailed her unique brand of street-smart toughness mixed with warm vulnerability and natural comic timing. To many observers it looked like Murphy was bound for superstardom. Then, seemingly overnight, she all but disappeared from the public eye. When she did occasionally show up on screen, it was in films of increasingly dubious quality, and her already diminutive frame was even thinner and frailer than before. Rumors swirled of drug abuse and anorexia, of problematic on-set behavior and a troubled marriage. Then, on December 20, 2009, the unthinkable happened: Murphy, just 32 years old, died in a Los Angeles hospital after what appeared to be a short, flu-like illness.

The official cause of death was pneumonia, anemia, and multiple drug intoxication. Her body, weakened by an iron deficiency and a bug caught while on-set in Puerto Rico, was further ravaged by the drug cocktail she'd taken to ease her symptoms. Pretty cut and dried, right?

Or so people thought, until Brittany Murphy's husband of two years, Simon Monjack, died just five months after Brittany. Further rumors swirled, this time of possible foul play, and to this day there are still a number of unanswered questions surrounding the tragic fate of one of Hollywood's most promising young stars.

Why did Brittany Murphy and those around her wait so long to seek help?

According to Los Angeles County Assistant Chief Coroner Ed Winter, Brittany's death could have been prevented if she'd just sought medical attention when she first started feeling sick. Both Murphy and her husband, Simon Monjack, contracted a virus while on set for the horror flick The Caller in San Juan, Puerto Rico. "She had been sick for at least two weeks," Winter said in an interview. "Had they taken her to a doctor or a hospital, it would have been treatable."

Murphy's reticence when it came to looking out for her own health was, reportedly, a direct result of lobbying on the part of her husband, who had at least partially succeeded in convincing her that too many trips to the doctor would draw unwanted attention and add credence to industry gossip that Brittany Murphy was a "difficult" actress.

The night before her death, Murphy allegedly approached both Simon and her mother, Sharon, who lived with the couple, complaining of weakness and shortness of breath, but it appears that neither Simon nor Sharon took Murphy's symptoms seriously until it was too late.

What did toxic mold have to do with Brittany Murphy's death?

Brittany Murphy's mother, Sharon, eventually grew convinced that both her daughter and Simon died not of pneumonia as the coroner's reports suggested but of illness caused by toxic mold in their home, a sprawling, 8,000-square-foot mansion in the Hollywood Hills that Murphy purchased from Britney Spears in 2003 after Spears broke up with Justin Timberlake.

Sharon began to take seriously the possible role of mold in Murphy and Monjack's deaths in 2011 when she first began trying to sell the home. Having been awarded $600,000 in a settlement with the mansion's builders over the mold issue, she decided to sue her lawyers in that case, arguing that they acted improperly by neglecting to inform her that she was well within her rights to also bring a wrongful death suit against the builders at the same time.

The Los Angeles County coroner's office repeatedly ruled out toxic mold as a factor in the deaths of Brittany Murphy and Simon Monjack, but the fact remains that the home had enough mold in it to prompt a $600,000 settlement and that the two people who spent the most time there also died there, inside its walls, within five months of each other.

Did Hollywood kill Brittany Murphy?

Brittany Murphy was just 18 when she got her big break playing a lovable loser in need of a makeover in Clueless. A slew of enviable roles and opportunities followed, including the role of a tough-as-nails ex-prostitute in Sin City and the chance to voice the part of Luanne for Fox's animated series King of the Hill. Soon, Brittany was Hollywood's "it" girl. The problem with "it" girls, though? There's always another one waiting around the corner.

To Murphy's dismay, the offers eventually stopped coming, and when they did come they were usually for undesirable projects: B movies, hackneyed thrillers, shows way beneath her pay grade. Murphy was, however, very excited about the chance to work on the Warner Bros. animated feature Happy Feet 2, but that role was rescinded just two weeks before she died. Her husband, Simon Monjack, went so far as to file a wrongful death lawsuit against the studio, arguing that the disappointment and despair Brittany Murphy felt in losing that work led to her decline.

It's impossible to prove that going from Hollywood royalty to B-movie afterthought played a direct role in Brittany Murphy's death, and it's worth noting here that she probably lost the part in Happy Feet 2 due to rumors about Monjack's drunken behavior on a previous film set. That said, she certainly isn't the only actress to grow depressed and even slip away after watching her star fall, and it's sad to say she probably won't be the last.

Did Brittany Murphy's husband get her hooked on drugs?

Brittany Murphy's husband, Simon Monjack, blamed Hollywood for Brittany's demise, and it is true that Murphy struggled to find roles in her final years. Some friends, though, counter that Monjack, a British charmer in need of a visa, was the real problem. According to the Hollywood Reporter, Monjack was a borderline sociopath and a compulsive liar with a pill-popping problem who caught the impressionable Murphy in his web of lies and addictions, leaving her with an insatiable appetite for prescription drugs.

The coroner found that when Brittany Murphy died she had acetaminophen, hydrocodone, chlorpheniramine, and L-methamphetamine in her system. Many of these drugs are found in over-the-counter medications. The rest are available with a prescription. None of them are illegal, but that doesn't make them harmless, especially when taken together over a short amount of time while one's body is already compromised by illness.

Monjack, who suffered from seizures and a number of other health problems (some seemingly real, and some possibly imagined or faked), was known to doctor shop to get prescription medications, and he seems to have gotten Murphy into the game. At the time of her death, investigators found countless pill bottles in Brittany Murphy's house.

Did Brittany Murphy's husband tell the truth about anything?

The clearest and most detailed accounts the public has of Brittany Murphy's final moments are courtesy of her mother, Sharon, and her husband, Simon Monjack, both of whom were with Murphy as she grew increasingly ill and unresponsive. But Monjack's veracity had come under fire even before his wife's tragic death, leading many to refer to him as "Con-Jack."

Brittany Murphy met Monjack at a party, and the two married in 2007 after a whirlwind romance. After their wedding, they largely retreated from the rest of the world. The retreat might have been deliberate on Monjack's part. Prior to meeting Murphy, he had dated and deceived a number of women, leaving them bitter and debt-ridden. Of course, he didn't tell Murphy about these women or the dire financial straits he left them in. He did, however, tell Murphy, that his mother was abusive. (Phone records show he spoke to his mom nearly every day, which is a little odd for someone who recognizes they're being abused, but each case of abuse is difficult and unique, so it's hard to say on that one.)

Monjack sold himself as a successful screenwriter, but according to director George Hickenlooper, his only credit was as a contributing writer to Factory Girl. According to Us Weekly, Hickenlooper tried to warn Murphy away from Monjack, but she was already deeply in love. "I only hope to God that this creep wasn't instrumental in her sad, sad demise," Hickenlooper said.

Did anorexia play a role in Brittany Murphy's death?

Rumors of drug use plagued Brittany Murphy for the bulk of her acting career, and, toward the end of her life, a number of friends and casual observers thought she might be suffering from anorexia as well. Murphy was always on the small side, and she was, in fact, self-conscious about her petite shape, according to those who knew her. At 5'2", she was painfully aware that she lacked the statuesque look of some of the most sought-after Hollywood actresses, so she often tried to disguise her short stature with tall shoes.

Murphy, noticeably stouter in her breakout role as Tai Frasier in Clueless than in her later appearances when her both her face and figure struck some as alarmingly gaunt, always denied that she had an eating disorder, insisting that she was happy and healthy and living her best life. She even credited ballet with giving her limbs their thin, toned look.

Others, though, said it was clear that Brittany Murphy skimped on food in favor of coffee, prescription drugs, and plastic surgery. Not exactly the breakfast of champions, if so — more the meal of a starlet trying desperately to maintain her spot in the firmament.

Were Brittany Murphy and her husband poisoned by the government?

So hang with us here. Yes, this sounds crazy — and it probably is — but Brittany Murphy's father, Angelo Bertolotti, was convinced that his daughter and Simon Monjack might have been targeted by the Department of Homeland Security. Murphy was estranged from her father, who died at 92 in 2018, for much of her adult life. After she died, though, Bertolotti was suddenly all over the news, speculating that his daughter and son-in-law might have been poisoned by government agents.

This was supposedly because Murphy had sided with a whistleblower-turned-Angelia-Jolie-stunt-double named Julia Davis who voiced concern about improperly processed applications. In a filing with the National Whistleblower Center, Davis complained that she and her supporters were subjected to all manner of intrusive and illegal government surveillance, including being followed by Blackhawk helicopters.

Bertolotti had been sure since the beginning that his daughter's death was a result of foul play, and he went so far as to have a toxicology test done on Murphy's hair. The results were mixed, but one showed the presence of at least ten different heavy metals, suggesting that perhaps Murphy had ingested rat poison. The metals might also have a much more benign explanation: Brittany Murphy often dyed her hair. Brittany's mother strongly disputed basically all of this.

We report, you decide.

What about that bug Brittany Murphy caught in San Juan?

In 2010, Brittany Murphy was all set to star in The Caller, a supernatural horror flick about a woman getting a series of disturbing phone calls from someone who claims to be from the past. But depending on whose story you want to believe, Murphy either left the film because she was put off by its horror elements or was replaced by Rachelle LeFevre because A) LeFevre's star was on the rise and Murphy's was on the decline and B) Simon Monjack was repeatedly drunk and disorderly on set.

Either way, Murphy and Monjack decided to stay in San Juan for a bit, relaxing and trying to put the setback behind them. On the flight home, though, Monjack grew gravely ill and had to be hospitalized. He soon rallied, while Murphy grew steadily weaker. Both Murphy and Monjack had most likely contracted staphylococcus aureus in San Juan, and it was that bug that went on to cause the pneumonia that ultimately killed them both.

Why, though, did Brittany Murphy die within weeks of contracting the virus, whereas Monjack, plagued with seizures, asthma, and even a heart attack, lasted several more months? We might never know.

Did Brittany Murphy have a cocaine-ravaged heart?

Brittany Murphy's mother, Sharon, has always been adamant in her denials of her daughter's illegal drug use, and Monjack joined her in such denials, saying that Brittany had a heart murmur, making something like cocaine far too risky. But some in Hollywood thought they saw in Brittany's shrinking frame and sometimes erratic behavior a possible dependence on heroin and cocaine.

Murphy herself said this about cocaine in 2005: "I have never tried it in my entire life. I've never even seen it. I am also way too high-strung. I can't even take a Sudafed. Can you imagine? My God. I think my heart would explode."

But like so many aspects of Murphy's short life, whether she did or did not use illegal drugs has become a matter of he said/she said/they said. One makeup artist said in the aftermath of Murphy's death that she was often a hot mess who tended to nod off in the chair. One industry insider who worked with Murphy said she'd turned into a "space cadet" in her final years. Another said Brittany Murphy's death came as no surprise to anyone who had seen or interacted with her recently: "I'm not psychic, and I could have predicted it."

Over-the-counter or under-the-table?

Brittany Murphy was found to have a number of prescription drugs in her system when she died. It was also discovered that she had traces of metal in her hair, which her father took as proof that murderous government agents had killed his daughter in revenge for her speaking out against them. Another perhaps more realistic but just as creepy explanation could be that the many medications she took leading up to her death were tainted with extraneous chemicals.

The theory gains credence only because Murphy's husband, Simon Monjack, was a notorious doctor shopper. He used aliases to obtain more and more prescriptions to treat what many considered to be his imaginary illnesses. So Murphy might have, in effect, been killed by her husband's bad habits.

Another possibility, though, put forth by forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden, is that the samples of Murphy's hair used in the tests were themselves contaminated by something as harmless as time and packaging. "If the hair was taken at the time of the autopsy and then kept at the coroner's office for four years, finding the heavy metals can all be an artifact … from the container in which it was kept," he told Page Six, adding that the results are "interesting, but do not demonstrate criminality or cause of death."

Was Brittany Murphy suicidal?

Brittany's career had undoubtedly tanked in the years leading up to her death. Her husband even went so far as to suggest she had grown suicidal because the roles she was being offered were so terrible and not worth her time and talents. Her final hours, spent gasping for breath in the peach bathroom she loved, hint at a woman on the brink. But many reports suggest that Murphy, regardless of the professional setbacks she suffered in her mid- to late thirties, had things to look forward to. Namely, she hoped to move to New York to pursue more live theater opportunities. She also wanted to someday become a mother.

Monjack's suggestion that Murphy had considered ending her life should probably be taken with a considerable grain of salt, given his reputation as an inveterate liar and cheat. Or to be more charitable, it's possible his claim arose out of a desire to defend Murphy against a fickle industry that had chewed her up and spit her out.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Why didn't Brittany Murphy leave her husband any money in her will?

A discussion of Brittany Murphy's will might, at first glance, seem tangential to the circumstances surrounding her death, but it's possible that a decision Murphy made at the end of her life could shed some light on what she was thinking and feeling as her health failed.

Murphy, who claimed to adore her husband, Simon "Conjack" Monjack, left him out of her will, making her mother, Sharon, her sole beneficiary. This omission has led some to speculate that Murphy sensed her husband was having a negative impact on her life and finances. Indeed, when they first got together, Murphy was worth millions, whereas Monjack had been evicted from his house by his mortgage company.

Monjack claimed that Murphy left him out of the will at his request. He did not want anyone to think he'd married his precious Brittany for her money, but an anonymous ex-girlfriend told a gossip rag that Monjack had once claimed that he owned Air Jamaica, had an affair with Damien Hirst, and murdered at least one man, so maybe he's not the most credible source.

One thing is certain: Brittany Murphy was very close with her mother, so she might have made the choice to give everything to Sharon out of depthless, filial love.