Before I delve into any depth on the touchy and fragile subject of Marilyn Monroe’s death, I would like to emphasize that I am trying very hard to be neutral and stick only to the absolute facts of the event. There is much capitalization on the scandalous aspects of Marilyn’s death, in books, TV specials, gossip columns, and magazines, and it can be extremely difficult to wade through the rumors to pick out what is known to be true about the event. I have too much respect for Marilyn Monroe as a person to allow rumors about her death to be rehashed by myself, so this post is going to stick only to the facts, and I will cite information wherever it is possible so that you may go directly to the source and examine for yourself. This is not gossip, not scandal, not personal opinion (I will try to refrain from giving my personal opinion, if you’re interested we can discuss it in the comment section, but the post is info only), it is an attempt to carefully examine an event that has stumped experts for 50 years.
Sometime between late August 4 and early August 5, 1962, Marilyn Monroe died at her home at 12305 5th Helena Drive, in the Brentwood area of Los Angeles. The initial autopsy revealed an enlarged liver and congestion in the lungs and stomach, and toxicology tests soon revealed that there was an incredibly high level of chloral hydrate in her blood, as well as far above the lethal dose of the drug Nembutal. The drugs were both used as sleep aids for the famously insomniac Monroe. Her blood levels being so high (it is estimated that she would have had to take 60-70 Nembutal and 17-18 chloral hydrate tablets to reach this level), her death was ruled a “probable suicide” on the official death certificate. An accidental overdose would have been next to impossible given the sheer amount of drugs in her body.
View Marilyn Monroe’s death certificate here.
View the initial autopsy report here.
However, this theory came to be doubted when some circumstances involving her death came to light. At 4:25 AM on the morning of August 5, Sergeant Jack Clemmons of the Los Angeles Police Department was called by Dr. Hyman Engelberg, Marilyn’s personal doctor, to say that Marilyn had just committed suicide. Clemmons arrived on the scene and when he entered the bedroom, he saw that Marilyn was lying face down in a flat-out position, with no sign of the convulsions and vomiting that accompany a death involving drugs. There were pill bottles strewn around the scene, but no water with which she could have swallowed them.
Around 7:15 PM on August 4, the day before her death, she had a phone conversation with Joe DiMaggio, Jr. (her former stepson) about his engagement to a girl of whom Marilyn did not approve. She was allegedly elated to hear that he was breaking it off, and was in a great mood after the conversation. But when Peter Lawford called a half an hour later, he described her as sounding drugged and making suicidal comments. She talked to a number of other people within the same time frame, who described her the same way. It is clear that something happened between 7:15 PM and 8:45 PM on the night of August 4. Just what happened is something we will likely never know.
I feel that given the evidence, it is necessary to share some of Marilyn Monroe’s mental health history. Her mother was a paranoid schizophrenic who was in and out of institutions all throughout Marilyn’s childhood, forcing Marilyn to be raised in a series of foster homes and a 3 year stint in an orphanage. These early experiences forged some serious psychological scars and issues with abandonment, affecting the course of her life and her struggles. Though schizophrenia is a highly heritable disorder, there were no signs that she had inherited it from her mother. There are, however, signs that Marilyn may have had a minor form of bipolar disorder known as cyclothymia, alternately causing waves of euphoria and waves of depression. Given this speculation, one might say that Marilyn may have had a sudden cyclothymic mood change in that half an hour, leading her to suicidal thought and action, but in most cases, cyclothymia doesn’t work that quickly and the depression is not so severe.
If we are to develop the observations of Sergeant Clemmons, it would lead us down the path of investigating for murder. When Clemmons first arrived on the scene, he talked to Eunice Murray, the housekeeper, who told him that she had seen a light under Marilyn’s door around 3:00 in the morning and tried to go in to check on her, but found the door locked. It was then that she called Marilyn’s psychiatrist, Dr. Greenson, to come help. Upon analysis of the room, Clemmons found that Marilyn’s room had deep pile carpeting, making it impossible to see a light under the door. Murray could have seen light through the crack between the door and the wall, but even if she did, her story about the locked door doesn’t add up–Marilyn’s room door had no functioning lock.
Many in the Marilyn Monroe community have long blamed Eunice Murray for Marilyn’s death, due to her strange story and odd behavior (she was found calmly doing laundry the same morning that Marilyn was discovered). Another very pervasive theory is that Marilyn was known to be the holder of many confidential Kennedy family secrets, and rumors circulated for years of a diary in which she kept them. The diary has never been found, and the rumor is now considered to be untrue. However, a neighbor of Marilyn’s testified that she saw Robert Kennedy at the house the night of Marilyn’s death, accompanied by two men, one of whom was carrying what appeared to be a black medical suitcase. Could the Kennedys have feared that she would reveal their confidential information, and decided it would be better if she were dead? This is a hypothesis that seems ridiculous at the outset, but has garnered a following of informed people who swear by this theory.
50 years have passed, and it is relatively certain that we will never know the true cause of Marilyn Monroe’s death. Most of the closest people to her have now passed away, and it’s unlikely that any new evidence will show up without the help of people who were there. In a recent Huffington Post article, forensic expert Max Houck noted that had Marilyn’s death occurred today, the investigation would have been wholly different. “The good news is we’re very advanced from 50 years ago,” he wrote. “The bad news is, we’re still trying to put it in context.” Without any new evidence and no way to do any further tests on her body, it seems that the rumors will never be quelled, and the speculation will continue for as long as Marilyn’s memory lives on.
If you would like to read more about the unadulterated, bias-free facts of Marilyn Monroe’s death, I would recommend the following sources:
This analysis, beautifully and thoroughly compiled by a great fan who really took the time to learn the hard, true facts.
There are so many BAD books about Marilyn Monroe, and only a select few good ones. This is one of the good ones. Spoto is very thorough, and knows his subject inside and out. If you are to learn about Marilyn’s death from a trustworthy source, this is the place to go. Barbara Leaming’s book is also good.