The death of a star: Actress Marilyn Monroe dies from an overdose (1962)

Marilyn Monroe - Red dress in 1952

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Marilyn Monroe dies: Sleeping pill overdose ends career

by James Bacon – Oakland Tribune (Oakland, California) August 6, 1962

A doctor smashed his way into a locked bedroom — and found Marilyn Monroe dead in bed, nude, a telephone clutched in her hand, an empty pill bottle nearby.

It was her psychiatrist who found the body early yesterday. The mysterious death brought a tragic end, at 36, to the trouble-scarred life of Norma Jean Baker — the frightened waif who became the world’s most famous blonde as Marilyn Monroe.

She apparently died either late Saturday or early yesterday of an overdose of sleeping pills. The empty bottle had contained 50 capsules.

Vintage Marilyn Monroe - reading book

Evidence conflicts

Was it suicide? Had she called someone before she died?

A coroner’s special “suicide team” aided by detectives. are seeking the answers to these questions today. Evidence uncovered so far is conflicting.

Dr Ralph Greenson, her psychiatrist, said she called him at 5:15 pm Saturday, distraught, seeking reassurance. They talked an hour. He told her to take a drive in her car to relax. It was a ride she never took. Instead, she retired at 8 pm, in what her housekeeper, Mrs Eunice Murray, thought to be good spirits.

A light at 3 am

If she made any calls that evening, they were local calls. Telephone company records disclosed no toll calls from her number.

Mrs Murray rose at 3 a m. Sunday in her quarters in the star’s Brentwood home — awakened by an uneasy dread she couldn’t explain — and found Miss Monroe’s light still burning, her door locked, and no answer to her knock.

She phoned Dr Greenson. He rushed to the home, smashed a bedroom window with a fireplace poker, forced Murray: “She appears to be dead.”

Marilyn home 1950s

No notes were found. She was found lying face down, the covers hunched around her shoulders.

The body was taken to a nearby mortuary and then to the county morgue where it remains today.

Body at morgue

Hours before she had been one of the world’s most famous personalities. But on her coroner’s call sheet, tagged to crypt 33 in the morgue, were these unrevealing statistics: weight 117 pounds, height 65-1/2 inches, hair blonde and eyes blue.

MORE: Women: Do you have the ideal figure? Here’s what ‘they’ thought in 1950

Next of kin — Gladys Baker, mother. Address unknown.

The coroner said the body was being released to Inez Nelson, conservator of the mother’s estate. Earlier, the coroner said Miss Monroe’s half-sister, Bernice Miracle of Gainesville. Fla., had authorized release of the body to Joe DiMaggio, second of the actress’ three husbands, or to her attorney, Milton Rudin.

Marilyn Monroe in 1953

Ex-husbands silent

DiMaggio, the ex-baseball star, flew here yesterday. Her first husband, James E Daugherty, a policeman, already lives here. Playwright Arthur Miller, since remarried, became Miss Monroe’s third husband in 1956, and they were divorced last year.

Her mother, an inmate of mental institutions for most of her life, was last confined to a home in nearby La Crescenta.

Marilyn, who had shifted for herself since early childhood, was known to have made a will outlining plans for her own burial. A business associate said that it had not been found yet.

DiMaggio on hand

DiMaggio hopped on the first plane leaving San Francisco for Los Angeles after hearing of her death. He was in seclusion in a Santa Monica hotel. Though Marilyn divorced him in 1955, the two had remained good friends.

The coroner’s staff prepared a series of tests to determine whether she accidentally or intentionally took the pills.

Aug 3, 1962 Marilyn Monroe

Psychiatric probe

Coroner Theodore J Curphy said psychiatric tests would play an important part in the verdict.

“We will question her friends and others to determine her mood preceding death,” the coroner said. “This is most necessary in a case where no notes were found with the body.

“Our investigation so far shows that she did not die of natural death, and we can make a presumptive opinion that death was due to an overdose of a drug.” He said it might be 48 hours before a verdict could be announced.

Thus in death, the screen’s sex goddess left behind the same mysterious personality contrast that she evinced in life.

As Marilyn Monroe, movie star, she was under a public microscope — exciting, wanted and mobbed by adoring fans.

Her more than a score of movies since her first big break in “The Asphalt Jungle” of 1950 had grossed $200 million. At the banks that finance movies, her name on a contract meant unlimited credit for a producer.

Marilyn Monroe dies: Sex symbol probably suicide

Front page of San Bernardino County Sun newspaper – August 6, 1962

Marilyn Monroe dies - Front page of San Bernardino County Sun newspaper - August 6 1962

2 disappointments

Only her last two movies, “Let’s Make Love” and “The Misfits,” had been disappointing at the box office — a fact which distressed her. She seemed happy as Marilyn Monroe, the star, with the spotlights beaming brightly.

But when the lights went off in her lonely bedroom, the dreams of Marilyn Monroe, the sex symbol, became the nightmares of Norma Jean Baker, lost waif.

Few movie scripts will ever match the drama of the Marilyn Monroe story, the beautiful girl who had everything– but personal happiness. Her childhood was as publicized as that of the nation’s presidents. Every movie fan knew the details — as tragic as her death.

MORE: Marilyn Monroe sings Happy Birthday, Mr President to Kennedy (1962)

Hard childhood

Unwanted and unloved, boarded at county expense in a variety of foster homes . . . a little girl who washed mountains of dirty dishes and scrubbed acres of dirty floors . . . her little girl body violated by a lecherous roomer in a foster home . . . her illegitimacy by a father she never saw . . . a mother she seldom saw outside of mental homes.

All the while she dreamed of becoming a movie star. And, when she did, her insecure childhood failed to cushion her against the shocking insecurity of the Hollywood jungle.

Reaction to her death was profound and worldwide. From London, Sir Laurence Olivier laid the blame on Hollywood for exploiting her “beyond anyone’s means.”

LIFE Apr 20, 1959 Marilyn Monroe cover

No fairytale

And in Paris, Jean Cocteau summed up a general feeling: “Many young girls who dream of becoming stars should understand that their life is not a fairytale.”

Marilyn died proving that peace of mind cannot be bought — even on an income of a million dollars a picture.

In 1961, she lost two babies while married to Miller. Then came a frustrated love affair with married Yves Montand, the breakup of her marriage to Miller because of it, and the untimely death of Clark Gable, her co-star in “The Misfits.”

The result — two stays in New York psychiatric hospitals.

Marilyn Monroe dies; Sleep pills blamed

Front page of Pasadena Independent newspaper – August 6, 1962

Marilyn Monroe dies - Front page of Pasadena Independent newspaper - August 6 1962

It happened last night: ‘Marilyn’ — A friend remembers her before the pills

by Earl Wilson – The Progress-Index (Petersburg-Colonial Heights, Va.) August 9, 1962

Yes, I knew her rather well… What I’m saying now is from the heart.

Just three years ago the other afternoon — the day it happened — I had a date with Marilyn Monroe for an interview, and I warned her press agent, “Tell Marilyn I’m not going to wait an hour for her to get dressed, as I usually do. I’m giving my wife a surprise party right afterward — and that’s important.”

Marilyn was intrigued. She came wiggling out of her bedroom at the E. 57th St. apartment without makeup — only 15 minutes late.

Charming that day, and quite funny, she produced a large, obviously expensive cabinet portrait of herself at the end of the interview. She inscribed it, “Dear Rosemary, Thanks for sharing Earl with me on your birthday.”

Marilyn held the picture to her bosom before surrendering it.

“It’s very precious,” she said. “I had only two left. I was saving them for my grandchildren, to show them that once I was pretty…”

Maybe if Marilyn had become a mother, it’d have been different. She masked her gloominess over that, and her other problems, so expertly, with jokes and false gaiety, that most of us never really saw her dark, depressed periods.

Even when she complained about a story…

I wrote last summer that she’d sat ringside at Frank Sinatra’s opening at the Las Vegas Sands, “holding her highball glass on the railing.”

“It was not a highball glass,” Marilyn protested. “I was drinking champagne on the rocks — and it was a champagne glass!”

Marilyn was always so friendly, so bubbly, so cheerful, so cooperative, so quotable — once you got through to her. Lately we more and more heard, “Marilyn isn’t feeling very well… you know… since her operation…”

We knew about the drinking. The sleeping pills. The quick flirtations. The rumors that she’d tried to “do the Dutch” in Payne-Whitney. The mere worrisome truth that she was 36. We all said that some day she would take the sleeping pill route out, but we didn’t expect it yet.

To me it seems now so very long ago — actually only 1959 — that I was induced, on a dull Saturday, to interview a blonde starlet nobody else in New York would bother seeing.

Marilyn Monroe in 1959

“MMMMmmm” was already her publicity gimmick. She was supposedly a sexpot, but to me she was colorless and wooden.

Four or five years later, when she was the biggest thing in the country, I had to wait an hour or two for her to primp when I dropped around to her Hollywood house. Would she remember me?

“Oh, here’s the interview you did — the first one — I kept it in my scrapbook!” she said, all out of breath about it, when she eventually wriggled and slithered out.

She was always laughing in those days. “You have a wonderful view from here,” I remarked to Marilyn, gazing out the window at a sloping street.

“Marilyn,” remarked a photographer with us, looking her up, down and across, “has a wonderful view from anywhere.” It was a joke she enjoyed for several years.

MORE: Young actor James Dean was killed in car crash in 1955, but his fame kept growing

Marilyn was using every publicity device then to get more famous… including the story that she was not “an undieworld character” — that she wore no undies, bras; that she didn’t like to be “hampered by all those ridges and things.”

I guess I printed, first, her gags: “What do you wear to bed? … Oh, just some Channel No. 5… Don’t you have anything on? … Oh, of course! The radio!”

Later in some old files of my own, I found these gags, printed some years before, attributed to others. Somebody had borrowed them for Marilyn and she’d parroted them as part of her buildup.

But “dumb”? Never!

Marilyn Monroe - Red dress in 1952

In London, when she was making “The Prince and the Showgirl” with Sir Laurence Olivier, I saw her captivate 200 sharpshooters of the English Fourth Estate. “How would you define ‘democracy?'” some heckler asked her.

“Well,” she replied, breathily again, “how would you define it?”… with the big smile and heaved-forward chest that made 199 other reporters give her a cheer.

And Marilyn was quick to cut off “the sponges,” the phonies who were “using” her — she wasn’t nasty, but she wouldn’t speak to them. She “never went back” to somebody she’d left.

But she did go back, wholeheartedly, to one she’d left: Joe DiMaggio. Marilyn knew he was genuine, and he remained so, till the end.

I’ll probably be writing more about Marilyn for days. I’d say her torture was due to her mixed-up childhood. Robert Mitchum remembers working in a war plant with her first husband. MM was nobody then, Mitchum was nobody.

“Hey,” said the first husband, to Mitchum, “here’s a picture of my old lady. What do you think of her?”

It was a shot of a teenage bride, a brunette then, Marilyn Monroe… naked, waiting for him at the gate.

Then eventually came stupendous fame… then the sleeping pills — “those God damned pills” — to lift her into a cloud that would carry her above her troubles. Finally, it just took too many pills.

MORE: Marilyn Monroe’s first husband, who she married at age 16, fondly remembers their four years of marriage (1976)

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Comments on this story

One Response

  1. This year (2012) marks the 50th anniversary of the death of Marilyn Monroe.
    The day she died was a sad one.
    No one could believe it.
    The goddess was gone.
    Although Marilyn left us on that August 5th, she never really went away.
    Her popularity grew and she became larger than life or death.
    She is still the all-time most beautiful woman in the eyes of most everyone, and anything with her image sells.
    Fans flock to her crypt every day and there is no end to the love people have for Marilyn Monroe.
    She is an icon in every sense of the word.

    George Vreeland Hill

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