The Story of Late Hollywood Icon Brittany Murphy
| LAST UPDATE 10/19/2021
Once dubbed the queen of rom-coms, Brittany Murphy's untimely passing shook the world of Hollywood and beyond. From her humble beginnings to the mysteries following her passing, this is the late starlet's story.
Brittany became one of Hollywood's sweethearts for some time in the early 2000s. But long before that, the talented icon lived a humble life in America's Peach State. Murphy was born in Atlanta, Georgia, on November 10, 1977.
The young starlet had a charm and charisma about her from early on in life. But behind that smile, Brittany's world wasn't all rainbows and butterflies. Her parents, Sharon Kathleen Murphy and Angelo Joseph Bertolotti, divorced when the future actress was two years old.
An Absent Father
After the divorce, Brittany's father Angelo became an inconsistent figure in her life. The two would go through long periods without seeing or talking to each other, only to reconnect at times. While that relationship was a rocky one, Murphy's bond with her mom Sharon was unbreakable.
The mother-daughter duo moved from Georgia to New Jersey not long after the divorce. Spending so much time just the two of them laid the foundation for a unique friendship not ordinarily experienced by many moms with their kids. Plus, Sharon was Brittany's number one supporter when it came to her dreams.
A Young Talent
It didn't take long for Sharon to pick up that her daughter had some special talents. So at the mere age of four, she enrolled Brittany in singing, dancing, and acting classes. But this wasn't a Dance Mom's kind of pressure situation: Brittany loved it all.
Later, she attended the Verne Fowler School of Dance and Theatre in Colonia, New Jersey. And Sharon wasn't the only one who saw the potential in her young daughter: teachers and instructors were consistently impressed by Murphy's almost effortless abilities.
Going to Auditions
Considering how talented she was, even as a child, it's hardly surprising that Brittany began booking things quite quickly. The pre-teen auditioned in New Jersey and New York, always supported by her mom and best friend Sharon. The hard work paid off.
Thanks to Brittany's innate abilities and dedication to acting, dancing, and singing classes, Murphy started booking commercials and other small-scale gigs. Shortly after, the young star began to dream bigger. The northeast just wasn't going to cut it for her.
They Moved to California
Sure, New Jersey was close enough to New York, where plenty of artistic opportunities laid. But for a young girl starting off, there was only one place to be: Los Angeles, California. And that's where Brittany wanted to take her passion and acting skills.
In 1991, when Brittany was around fourteen years old, she asked her mom to move to Los Angeles and pursue her dreams. Sharon's response? "When I asked my mom to move to California, she sold everything and moved out here for me," Murphy recalled. "She always believed in me."
Her First Big Movie Role
The cross-country move seemed worthwhile quite quickly: Brittany soon landed her first Hollywood gig acting as Brenda Drexell in the sitcom Drexell's Class. Unfortunately, the series only got one season. She then had a short-lived role in The Torkelsons spinoff Almost Home.
While her initial gigs ended relatively quickly, Brittany had faith because she kept on booking things. The teen actress got recurring roles in massive 90s hits, including Sister, Sister, Boy Meets World, and Party of Five. But her breakout role came in a 1995 teen comedy flick.
A Life-Changing Part
We're talking about cult classic Clueless, of course. Brittany starred alongside Alicia Silverstone, Stacey Dash, and other icons in the hit comedy and delivered one of the sickest burns in Hollywood history: "You're a virgin who can't drive," her character, Tai, said to protagonist Cher.
So thanks to that famous line and many other legendary scenes, Brittany and her co-stars blew up. Murphy might've been known as the girl with some guest roles and recurring parts in popular shows before, but now she was officially a true Hollywood star.
After the life-changing part in Clueless, Brittany was soon onto other projects. She acted alongside Reese Witherspoon in Freeway and starred in a straight-to-video film titled Drive, among others. Finally, in 1999, Murphy got another big break when she landed a role in Girl, Interrupted.
Her part in the thought-provoking film proved she could go from light-hearted teen comedies to psychological dramas. Brittany wowed audiences alongside Winona Ryder, Angelina Jolie, Clea DuVall, Whoopie Goldberg, Elisabeth Moss, and other big names. But things soon started to take a turn.
A New Look
Around a year after Girl, Interrupted, Murphy emerged with a new look. The previously redhead-turned-brunette spiced things up again and died her hair blonde. But fans and peers couldn't help but notice that the aesthetic changes went beyond a hairdo.
Some worried about her health. "Maybe she felt like she was not the, like, skinny, pretty girl, you know?" Clueless director Amy Heckerling said of why Brittany changed her look. "And then the next few movies she was, you know, thinner, blonde... and all sorts of things like that."
The Paparazzi Loved Her
Whatever the reason for the changes, one thing was for sure: the tabloids were all over it. Just like the paparazzi became attached at the hip to the likes of Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, and Britney Spears, they also followed Brittany Murphy around town.
And along with that came, not surprisingly, endless rumors surrounding Brittany's new aesthetic. But the actress vehemently denied it all. "I'm the same size I was in Clueless. It's just that the weight in your face changes as you grow older," Murphy said. "This is my body... I'm healthy."
A Fling With Eminem
While the rumors and tabloid coverage would ultimately get out of control, Brittany had a few good years left before that. In 2002, the starlet acted in 8 Mile along with Eminem. It wasn't long before gossip started swirling that the two Hollywood icons were a couple.
While the co-stars never confirmed the rumors, their time spent together proved to fans that they had at least a brief romance. "He's brilliant. He's a brilliant young man," Brittany said at the time about the Grammy-winning rapper. But Mr. Marshall was soon history as another lover emerged.
She Became a Rom-Com Queen
Following 8 Mile, Brittany landed her next big role: acting alongside big shot Ashton Kutcher in the 2003 romantic comedy Just Married. The film received negative critical reviews, but that didn't seem to matter to audiences: it was a box office success.
Just Married marked another hit for the Georgia-born actress. Following that achievement, Brittany starred in the legendary Uptown Girls alongside Dakota Fanning and was the protagonist in Little Black Book. But in between gigs, Murphy also enjoyed a budding love life.
Falling for Ashton Kutcher
Ashton and Brittany played on-screen lovers in Just Married, and a bit after filming, they became a couple IRL. "When we were doing the movie, we were just friends," Kutcher told People in early 2003. "We just kind of started hanging out more. And now we've been hanging out a lot more."
Even Ashton's mom couldn't help but talk about how much these two were all loved up. The actor's mother, Diane Portwood, said that the couple was "always holding hands, goofing around, wrestling around on the floor the way people in love do." But sadly, it didn't last.
Two Broken Engagements
By the spring of 2003, it became clear Ashton and Brittany had called it quits. The romance marked the first of a few high-profile relationships the Hollywood icon was involved in. In 2004, Murphy had a roughly five-month engagement with talent manager Jeff Kwatinetz.
The following year saw the starlet with another fiance. Brittany got engaged to a production assistant from her 2004 film Little Black Book. She and Joe Macaluso seemed to be going strong until the couple went their separate ways in August of 2006. As things took a turn in Murphy's love life, they did in her professional life, too.
Rumors Got in the Way of Her Career
As Brittany's figure continued changing throughout the years, the rumor mill kept on churning. More and more theories about the actress's lifestyle developed, and the tabloids became obsessed with throwing ideas out there as to why Brittany Murphy looked the way she did.
But things truly took a turn in 2005, when an E! Online's entertainment journalist ran a blind item about a "Jordache Junky" who had behaved inappropriately at a Hollywood party. Because Brittany was the face of the clothing company at the time, the tabloids quickly assumed she was the subject of the blind item.
In Comes Simon
"The... rumors made her lose roles," claimed Simon Monjack. "All she wanted to do was to make movies. She was waiting for the role that would revive her career, waiting for the call from Penny Marshall or Gary Fleder... that they might remember how talented an actress she was and call with a new magical role."
As Brittany struggled to book significant roles, at least one thing seemed to be looking up: her love life. The actress fell head-over-heels for a man named Simon Monjack and the pair married in a private ceremony in May of 2007. But some people were none too pleased about it...
Not a Popular Guy
According to some reports, Monjack was known around town as "Conjack." Among other rumors, movie director George Hickenlooper, who was friends with Murphy, claimed that Simon lied about being a writer for the 2006 film Factory Girl. Some questioned what else he lied about.
"The last thing I told Brittany is, 'Do you know this guy? I mean, do you really know him? Do you know what you are doing by marrying him?'" George revealed. "Brittany became angry and told me she knew Monjack better than anyone and then hung up on me. A few months later, I tried to phone her... and Monjack would not let me speak to her."
They Bought Britney Spears' House
Despite others' opinions, Brittany stuck by her man. The pair bought a sprawling L.A. mansion about a year after their private wedding. There, they lived with Murphy's mom and BFF Sharon. The actress actually purchased the property from the one-and-only Princess of Pop.
But Spears didn't sell the house happily: she reportedly sold it after experiencing some paranormal activity. "It was so bad that she left," former makeup artist Julianne Kaye said. "She went to the Casa Del Mar hotel to stay there and never went back to the house." Sadly, Murphy would soon be in a similar position.
She Lost a Role
Not long after buying the multi-million dollar mansion that Britney Spears felt was haunted, Murphy traveled to Puerto Rico to film a low-budget thriller about a divorcee who starts to feel haunted in her own house. But Brittany was reportedly fired from the role after just a day of filming.
At the time, some reports claimed that Murphy was let go because she couldn't focus while filming. Other claims said that Simon, who went to Puerto Rico with the actress, ruined her chances by showing up to set intoxicated. In the end, the film's producers called it a mutual parting. Things went seriously downhill from here...
Simon Got Sick
Despite losing her role in the thriller film The Caller, Brittany, Simon, and Sharon all stayed in Puerto Rico, where the movie was filming. The family-of-three didn't leave the island so that the whole thing wouldn't "be a wasted trip," as Monjack said.
But during those eight days in Puerto Rico, Simon and Sharon both caught colds or Staphylococcus. Simon even said he had a "mild heart attack" on the flight from the island back to California. Soon after, Monjack wouldn't be the only one with failing health.
A Haunted House
So the party of three, some of them sick, made their way back to Los Angeles. But the truth was that Brittany didn't want to go back to her sprawling mansion on the hills: the actress hated that home and would plead with Simon to sleep in a hotel instead.
"Every time we would drive up Sunset, Brit would say, 'Please, can we stay at the Beverly Hills Hotel?'" Simon revealed. "I'd say, 'Honey, you've got to be realistic. We have our house... We're going to stay in it.'" Just like Spears, Murphy thought the mansion had wicked energies.
Plans for an NYC Move
So Brittany hated her house and begged to sleep at the Beverly Hills Hotel. But her dislike wasn't limited to the mansion she bought with Simon: Murphy became tired of Los Angeles and Hollywood in general. The talented star no longer booked prominent roles.
Brittany mostly landed low-budget films, in part because of all the negative coverage of her in the tabloids. So maybe it's hardly surprising that the actress wanted to leave L.A. and move to New York City, where she could have somewhat of a fresh start in the film and theater scene. Unfortunately, she didn't get to make that move.
She Felt Sick
Not long after arriving from Puerto Rico, where Simon had returned from quite ill, Brittany also fell sick. The starlet was tired and experienced flu-like symptoms. Her family didn't seem to think it was anything too severe and related the exhaustion to how much she worked.
"She had laryngitis," Simon said, adding that she had also seen a doctor. "She had been tired at the end of the year. She had made a couple movies." Despite feeling exhausted and ill, Brittany pushed forward. The Uptown Girls star even made a red carpet appearance, where she had a final - and chilling - interview.
Her Last Red Carpet Interview
Murphy's last red carpet was for the premiere of Across the Hall, a thriller the starlet acted in. A nearly three-minute video showed Brittany talking distractedly, losing track of the interviewer's questions. At around the same time, she had another interview where she acknowledged she wasn't at her healthiest.
"I am a bit thinner now than what I would like to be," the actress told Fox News' Pop Tarts. Brittany also opened up about her plans for the future. "As far as having a New Year's resolution, I'd love to have a child next year," she told Access Hollywood.
The 911 Call
But as we know, Brittany didn't get to fulfill that dream. On the morning of December 20, 2009, the Los Angeles Fire Department responded to a medical request at the mansion shared by Murphy, her mom, and Simon. According to Monjack, the actress collapsed in her bathroom.
"[Her mother] Sharon went into the bathroom because she had been in there a long time. Her mom screamed for me, and I ran. Then called 911," Simon told Access Hollywood. Murphy passed away in Cedars-Sinai Medical Center around two hours after the call. And things only got more twisted from there.
Simon Gave a House Tour
The tabloids already had plenty of negative things to say about Simon "Conjack," as some called him. And after the actress's passing, the hate got even more intense. But outside of what the press printed, many were left confused by Monjack and Sharon's actions after the untimely passing.
The pair did a photoshoot together and many interviews to defend their reputation and that of the late actress. Some people thought it was weird when Simon did a house tour of the mansion not long after December 20, showing and describing where Brittany had collapsed.
A Fake Charity
Despite what some viewed as sketchy actions, Simon defended himself and insisted that his and Brittany's love was real. But people were once again suspicious after the failed launch of the Brittany Murphy Foundation, which Monjack and Sharon claimed to have established.
"I've put $1 million into escrow to fund it," Simon said. "Of course, that won't get news. It doesn't fit my image as a bad guy." After a launch event in February, the "foundation" ended up having to return many of its donations after it was revealed that its not-for-profit status was not filed. It was later resurrected by a very unexpected figure.
Her Dad Pops Up
Three years after the failed launch of the Brittany Murphy Foundation, the actress's father - who had been in and out of her life - brought it back to life. But that came after years of the largely absent dad, Angelico, giving press interviews and throwing out serious accusations.
At the time, coroners ruled the cause of Murphy's death an accident, pointing at a combination of pneumonia and excessive over-the-counter medications. But Angelico, who hadn't seen Brittany in years, claimed that she had been poisoned. As the tabloids ate up the swirling rumors, the story took another shocking turn.
Simon Passed Away, Too
In May 2010, around five months after Brittany's passing, her husband passed away, too. Just like his wife, Simon spent his last moments in the Los Angeles mansion. Reports stated that he, too, had passed away from pneumonia in addition to severe anemia.
"On Simon's side of the nightstand, we found approximately 90 prescription bottles, with several different names, which is highly unusual," recalled Ed Winter, the coroner involved in both passing. "We also found prescription bottles in Brittany's name and 'Lola Manilow,' [which was] possibly an alias." It wasn't long before new rumors surfaced.
After both Brittany and Simon passed, some people started to suspect that perhaps mold in the gigantic home was the reason for their passing. Sharon initially denied that possibility but later changed her mind and even sued the construction company.
This theory left people confused about how Sharon was healthy while the two younger house residents fell ill. Some became even more suspicious after the lawsuit was settled outside of court. Other theories surrounding their passing proposed government conspiracies. It was only the start of what many deemed a "mystery."