Marilyn Monroe was a pop culture icon, and her tragic suicide made her even more of one. To this day, people devour any new details about her passing. A lot of conspiracy theorists think that she didn’t take her own life at all, but was murdered. Whatever the truth of that matter, there was a desperately unhappy woman behind the glamorous Hollywood image.
Marilyn Monroe had a difficult life. She was born Norma Jeane Mortenson in 1926, to a mother who suffered from mental health issues. Her childhood was full of uncertainty, abuse and difficulty. As an adult, Monroe would also have poor mental health. The year before she died, she spent some time in a psychiatric ward.
Throughout her life, Monroe self-medicated with drugs such as amphetamines, as well as alcohol. This led to more and more trouble. In Monroe’s last years, movie studios had labeled her as difficult and sometimes actively prevented her from getting roles. She would probably have played Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, but Paramount Pictures refused to cast her.
But it might have been pure anxiety more than anything else that caused Monroe’s troubles with the movie studios. In 2002 actor Richard Widmark recollected working with her to the Daily Telegraph. The actress was, he said, “a nervous wreck, “insecure about so many things” and “obviously self-destructive.”
Monroe almost seemed to consider herself two different people: the Hollywood superstar and the troubled woman. One of the most famous anecdotes about her involves her going unnoticed on a street, before informing a friend she was about to turn into “her.” She took off her coat and headscarf, and suddenly everyone around her knew who she was.
After Monroe’s death, letters and diary entries were uncovered that speak to her state of mind during her illustrious career. A journal entry thought to be from around 1951, the time that she started becoming truly big in Hollywood, reads “Alone!!!!!!! I am alone I am always alone no matter what.”
These journal entries became more and more intense over the years. In 1957 Monroe wrote about how unhappy she was with her husband Arthur Miller. In her stream-of-consciousness style, she wrote, “I’ve tried to imagine spring all winter – it’s here and I still feel hopeless. I think I hate it here because there is no love here anymore…”
Monroe’s descriptions of the psychiatric hospital she was sent to in 1961 paint a terrifying picture. She wrote to her doctor that year, “I felt I was in some kind of prison for a crime I hadn’t committed… the doors have windows so patients can be visible all the time, also, the violence and markings still remain on the walls from former patients.”
Monroe described in her letter what had happened at the hospital. She wrote that she had smashed some glass with a chair and kept a piece. “I went over with the glass concealed in my hand and sat quietly on the bed waiting for them to come in,” she wrote. “They did, and I said to them ‘if you are going to treat me like a nut I’ll act like a nut.’”
Monroe wrote that she hadn’t planned to actually cut herself. “I’m an actress and would never intentionally mark or mar myself, I’m just that vain,” she wrote. And then she added, “Remember when I tried to do away with myself I did it very carefully with ten seconal and ten tuonal and swallowed them with relief (that’s how I felt at the time.)”
Monroe’s suicide on August 4, 1962, happened the same way: a drugs overdose. Her housekeeper Eunice Murray woke up on 3:30 a.m. the next day and saw light under Monroe’s door but no noise from within. She called Monroe’s psychiatrist Ralph Greenson, who broke into her room through a window and found that she was dead.
The same day that Monroe’s body was found, doctors performed an autopsy. In the final report after that took place, published August 18, a trio of psychiatrists noted of her, “Miss Monroe had suffered from psychiatric disturbance for a long time. She experienced severe fears and frequent depressions.”
The report, written by Norman Farberow, Norman Tabachnik and Robert Litman, went on to say that Monroe’s mood changes were “abrupt and unpredictable.” Furthermore, they said, the deceased actress was “familiar with and experienced in the use of sedative drugs and well aware of their dangers.”
The psychiatrists were sure that Monroe had taken her own life. “On more than one occasion in the past, she had made a suicide attempt, using sedative drugs,” the report read. “On these occasions, she had called for help and had been rescued. It is our opinion that the same pattern was repeated on the evening of Aug. 4 except for the rescue.”
The doctors said, “It has been our practice with similar information collected in other cases in the past to recommend a certification for such deaths as probable suicide.” Monroe’s autopsy, they explained, “indicates the probable ingestion of a large amount of drugs within a short period of time.”
Countless photos had been taken of Monroe while she was alive, and that didn’t change now that she was dead. Life magazine sent photojournalist Leigh Wiener to cover the story, and he got pictures of her home and her funeral and even some inside the Westwood Mortuary where her body lay.
Two days after Monroe’s death, The New York Times interviewed those who had known her. Some people placed the blame for her death on the media. “Marilyn Monroe’s tragic death should serve as a terrible lesson to all those whose chief occupation consists of spying on and tormenting film stars,” Jean Cocteau said.
The funeral for Monroe was held at the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery. Despite the fact that her death had made headlines all over the world, only a fairly small amount of people were invited to the service. To keep away reporters and the fans lining the streets, police were assigned to guard the cemetery.
Decades down the line from there, Monroe’s death is still talked about. Some people believe that the Kennedy family, to whom Monroe was connected, had her killed. Others have suggested that Monroe had an affair with Robert F. Kennedy and was murdered by the FBI because of it. Either way, there’s little evidence.
Many documentaries have attempted to shed a light on Monroe’s final days. In 2019 a new one, titled Scandalous: The Death of Marilyn Monroe, aired on Fox News. The Scandalous series analyzes famous and talked-about moments in recent history. It’s covered the President Clinton affair, the trial of William Kennedy Smith and more.
The show talked the audience through Monroe’s last few months. She had bought a new house in Los Angeles the January before she died. Scandalous showed some old footage of Monroe’s housekeeper Eunice Murray explaining that the actress’ doctors thought the house “would take the place of a baby or a husband.”
Murray had actually been hired by Monroe’s doctor Greenson to be both housekeeper and “companion” to the troubled actress. She was expected to inform Greenson of Monroe’s movements, which Monroe herself hated. In the Scandalous show, Monroe biographer Keith Badman described Murray as “a glorified spy.”
It seems perhaps strange to modern ears that doctors though Monroe having a nice house would make up for not having “a baby or husband”. But it did seem to help. In the old footage rereleased for the documentary, Murray notes that Monroe “liked the protective feeling of the heavy beams in the ceiling.”
And it was inside that house that Monroe passed away. Her body was moved not too long after it had been discovered to the Westwood Mortuary. The most shocking revelation Scandalous made about the death of Monroe revolved around something that happened inside that mortuary.
Leigh Wiener photographed Monroe’s body inside the mortuary as part of his assignment for Life. One of his pictures, of Monroe’s feet with a toe-tag on them, was published. But Wiener’s own son, Devik, alleged on the documentary that his father took more pictures of Monroe’s corpse.
Leigh Wiener died in 1993, but over the course of his life he was a very prolific and popular photographer. He took pictures of many famous public figures, including presidents. As well as working for Life, he provided photographs for Fortune, Time, Sports Illustrated and more.
An incident from his early career indicates the sort of approach Wiener took towards photography. In 1949 a three-year-old girl became trapped in a well, and Wiener was sent to cover the story. Instead of photographing the crowds at the scene, he took a picture of the girl’s empty swing in her back yard. When the child was found dead, that was the photo used for the newspapers.
In the documentary, Devik alleged that his father had bribed his way into the mortuary in the first place. “It wasn’t the first time he utilized a couple of bottles of scotch to get into an area that was off limits,” he said. “He offered a drink to a couple of the guys, and the next thing you know he was in the back.”
But Devik’s most dramatic claim was that his father had taken many more pictures of Monroe’s dead body lying in the morgue than just the ones he had published. He sent three rolls of film to the media, Devik said, but kept two rolls “containing images of Monroe’s nude corpse” for himself.
Devik claimed, “The last two rolls, which contained imagery beyond just the toe tag, he took back to his own studio and claims to have processed, examined, and then very quickly put into a safe deposit box.” The images, he said, had been considered by his father to not be appropriate viewing for the public.
Devik says he has no idea where the photographs of Monroe’s body are now or indeed, “if they ever existed at all.” His father, he claimed, “died with that mystery.” If the photos were ever to be found, they would almost certainly sell for a vast sum of money – despite the distasteful nature of them.
When writing about the new tidbit of information from Devik Wiener, Esquire magazine noted that “Thankfully, [Wiener] seems to have decided that the world didn’t really need to see pictures of Monroe’s naked corpse,” and on the subject of the photos one day coming to light, “Here’s hoping they never do.”
That’s a sentiment that may be echoed by many people. When the Daily Mail reported on the story, people made their feelings heard. One person wrote, “So disrespectful of this beautiful and charming woman.” Another said, “What happened to dignity in death? Burn those photos, and give her the respect she deserves.”
Over the years, many people have expressed disgust about the way Monroe was treated both before and after her death. Her ex-husband, writer Arthur Miller, was one of the first of them. The day of Monroe’s funeral he wrote, “I decided to stay home and let the public mourners finish the mockery… Most of them there destroyed her.”
In 2016 after one of Monroe’s most famous dresses sold for $4.8 million to Ripley’s Believe It or Not, The Guardian published an article titled “We shouldn’t try to dress up what happened to poor Marilyn Monroe.” In it, writer Barbara Ellen noted that, “the Monroe death industry keeps turning.”
Ellen wrote that before Monroe died, she was “a bundle of shivering nerve endings in human form – almost too painful to behold. The exploitation of a hyper-vulnerable woman with crippling mental health problems by the rich and powerful, who, according to Monroe, passed her around ‘like meat.’”
Fresh claims that Monroe was being exploited in death came along in 2017 when Hugh Hefner passed away. Hefner had known of Monroe in life, as she was the first cover girl for his magazine Playboy – and she would later complain that she’d been paid a mere $50 for posing. But he had never even met her.
After Hefner died, reports came out that the mogul had paid $75,000 to own a crypt next to Monroe’s one in Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery. Back in 2009 he had reportedly told the Los Angeles Times, “I’m a believer in things symbolic. Spending eternity next to Marilyn is too sweet to pass up.”
People were furious at the news. The Independent’s Biba Kang wrote that the whole thing was “an insult to [Monroe’s] memory” and “a slap in the face to women everywhere.” One popular tweet passed around read, “You can’t even be alone in death without a man coming over and going ‘so, is this seat taken?’”
Whether the photos of Monroe lying dead were taken with the intention of exploiting her or whether Wiener simply wanted to do his job effectively, we may never know. And as for what became of them, Wiener took that secret to his grave. But considering the horrors of Monroe’s life, one cannot imagine she would ever want photos of her body publicly displayed.