Known for her roles in Clueless, 8 Mile, Girl, Interrupted, and Uptown Girls, Brittany Murphy was the epitome of the girl-next-door actress. Born in Atlanta, Georgia, she moved to Los Angeles during her teenage years to pursue a career as an actress. Plucky and talented, Brittany became a familiar fixture within the Hollywood landscape of the 1990’s and early 2000’s.
After a solid decade of work and much acclaim, Brittany began to experience fierce speculation surrounding her weight, drug usage, and waning popularity. To make matters worse, the rumors also circulated around and fixated on her beloved husband of around two years, Simon Monjack. Simon was painted as controlling and paranoid, and a potentially dangerous con-artist, by media, family, and friends alike. Suspicion would immediately fixate on him in the aftermath of Brittany’s unexpected and tragic death.
However, Simon would also be pronounced dead from similar causes only five months later. Many fans, and some of Brittany’s family, insist that there was more mystery surrounding their deaths than the LA coroner’s clean cut explanation.
“She wore her pink Beverly Hills Hotel robe and monkey pajamas.”
–Simon Monjack, Brittany Murphy’s Husband
(regarding the night of her mysterious death)
In early December 2009, Brittany had attended the opening of Tt Collection’s Pop-Up shop in LA where she gushed about “spending more time with [her] family than anyone else in the world,” and mentioned that her New Year’s resolution would be to have a baby. Her husband, Simon Monjack, 4, would later elaborate that Brittany’s “big dream [for the] next year was to have a child, and [that they] talked about how he or she would look,” cherry picking their favorite features of each other and projecting them onto the future baby.
On the night of Saturday, December 19, 2009, Simon stated that they had spent the day sick and watching movies in bed with their dog. Brittany had been preparing to cast her vote for the Academy Awards and they watched several movies which were up for awards. Brittany’s mom, Sharon Murphy, who lived with them, made them soup and the couple spent time relaxing.
However, according to some reports, Brittany was so sick this night that she was allegedly, “gasping for breath, her lips turning blue from a lack of oxygen as her lungs filled with fluid.”
Simon, on the other hand, would later describe Brittany as “not that ill” and not “coughing up” on her last day. Brittany had made an appointment with her doctor for the following Monday, but did not seem particularly rushed to seek medical care.
The next morning at 10:05am, Brittany was pronounced dead. The coroner cited a combination of causes: pneumonia, complicated by anemia and multiple (prescription as well as over-the-counter) drug intoxication. Brittany had been taking an antibiotic (Biaxin), cough medicine, and an over-the-counter nasal spray to self-medicate her cold. The following medications were also purported to have been used regularly by Brittany: Topamax, Sarafem, Klonopin, Methylprednisolone, Propranolol, and Vicoprofen. High levels of acetaminophen, hydrocodone, chlorpheniramine, and L-methamphetamine were all detected in her autopsy. However, it is still unclear if these drugs are present due to the frequent use of the strong prescription medicines, or a recent attempt to treat her cold using large amounts of fairly standard OTC medicines, or both.
In the wake of Brittany’s passing, Simon would give many interviews and make fastidious public appearances in the supportive presence of Brittany’s mother, Sharon. He would emphatically describe Brittany as “his angel” and would state in interviews that he and Brittany’s family “[wanted] to know why [they] lost [their] baby.” Just five months later, after a flurry of attention and speculation, Simon would also be declared dead. The coroner found Simon’s cause of death to be eerily similar to Brittany’s, and officially ruled the cause as acute pneumonia and severe anemia.
The deaths of both Brittany and Simon have become a fastidious source of Hollywood rumors and speculation, leading many fans to question how a young, modern, and wealthy couple could legitimately die of pneumonia. Popular theories involve con-artistry, eating disorders, prescription drug addictions, media fueled paranoia, government conspiracy, and poisoning.
August 2006: Brittany Murphy and Simon Monjack reconnect, and began seeing each other romantically. They had met once before when Brittany was seventeen and Simon was twenty-four, and had kept in touch.
The exact timeline of Brittany and Simon’s relationship is unknown as it was kept out of the media; however, they are generally believed to have began dating sometime after August 2006, as this is the month Brittany’s engagement to another man was broken off.
February 2007: Simon is arrested for an expired US visa. He spends nine days in jail.
May 2007: Brittany and Simon are married in a small, private ceremony in Los Angeles.
November 2009: Brittany Murphy is allegedly fired from the lead role of the movie The Caller.
According to a producer of the movie, Simon had shown up drunkenly on set while they were trying to film. After one day of shooting in Puerto Rico, Brittany quit the movie when Simon was banned from being on the set. Simon later claimed that Brittany never wanted to make a horror movie, commenting that “there’s too much Santeria in it,” and she had simply opted to quit.
November 28, 2009: Brittany, Simon, and Sharon return from Puerto Rico. Simon and Sharon have caught the strain of pneumonia which is ultimately listed in coroner reports as killing both Brittany and Simon. On their return flight home, Simon has “what he described as a ‘mild heart attack’” and is hospitalized.
December 3, 2009: Brittany attends her final public event at the Tt Collection event and makes comments about wanting to have a baby in 2010.
December 20, 2009:
- Approximately 3:00 am: Brittany woke up and called for her mom saying she couldn’t “catch her breath” and asked if she could use an oxygen tank that they owned. Simon was afraid that “her heart could stop with oxygen,” due to a heart murmur Brittany was diagnosed with as a teenager. Shortly after, Simon had “a long, horrific seizure,” and in the chaos, Brittany’s claims that she could not breathe and her request for the oxygen tank went unaddressed.
- 7:30 am: Brittany Murphy goes into her bathroom after complaining for shortness of breath and abdominal pain.
- Approximately 8 am: Sharon finds Brittany in the bathroom lying on the floor and unresponsive. Sharon yells for Simon, then proceeds to call 911 as Simon tries to revive Brittany by placing her in the shower.
- 8:08 am: Paramedics arrive on the scene. They attempt to resuscitate Brittany but she has no vital signs, and is taken to the hospital.
- 10:05 am: Brittany is pronounced dead. She was 32-years-old.
January 2010: Simon and Sharon establish the “Brittany Murphy Foundation, a charitable fund for children’s arts education.”
However, the foundation quickly announces that it will issue refunds of donations as it had been inadvertently set up as a private foundation (in lieu of a not-for-profit foundation).
January 21, 2010: Simon and Sharon give a bizarre interview on Larry King Live. Simon asserts that “Hollywood has blood on their hands” in reference to Brittany being replaced as a voice actress on Cold Feet 2.
May 22, 2010: According to Sharon Murphy, Simon fainted a few times. According to the coroner’s report, she described him “not as losing consciousness but rather, seemingly closing his eyes and becoming somewhat unresponsive.”
May 23, 2010:
- 12:30 pm: Simon falls asleep and Sharon stays in a chair in the bedroom.
- Around 7:30 pm: Sharon wakes up to Simon making a gurgling noise. She says a brown liquid was coming out of his mouth and he was unresponsive, though not completely unconscious.
- Around 8:15 pm: Sharon decides to call 911 due to Simon remaining unresponsive.
- Around 9:21 pm: Emergency personnel respond to the residence and find Simon with “no pulse and no lung sounds.”
- 9:45 pm: Simon is pronounced dead. He was 40-years-old.
May 25, 2010: A coroner’s case report is filed, and it suggests that Sharon Murphy and Simon Monjack may have been sharing a bed.
Though a romantic relationship is not overtly admitted to, the report clearly details that prescription bottles for Sharon Murphy were found in a bedside table on the side of the bed that Sharon described as “‘her’ side of the bed.” It also states that on Simon’s side of the bed, there are prescriptions made out to “Sharon Monjack,” conflating Sharon’s and Simon’s names as though they had been married.
Sharon later emphatically insisted that she meant Brittany’s side of the bed when she was quoted as saying “her,” and the report does punctuate the word with single apostrophes, perhaps implying confusion as to who or what Sharon meant.
July 2010: Brittany’s mother, Sharon, says speculation that toxic mold may have contributed to the deaths of Brittany and Simon is “absurd.”
December 2011: Sharon Murphy announces that she believes that toxic mold may have killed Brittany and Simon, and she moves into a hotel. She goes so far as to sue her own attorneys who represented her in a former suit against the home builders. Sharon claims that, when the previous suit was settled, she became unable to sue the home builders for the mold, and her attorneys never made her aware of this fact.
November 10, 2013: Angelo relaunches the Brittany Murphy Foundation. Sharon insists that this move “is calculated to make [Angelo and his collaborator Julia Davis] money and bring them the fame they desperately crave.”
November 19, 2013: Brittany’s absent father, Angelo Bertolotti, claims that an independent toxicology test shows deliberate poisoning by heavy metals, most notably Barium (a common ingredient used in rat poison).
November 25, 2013: Sharon writes an open letter to the Hollywood Reporter saying the poisoning claims are “based on the most flimsy of evidence and are more of an insult than an insight into what really happened.”
A Sordid Past
Born in Hillingdon, Middlesex to a well-off family, British screenwriter Simon Monjack had certainly created quite a reputation around Hollywood before his relationship with Brittany Murphy. Echoing many sentiments across the internet, the New York Post reported the following in December 2009:
“To actress Brittany Murphy, he was a ‘soulmate.’
To others, he’s the dubious, debt-riddled dude widely known as ‘Conjack.'”
His ex-wife had sued him for $50,000. A different ex(-fiance) claimed he had sketchily given her a fake diamond ring. Also, many speculated that Simon’s arrest for an expired visa had been used to manipulate Brittany into a rushed marriage. Fueling further speculation, it was reported that Brittany essentially bankrolled both Sharon’s and Simon’s lifestyles. It was rumored (by a mysterious source, and was never confirmed) that she had bought her own engagement ring, even though Simon disputed that he had, in fact, spent “over a million on her engagement rings.” It was also revealed upon Brittany’s untimely death, that the house Simon had insinuated that he paid for, had been bought and always owned by Brittany, who left it to her mother in her will (which intentionally did not include Simon).
Simon had also had a flurry of legal issues throughout the years including, “two warrants for his arrest in Virginia for alleged credit card theft and fraud; an unpaid $6,087 legal bill, and a $502,910 judgment against him by a British investment firm.” It was also revealed in these legal proceedings that Simon had been “evicted from four separate homes” in the span of time between 1997-2006. In Simon’s defense, the credit card theft and fraud charges were not pursued by authorities, and he dismissed the other troubles by saying “failure breeds jealousy.”
Vanity Fair described Simon’s “most significant credit to date [as] contributing story material to Factory Girl,” a biopic about Andy Warhol muse and model, Edie Sedgewick. However, the director of Factory Girl, George Hickenlooper, claimed that the credit was given only because Simon “sued his way onto the project for a title and stole 150K out of [the] budget.” He went on to say that, “[Simon] is a con man and a bad guy” and that Simon’s “clear lack of character and background couldn’t have led to the most healthy environment” for Brittany, who the same director described as “the most talented and underrated [actress] working in film.”
Simon explained away all of the bad press by stating that, in Hollywood he was villainized, because Brittany simply “wasn’t supposed to end up with a balding, heavy guy who doesn’t play by their rules.”
Sharon was also a vocal component of the damage control, insisting that “Simon was [Brittany’s] soul mate, the love of her life. They don’t understand that in Hollywood because it was something real.”
Brittany Murphy’s father and a self-described “retired mobster,” Angelo Bertolotti, has been very vocal about the mysterious circumstances surrounding the deaths of both Brittany and Simon.
At first, Angelo asserted that the couple had been a part of a convoluted government conspiracy involving a woman named Julia Davis (who would later run The Brittany Murphy Foundation alongside Angelo). It was reported that Julia Davis had “exposed glaring flaws within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in 2004” and was calling Brittany Murphy as a witness in her suit against the government for wrongful imprisonment.
Julia’s main accusations against the government were “that 23 foreigners from terrorist countries had been allowed onto U.S. soil, the same day Osama Bin Laden had planned terrorist attacks on America” and that upon alerting her superiors to this oversight, she was dismissed and “hostile action” was taken against her and her family, including “54 investigations leading to two malicious prosecutions, two false imprisonments, and a Black Hawk helicopter raid on her home that involved 27 DHS agents and one U.S. Marshal.” Apparently, Julia was cleared of all wrongdoing by the government in 2010.
Brittany’s involvement (or potential non-involvement) in the case seems complicated at best. Allegedly, Julia’s supervisor had claimed that Brittany Murphy said that Julia was working on a movie with Brittany during an unpaid leave of absence. This was untrue, and Julia was using this comment as evidence of supervisory misconduct and misinformation in her case against the government (which Julia ultimately won). Julia tried to call Brittany as a witness. In doing so, she allegedly alerted Brittany to the wrongdoing, which Brittany took very seriously (according to Julia and Angelo). Angelo told tabloid websites (and anyone else who would listen) that, “Brittany had planned to use her star power and public platform to help defend Julia and bring this injustice to light.”
Julia Davis later went on to make a documentary called Top Priority: The Terror Within which explained that Simon’s expired visa arrest could have been a scare tactic to convince Brittany not to testify, and alleged that both Simon and Brittany were on the DHS watch list. Interestingly enough, Simon did tell friends that he and Brittany “had to take extreme security precautions because they were under surveillance by helicopters and their phone was bugged.”
Sharon responded to the conspiracy theories by saying, “I am quite confident Brittany never cooperated with Julia Davis, never signed any statement in support of her, never met with her and barely knew she existed.”
Angelo also petitioned to have Brittany’s hair tested for poison. The results were a mixed bag showing high levels of barium as well as arsenic, lithium, and tim, which possibly indicated poisoning, but also garnered the condemnation of some experts that asserted that “the grouping of heavy metals is more suggestive of hair product use — dyes, soaps, heat, etc. –than of rat poison.”
After a period of time, Angelo began to direct the accusations to Brittany’s beloved mother, Sharon, insisting that:
“Sharon Murphy should be interviewed and investigated, first and foremost.
Let her explain why she had my daughter execute a will, leaving everything to her mother and specifically excluding Simon.
Let Sharon explain why [Brittany] decided to do this right after Brittany and Simon told her of their plan to move to New York and have a baby.
Let Sharon clarify how she was planning to support herself for the first time in decades, once Brittany moved away.
Let her talk about auctioning off Brittany’s underwear, passport, SAG card and clothes.
There are many unanswered questions that have to be addressed.
Out of three people living together in the same house, only one survives and benefits financially.”
For her part, Brittany seemed to have deeply love all of her maligned, and accusatory, family members. Friends of the family are insistent that Sharon and Brittany had a great relationship, stating that “They finished each other’s sentences. Both were bright and bubbly, and that relationship never changed.” Brittany said that she was “extraordinarily close” with her mother, and that “To say ‘best friends’ would be to diminish our relationship.”
Brittany was also very devoted to Simon, with reports reiterating that “She wanted to find someone to share her heart with so badly. They thought it was all a bit forced, but you couldn’t help but see her joy and devotion.”
By most accounts, Hollywood rumors and the pressure of stardom had taken a toll on Brittany, but she remained steadfast in her sunny disposition, insisting in an interview only weeks before her death:
“I feel very blessed for everything I have in my life and my family.”