Born Norma Jeane Mortenson on 1st June 1926, the actress and model, Marilyn Monroe was, and in many ways remains, the ultimate sex symbol of our times. She was the top billed actress in Hollywood in the 1950s with her films grossing over $200m. That may not seem a lot in todays money, but in the 1950s it was a different story.
According to The Guide to United States Popular Culture, “as an icon of American popular culture, Monroe’s few rivals in popularity include Elvis Presley and Mickey Mouse … no other star has ever inspired such a wide range of emotions – from lust to pity, from envy to remorse.”
During her life time, she received unprecedented adulation, as has been said countless times before, men wanted to be with her and woman wanted to be her. Being rich, famous, beautiful, courted by Presidents and idolised by many, she appeared to have the perfect life. However there was also the tragic side to her story.
Marilyn suffered on and off with depression, anxiety and substance abuse. Though there are conspiracy theories to the contrary, she died by suicide from an overdose 55 years ago today on 5th August 1962, aged just 36.
She was found around 3am by her housekeeper Eunice Murray who had “sensed something was wrong” and had seen light from under her door which was unusually locked. Unable to get a response through the door, Eunice called Marilyns psychiatrist Dr Ralph Greenson, who had been with her the previous day. Dr Greenson came round shortly after, broke down the door and found her dead, face down on her bed, telephone receiver in hand.
The previous evening Monroe had gone to her bedroom for the night at around 8pm. Actor Peter Lawford had called her and was most likely the last person to speak to her. Lawford had been alarmed, believing she sounded under the influence of drugs telling him “Say goodbye to Pat, say goodbye to the president [Lawford’s brother-in-law], and say goodbye to yourself, because you’re a nice guy”. She then drifted off.
Lawford tried to raise the alarm, but was unable to reach Dr Greenson or her agent Milton Ebbins, and when he talked to the housekeeper, he was assured she was alright.
The Chief Coroner Theodore Curphey, ruled out accidental overdose due to the dosage found in the body being several times over the lethal limit. There was no suicide note, which is not uncommon with less than 40% of those who die by suicide leaving a note. Leading up to her death, she had been known to be in a depressed mood and taking less interest in her appearance, whilst appearing ‘unkempt’.
The final report from the inquest into her death read:
“Miss Monroe had suffered from psychiatric disturbance for a long time. She experienced severe fears and frequent depressions. Mood changes were abrupt and unpredictable. Among symptoms of disorganization, sleep disturbance was prominent, for which she had been taking sedative drugs for many years. She was thus familiar with and experienced in the use of sedative drugs and well aware of their dangers. […] In our investigation we have learned that Miss Monroe had often expressed wishes to give up, to withdraw, and even to die. On more than one occasion in the past, she had made a suicide attempt, using sedative drugs. On these occasions, she had called for help and had been rescued. It is our opinion that the same pattern was repeated on the evening of Aug. 4 except for the rescue. It has been our practice with similar information collected in other cases in the past to recommend a certification for such deaths as probable suicide. Additional clues for suicide provided by the physical evidence are the high level of barbiturates and chloral hydrate in the blood which, with other evidence from the autopsy, indicates the probable ingestion of a large amount of drugs within a short period of time: the completely empty bottle of Nembutal, the prescription for which (25 capsules) was filled the day before the ingestion, and the locked door to the bedroom, which was unusual.”
A few different conspiracy theories claiming she was murdered surfaced in the 1970’s, many of which played on her connection to the Kennedys. An investigation into these, which lasted 3 months, dug up no credible evidence to support them.
To read more about the life and death of Marilyn Monroe, click here