Death of Marilyn Monroe
Marilyn Monroe was found dead on August 5, 1962, in the bedroom of her Brentwood home by her psychiatrist, Dr. Ralph Greenson. She was 36 years old. Her death was determined to have been caused by a barbiturate overdose, and was ruled a "probable suicide" by the coroner's office after officers of the Los Angeles Police Department reported to the death scene.
Neither the 1962 investigations by the coroner and police nor their 1982 review by the office of the Los Angeles County District Attorney could find any evidence that Monroe had been the victim of a crime. Her death has been the subject of several conspiracy theories, however. Many of these involve President John F. Kennedy and his brother Robert F. Kennedy, as well as union leader Jimmy Hoffa and mob boss Sam Giancana. Besides theories that she was murdered, there have been allegations that her death was an accidental overdose.
- 1 Timeline
- 2 Official investigation
- 3 Public reactions and funeral
- 4 Administration of estate
- 5 Conspiracy theories
- 6 Notes
- 7 References
- 8 External links
Monroe spent her last day alive, August 4, at her home on 12305 Fifth Helena Drive in Brentwood, Los Angeles. In the morning, she met with photographer Lawrence Schiller to discuss the possibility of Playboy publishing nude photos taken of her on the set of Something's Got to Give. She also received a massage from her personal massage therapist, talked with friends on the phone, and signed for deliveries. Present at the house in the morning were also her housekeeper, Eunice Murray, and her publicist Patricia Newcomb, who had stayed overnight. According to Newcomb, they had an argument because Monroe had not slept well the night before.
At 4:30 p.m., Dr. Ralph Greenson arrived at the house to conduct a therapy session with Monroe, and asked Newcomb to leave. Before he left at around 7 p.m., he asked the housekeeper to stay overnight and keep her company. At approximately 7–7:15, Monroe received a call from Joe DiMaggio, Jr., with whom she had stayed close since her marriage to his father. He told her that he had broken up with a girlfriend she did not like, and detected nothing alarming in her behavior. She then telephoned Greenson to tell him the news (about DiMaggio's parting from his girlfriend) at around 7:40–7:45.
Monroe retired to her bedroom at approximately 8 p.m., and received a call from actor Peter Lawford, who was hoping to persuade her to attend his party that night. He became alarmed as Monroe sounded like she was under the influence of drugs, and told him to "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" before drifting off. Unable to reach her, Lawford called his agent Milton Ebbins, who unsuccessfully attempted to reach Dr. Greenson, and then called Monroe's lawyer, Milton A. Rudin. Rudin called Monroe's house, and was assured by her housekeeper that she was fine.
At approximately 3:00 a.m., the housekeeper woke up "sensing that something was wrong", and saw light from under Monroe's bedroom door, but was not able to get a response and found the door locked. She telephoned Greenson, on whose advice she looked in through a window and saw Monroe lying facedown on her bed, covered by a sheet and clutching a telephone receiver. He arrived shortly after and entered the room by breaking a window, finding Monroe dead. He called her physician, Dr. Hyman Engelberg, who arrived at the house at around 3:50 a.m. and officially confirmed the death. At 4:25 a.m., they notified the Los Angeles Police Department.
Monroe's autopsy was conducted on the morning of August 5 by deputy coroner Dr. Thomas Noguchi. The Los Angeles County Coroners Office was assisted by a team of experts from the Los Angeles Suicide Prevention Center, who interviewed Monroe's doctors and psychiatrists on her mental state. Based on her advanced state of rigor mortis at the time she was found, it was estimated that she had died between 8:30–10:30 p.m. The toxicological analysis concluded that the cause of death was acute barbiturate poisoning, as she had 8 mg of chloral hydrate and 4.5 mg of pentobarbital (Nembutal) in her blood, and a further 13 mg of pentobarbital in her liver. Empty bottles containing these medicines were found next to her bed by the police. The possibility of Monroe having accidentally overdosed was ruled out as the dosages found in her body were several times over the lethal limit. Her doctors and psychiatrists stated that she had been prone to "severe fears and frequent depressions" with "abrupt and unpredictable" mood changes, and had overdosed several times in the past, possibly intentionally. Due to these facts and the lack of any indication of foul play, her death was classified a probable suicide.
Due to the claims that Monroe had been murdered that surfaced in the 1970s (See § Conspiracy theories, below.), Los Angeles County District Attorney John Van de Kamp assigned his colleague Ronald H. "Mike" Carroll to conduct a "threshold investigation" in 1982 to see whether a criminal investigation should be opened. Carroll worked with Alan B. Tomich, an investigator for the district attorney's office, for over three months on an inquiry that resulted in a thirty-page report. They did not find any credible evidence to support the theory that Monroe was murdered.
In 1983, coroner Thomas Noguchi published his memoirs, in which he discussed Monroe's case and the allegations of discrepancies in the autopsy and the coroner's verdict of suicide. These included the claims that Monroe could not have ingested the pills because her stomach was empty; that Nembutal capsules should have left yellow residue; that she may have been administered an enema; and that the autopsy noted no needle marks despite the fact that she routinely received injections from her doctors.
Noguchi explained that hemorrhaging of the stomach lining indicated that the medication had been administered orally, and that because Monroe had been an addict for several years, the pills would have been absorbed more rapidly than in the case of non-addicts. He also denied that Nembutal leaves dye residue. He noted that only very recent needlemarks are visible on a body, and that the only bruise he noted on Monroe's body, on her lower back, was superficial and its placement indicated that it was accidental, and not linked to foul play. He concluded that based on his observations, the most probable conclusion is that Monroe committed suicide.
Public reactions and funeral
Monroe's unexpected death was front-page news in the United States and Europe. According to biographer Lois Banner, "it's said that the suicide rate in Los Angeles doubled the month after she died; the circulation rate of most newspapers expanded that month", and the Chicago Tribune reported that they had received hundreds of phone calls from members of the public requesting information about her death. French artist Jean Cocteau commented that her death "should serve as a terrible lesson to all those, whose chief occupation consists of spying on and tormenting film stars", her former co-star Laurence Olivier deemed her "the complete victim of ballyhoo and sensation", and Bus Stop director Joshua Logan stated that she was "one of the most unappreciated people in the world".
Monroe's funeral was held at the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery, where her foster parents Ana Lower and Grace McKee Goddard had also been buried, on August 8. It was arranged by her former husband Joe DiMaggio and her business manager Inez Melson, who decided to invite only around thirty of her closest family members and friends, excluding most of Hollywood. Police were also present to keep the press away and to control the several hundred spectators who crowded the streets around the cemetery. The funeral service, presided over by a local minister, was conducted at the cemetery's chapel. The eulogy was delivered by Lee Strasberg, and a selection from Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony as well as a record of Judy Garland singing "Over the Rainbow" were played.
Monroe was afterwards interred at crypt No. 24 at the Corridor of Memories.[note 1] She was wearing a green Emilio Pucci dress and holding a bouquet of small pink roses; her longtime make-up artist and friend, Whitey Snyder, had done her make-up. DiMaggio arranged for red roses to be placed in a vase attached to the crypt for the next 20 years.
Administration of estate
In her will, Monroe left several thousand dollars to her half-sister Berniece Baker Miracle, her secretary May Reis, and for the education of her friend Norman Rosten's daughter, as well as founded a $100,000 trust fund to cover the costs from the care of her mother and the widow of her acting teacher Michael Chekhov. From the remaining estate, she granted 25% to her former psychiatrist Marianne Kris "for the furtherance of the work of such psychiatric institutions or groups as she shall elect", and 75%, including her personal effects, film royalties and real estate, to Lee Strasberg, whom she instructed to distribute her effects "among my friends, colleagues and those to whom I am devoted". Due to legal complications, "no beneficiaries were paid until 1971".
When Strasberg died in 1982, his inheritance of Monroe's estate went to his widow, Anna, who claimed Monroe's publicity rights and began to license her image to companies. In 1990, she unsuccessfully sued the Anna Freud Centre, which had inherited Kris, in an attempt to gain full rights to Monroe's estate. Six years later, she hired CMG Worldwide to manage the licensing rights. In 1996, she also successfully prevented Odyssey Group, Inc. from auctioning Monroe's effects that her business manager Inez Melson had obtained when she died. Against Monroe's wishes, Lee Strasberg had never distributed her effects amongst her friends, and instead they were auctioned by Christie's in 1999, netting $13.4 million. In 2000, Anna Strasberg founded Marilyn Monroe LLC.
Marilyn Monroe LLC's claim to exclusive ownership of Monroe's publicity rights became subject to a "landmark [legal] case" in 2006, when the heirs of three freelance photographers who had photographed her, Sam Shaw, Milton Greene, and Tom Kelley, successfully challenged the company in courts in California and New York. In May 2007, the courts determined that Monroe could not have passed her publicity rights to her estate, as the first law granting such right, the California Celebrities Rights Act, was not passed until 1985. Soon after, in October 2007, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Senate Bill 771, for which Anna Strasberg and the Screen Actors Guild amongst others had lobbied, and which established that non-family members may inherit rights of publicity through the residuary clause of the deceased's will, provided that the person was a resident of California at the time of death. However, it did not help the estate, as the United States District Court in Los Angeles ruled in March 2008 that Monroe was a resident of New York at the time of her death, citing the statement of the executor of her estate to California tax authorities, and a 1966 affidavit by her housekeeper. The decision was reaffirmed by the United States District Court of New York in September 2008. Anna Strasberg was subsequently fined $200,000 and ordered to pay $30,000 by a New York court "for delaying the handing over of documents showing that Monroe was legally a New Yorker on her death."
In 2010, the estate terminated their business relationship with CMG Worldwide. The same year, Monroe's Brentwood home was sold for $3.8 million, and a selection of her writings found in the effects that she had left for Strasberg were published as a book, Fragments: Poems, Intimate Notes, Letters. The following year, the estate sold the licensing rights to Authentic Brands Group.
1960s: Frank A. Capell, Jack Clemmons
There were no widespread conspiracy theories about Monroe's death in the 1960s. The first allegations that she had been murdered originated in anti-communist activist Frank A. Capell's self-published pamphlet The Strange Death of Marilyn Monroe (1964), in which he claimed that her death was part of a communist conspiracy. He claimed that Monroe and Robert F. Kennedy had an affair, which she took too seriously and was threatening to cause a scandal; Kennedy therefore ordered her to be assassinated to protect his career.
In addition to accusing Kennedy of being a communist sympathizer, Capell also claimed that many other people close to Monroe, such as her doctors and ex-husband Arthur Miller, were communists. His credibility has been seriously questioned, as his only source was columnist Walter Winchell, who in turn had received much of his information from him; Capell was therefore citing himself. Capell was aided in developing his pamphlet by his friend, LAPD Sergeant Jack Clemmons, who became a central source for conspiracy theorists. Clemmons was the first police officer on the scene of Monroe's death, and later made claims which he had not mentioned in the official investigation in 1962: according to him, when he arrived at Monroe's house, her housekeeper was washing her sheets, and he had "a sixth sense" that something was wrong.
Capell and Clemmons never provided any independent evidence for their allegations, which have been seen as motivated by their political goals. Capell dedicated his life to revealing an "International Communist Conspiracy" and Clemmons was a member of The Police and Fire Research Organization (FiPo), which sought to expose "subversive activities which threaten our American way of life". FiPo and similar organizations were known for their stance against the Kennedys and for sending the Federal Bureau of Investigation letters incriminating them; a 1964 FBI file speculating on an affair between Monroe and Robert F. Kennedy is likely to have come from them. Furthermore, Capell and Clemmons, along with a third person, were indicted by a California grand jury in 1965 for "conspiracy to libel by obtaining and distributing a false affidavit" claiming that senator Thomas Kuchel had once been arrested for a homosexual act. They had been motivated to do this because Kuchel had supported the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Capell pleaded guilty, and charges against Clemmons were dropped after he resigned from the LAPD.
In the 1960s, Monroe's death was also discussed in Charles Hamblett's Who Killed Marilyn Monroe? (1966) and in James A. Hudson's The Mysterious Death of Marilyn Monroe (1968). Neither Capell, Hamblett, or Hudson's accounts were widely disseminated.
1970s: Norman Mailer, Robert Slatzer, Anthony Scaduto
The claim that Monroe was murdered first became part of mainstream discussion with the publication of Norman Mailer's Marilyn: A Biography in 1973. He repeated the claim that Monroe and Robert F. Kennedy had an affair, and speculated that she was killed by either the FBI or CIA, who wished to use the murder as a "point of pressure ... against the Kennedys." However, Mailer also wrote that he had no evidence to back up his claims, and reviews of the book heavily criticized its lack of sources and reliance on speculation. In an interview with Mike Wallace for 60 Minutes in 1973, Mailer admitted that he had been driven to speculate on murder due to his need to make the book a commercial success, and that Monroe's death was "ten to one" an "accidental suicide".
Two years later, Robert Slatzer published The Life and Curious Death of Marilyn Monroe (1975), based on the claims made by Capell in 1964. In addition to his assertion that Monroe was killed by Robert F. Kennedy, Slatzer also controversially claimed to have been married to Monroe in Mexico for three days in October 1952, and that they had remained close friends until her death. Although his account was not widely circulated at the time, it has remained central to conspiracy theories. In October 1975, rock journalist Anthony Scaduto published an article about Monroe's death in soft porn magazine Oui, and the following year expanded his account into book form in Who Killed Marilyn Monroe? (1976), published under the pen name Tony Sciacca. His only sources were Slatzer and his private investigator, Milo Speriglio. In addition to repeating Slatzer's claims, Scaduto alleged that Monroe had kept a red diary in which she had written confidential political information she had heard from the Kennedys, and that her house had been wiretapped by Bernard Spindel on the orders of union leader Jimmy Hoffa, who was hoping to obtain incriminating evidence he could use against the Kennedys.
1980s: Milo Speriglio, Anthony Summers
In 1982, Slatzer's private detective Milo Speriglio published Marilyn Monroe: Murder Cover-Up (1982), in which he claimed that Monroe had been murdered by Jimmy Hoffa in collaboration with mob boss Sam Giancana. He repeated the claims made by Slatzer and Scadutto, and also relied on evidence provided by Lionel Grandison, who had worked at the Los Angeles County Coroner's office at the time of Monroe's death. Grandison claimed that Monroe's body had been extensively bruised but this had been omitted from the autopsy report, and that he had seen the "red diary", but it had mysteriously disappeared.
Speriglio and Slatzer demanded that the investigation into Monroe's death be re-opened by authorities, and the Los Angeles District Attorney agreed to review the case. The new investigation could not find any evidence to support the murder claims. Grandison was not regarded as a reliable witness as he had been fired by the coroner's office for stealing from corpses. As for the claims about wiretapping, Spindel's apartment had been raided by the Manhattan District Attorney's office in 1966, during which his tapes were seized. After the arrest, Spindel had made a claim that he had wiretapped Monroe's house, but it was not supported by the contents of the tapes, which the investigators had listened to.
The most prominent Monroe conspiracy theorist in the 1980s was British journalist Anthony Summers, whose 1985 book Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe remains one of the most commercially successful Monroe biographies. His investigation on Monroe began as an assignment for the British tabloid the Sunday Express to cover the District Attorney's review; before this assignment, he had already become known for his book on a conspiracy theory of the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
According to Summers, Monroe was psychotic and severely addicted to drugs and alcohol in the last months of her life, and also had affairs with both Kennedy brothers. She wanted to marry one of them, not caring which one, but Robert F. Kennedy ended their affair some weeks before her death, which led her to threaten to publicly reveal their association. In order to avoid scandal, Kennedy, together with his brother-in-law Peter Lawford, had made sure that Monroe was supplied with enough drugs and alcohol to keep her quiet. Both Kennedy and Greenson visited her on her last day alive as she had been hysterical, but after they left, Monroe accidentally overdosed. She was found unconscious and died in an ambulance on the way to the hospital. Because Kennedy wanted to leave Los Angeles before the death became public to avoid being linked to her, Monroe's body was returned to her house and the overdose was staged as a suicide by Lawford, the Kennedys and J. Edgar Hoover working together.
Summers based his account on interviews he had conducted with 650 people connected to Monroe. Biographers Donald Spoto and Sarah Churchwell have accused him of being too speculative and uncritical with his sources. According to Spoto, Summers contradicts himself, presents false information as fact, and misrepresents what some of Monroe's friends said about her. Churchwell has also commented that while Summers accumulated a large collection of anecdotal material, most of his allegations are speculation; many of the people he interviewed could provide only second- or third-hand accounts, and they "relate what they believe, not what they demonstrably know." Summers was the first major biographer to find Slatzer a credible witness, and relies heavily on testimonies by other controversial witnesses, including Jack Clemmons and Jeanne Carmen, a woman whose claim to have been Monroe's close friend has been disputed by Spoto and Lois Banner.
Summers' theory was discussed in BBC's documentary Marilyn: Say Goodbye to the President (1985), and in a 26-minute segment produced for ABC's 20/20. The 20/20 segment was however never aired, as the channel's news executive Roone Arledge decided that the claims made in it required more evidence to back them up. In retaliation, Summers alleged that Arledge's decision was influenced by pressure from the Kennedys.
1990s: Brown and Barham, Donald H. Wolfe, Donald Spoto
In the 1990s, two new books alleged again that Monroe was murdered: Peter Brown and Patte Barham's Marilyn: The Last Take (1992) and Donald H. Wolfe's The Last Days of Marilyn Monroe (1998). Neither presented much new evidence but relied extensively on Capell and Summers as well as on disputed witnesses such as Grandison, Slatzer, Clemmons, and Carmen; Wolfe also did not provide any sources for many of his claims, and disregarded many of the findings of the autopsy without explanation.
In his 1993 biography of Monroe, Donald Spoto disputed the previous conspiracy theories, but alleged that Monroe's death was an accidental overdose staged as a suicide. According to him, her doctors Greenson and Engelberg had been trying to stop her abuse of Nembutal, and to monitor her drug use had agreed to never prescribe her anything without first consulting with each other. Monroe was able to persuade Engelberg to break his promise by lying to him that Greenson had agreed to it. She took several Nembutals on August 4, but did not tell this to Greenson, who prescribed her a chloral hydrate enema; the combination of these two drugs killed her. Afraid of the consequences, the doctors and Monroe's housekeeper then staged the death as a suicide.
Spoto argued that Monroe could not have been suicidal because she had reached a new agreement with 20th Century-Fox, and because she was allegedly going to re-marry Joe DiMaggio. He based his theory of her death on alleged discrepancies in the police statements given by Monroe's housekeeper and doctors, a claim made by Monroe's publicist Arthur P. Jacobs's wife that he had been alerted of the death already at 10:30 p.m., as well as on claims made by prosecutor John Miner, who was involved in the official investigation. Miner had alleged that her autopsy revealed signs more consistent with an enema than oral ingestion.
2000s: John Miner, Matthew Smith
Prosecutor John Miner's claims that Monroe's death was not a suicide received more publicity in the 2000s, when he published transcripts that he claimed to have made from audio tapes recorded by Monroe shortly before her death. Miner claimed that Monroe gave the tapes to her psychiatrist Dr. Greenson, who invited him to listen to them after her death. On the tapes, Monroe speaks of her plans for the future, which Miner argues is proof that she could not have killed herself. She also discusses her sex life, as well as using enemas; Miner alleges that Monroe was killed by an enema administered by her housekeeper.
Miner's allegations have received criticism. During the official review of the case by the district attorney in 1982, he told the investigators about the tapes, but did not mention that he had transcripts of them. Miner claimed that this was because Greenson had sworn him to silence. The tapes themselves have never been found, and Miner remains the only person to claim they existed; Greenson was already dead before Miner went public with them.
Biographer Lois Banner, who knew Miner personally as both worked at the University of Southern California, has further challenged the authenticity of the transcripts. Miner had once lost his license to practice law for several years, lied to Banner about having worked for the Kinsey Institute, and had gone bankrupt shortly before selling the alleged transcripts. He had first attempted to sell the transcripts to Vanity Fair, but when the magazine had asked him to show them to Anthony Summers in order to validate them, it had become apparent that he did not have them. The transcripts which Miner finally sold to British author Matthew Smith were therefore written several decades after he alleged to have listened to the tapes. Miner's claim that Monroe's housekeeper was in fact her nurse and administered her enemas on a regular basis is also not supported by evidence. Furthermore, Banner writes that Miner had a personal obsession about enemas and practised sadomasochism; she concludes that his theory about Monroe's death "represented his sexual interests" and was not based on evidence.
Matthew Smith published the transcripts as part of his book Victim: The Secret Tapes of Marilyn Monroe (2003), in which he asserted that Monroe was murdered by the CIA due to her association with Robert F. Kennedy. According to Smith, the CIA wanted revenge for the Kennedys' handling of the Bay of Pigs Invasion. He had already written about the topic in his previous book, The Men Who Murdered Marilyn (1996). Noting that Smith included no footnotes in his 1996 book and only eight in Victim, Churchwell has called his account "a tissue of conjencture, speculation and pure fiction as documentary fact" and "arguably the least factual of all Marilyn lives". The Miner transcripts were also discussed in a 2005 Los Angeles Times article.
- In 1992, Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner, who never met Monroe, bought the crypt immediately to the left of hers. In August 2009, the crypt space directly above that of Monroe was placed for auction on eBay. Elsie Poncher planned to exhume her husband and move him to an adjacent plot. She advertised the crypt, hoping "to make enough money to pay off the $1.6 million mortgage" on her Beverly Hills mansion. The winning bid was placed by an anonymous Japanese man for $4.6 million, but the winning bidder later backed out "because of the paying problem".
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- Leaming, Barbara (1998). Marilyn Monroe. Three Rivers Press. ISBN 0-609-80553-3.
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Obituaries and news coverage of Monroe's death: