Marilyn Monroe is dead. Mere weeks after singing Happy Birthday to the president, these were the exact words radio stations and newspapers broadcasted across Los Angeles and the U.S. on Sunday August 5, 1962. Many people who lived in 1962 remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard the sad news about Marilyn Monroe. For some people, the world seemed to stop spinning for just a few seconds. For others, the news was just another celebrity incident. But it’s almost certain that everyone in North America who attended the movies knew who Marilyn was and were aware that Hollywood‘s most iconic celebrity had passed away.
The exact events surrounding Marilyn Monroe’s death remained shrouded in mystery. Much of the evidence and testimony obtained during the investigation has been destroyed or lost. Marilyn died on Saturday, June 4, 1962, and the news didn’t reach the public until well into the next morning. Saturday, August 4, 1962 appeared to be a pretty ordinary day in the life of Marilyn Monroe. Pat Newcomb, her press agent, slept over and woke around noon on Saturday. Marilyn had not slept well and was in a crabby mood when Pat spoke to her. It annoyed her that Pat was able to sleep while she suffered yet another night of insomnia. Her combination of champagne, which she drank most of the day, and sleeping pills didn’t succeed in sending her into slumber.
Most of the afternoon Marilyn spent with Dr. Ralph Greenson, her psychiatrist. There was a noticeable difference in Marilyn’s condition during the afternoon. While she had been alert during the morning she appeared to be drugged in the afternoon. Her internist, Dr. Hyman Engelberg had just refilled a Nembutal prescription the previous day and it was possible that Marilyn had taken one or more of the capsules. Nembutal was the drug that would kill Marilyn. Dr. Greenson was trying to break Marilyn’s Nembutal habit and switched her to chloral hydrate as a sleep aid. He was unsuccessful as Marilyn had various sources of her favorite drug and kept plenty of them in her residence. Greenson said something very important the night of Marilyn’s death: ” God damn it! Hy gave her a prescription I didn’t know about!” During her last year alive Marilyn was visiting Greenson every business day of the week.
Eunice Murray was at Marilyn’s home most of the day, arriving at work early in the morning. Dr. Greenson came to Marilyn’s after lunch. Eunice was not Marilyn’s favourite employee. Dr. Greenson had hired Eunice to work for Marilyn, who believed Eunice spied on her for her doctor. Eunice stated she called Greenson after Marilyn asked her if there was any oxygen around. Pat said that she left Marilyn’s house somewhere between 5:30 and 6:00 p.m. Greenson spent some time with Marilyn alone, then later asked Pat to leave since Marilyn had doled out some sharp words to her. Pat left Marilyn’s house somewhere between 5:30 and 6:00 p.m. Certainly if Pat had any concerns about Marilyn’s mental state she wouldn’t have left Marilyn alone.
Dr. Greenson spent another hour with Marilyn and then left around 7 p.m. Joe DiMaggio Jr. called Marilyn around 7: 15 p.m. to discuss with Marilyn his decision to end his engagement. This seemed to buoy Marilyn’s mood. Both Eunice and DiMaggio Jr. observed that Marilyn was in good spirits after talking to the young man. Her elevated mood was confirmed by Dr. Greenson who she immediately called to tell him about DiMaggio Jr.’s broken engagement.
About 7:45 p.m., Peter Lawford, John F. Kennedy’s cousin and Marilyn’s neighbour, called to invite Marilyn to a dinner party he was having and later told police she sounded heavily drugged. He shouted her name into the phone a few times when she didn’t respond to his conversation. Lawford quoted Marilyn as saying, “Say goodbye to Pat, say goodbye to the president, and say goodbye to yourself, because you’re a nice guy.”
At this point, there are sharply conflicting statements from many sources as to when Marilyn died and how and when her death was discovered. There are known, undisputed facts about Marilyn’s death. Murder or suicide? This is what the facts attempt to reveal and ultimately it is left to the reader to determine the truth.
Fact # 1 – At 4:25 a.m. Sunday morning, August 5 Sergeant Jack Clemmons of the West Los Angeles Police Department got a call that he would never forget. Dr. Hyman Engelberg told him Marilyn had committed suicide. When he arrived at Marilyn’s home there were three people there – Eunice Murray, Dr. Ralph Greenson and Dr. Hyman Engelberg. They led Clemmons into the bedroom where her nude body was lying covered with a sheet and pointed out the bottles of sedatives. Clemmons stated, “‘She was lying facedown in what I call the soldier’s position. Her face was in a pillow, her arms were by her side, her right arm was slightly bent. Her legs were stretched out perfectly straight.'” He immediately thought she had been placed that way. He had seen number of suicides, and an overdose of sleeping tablets causes victims to suffer convulsions and vomit before they die in a contorted position. However, another account by a police officer Clemmons had called for back-up, stated it took several minutes to straighten Marilyn’s corpse due to advanced rigor mortis.
Fact # 2 – The statements taken from the three individuals were very strange and Clemmons was convinced he was not hearing the truth. They claimed Marilyn’s body had been discovered four hours earlier, but they could not contact the police until 20th Century Fox’s publicity department gave them permission. Four hours? Permission from 20th Century Fox to contact authorities while a dead body lay in front of them? Strange is an understatement. There was no drinking glass in the bedroom from which Marilyn could have taken the many pills that she swallowed. Was it removed or was Marilyn so adept at gulping several pills at once after nearly a decade of using, that she no longer needed water? This has been observed in addicts who are used to ingesting large amounts of pills.
Fact # 3 – The preliminary autopsy was conducted by Dr. Thomas Noguchi. Coroner Theodore Curphey determined that Marilyn died from an overdose of barbiturates. Remnants of the drug pentobarbital (sleeping pills) were found in her liver and chloral hydrate was found in her blood. He claimed that there was no distinguishable physical evidence of foul play. The cause of death was the famous phrase that led to the murder speculation for the next 5 decades. Marilyn’s death was listed as “probable suicide.” Personally I think the coroner referred to probable meaning Marilyn may have accidentally overdosed, rather than purposefully committing suicide.I don’t believe he eluded to murder.
Fact # 4 – The last fact in her life that we can be sure of is that around 7:15 p.m. on Saturday night, she talked with Joe DiMaggio Jr. about his romantic involvements and she was very happy, elated with the fact that Joe was breaking off a relationship with a woman Marilyn didn’t like. Peter Lawford called within a half an hour. Marilyn had gone from being happy and alert to heavily drugged, making comments that could be construed as suicidal. Lawford was so panicked that he called his friend, Milt Ebbins, who convinced Marilyn’s lawyer, Milton Rudin, to call Marilyn’s house to see if she was okay.
Fact # 5 – Rudin called the house around 8:30 and asked Eunice to check on Marilyn. Eunice said that she checked and Marilyn was fine. Lawford wasn’t satisfied so he called his friend, Joe Naar, around 11 p.m. Naar lived close to Marilyn and agreed to go over and make sure that Marilyn had not overdosed. Just as Naar was getting ready to leave, he got a call from Rudin telling him to stay put and that Marilyn had been given a sedative by Dr. Greenson.
Fact # 6 – Marilyn spoke with her hairdresser, Sidney Guilaroff, at about 8:30 p.m. Guilaroff claimed Marilyn said she knew a lot of dangerous secrets about the Kennedys. Marilyn received several more phone calls that evening, including one from her part-time lover, Jose Bolanos. Bolanos claimed that Marilyn revealed, “something shocking to him that would shock the whole world” in a phone call at about 9:30 p.m. During the conversation, Marilyn laid down the phone without hanging up because she allegedly heard some kind of disturbance at her door. He never heard from her again. Something shocking? Whatever it was, the world has never heard of it.
Fact # 7 – When the undertaker came to take Marilyn to the mortuary Sunday morning between 5:30 and 6:00 a.m., “rigor mortis was advanced” and estimated that she had died between 9:30 and 11:30 Saturday night. Arthur Jacobs, Marilyn’s publicist, learned of Marilyn’s death around 10:00 to 10:30 Saturday night and had to leave a concert to deal with the press issues.
Fact # 8 – Between 9 and 10 p.m after speaking with Dr. Greenson, Marilyn contacted a friend and former neighbour, Jeanne Carmen, asking her to bring some sleeping pills over to her house. Jeanne refused, stating “I can’t. I’m blasted, I’m drunk, I’cannot get a ticket.” It was the last time she spoke with her friend. Jeanne Carmen insisted Marilyn was murdered but refused to name her killer.
Those are the indisputable facts, as written in evidence records and stated in interviews with actual witnesses. This is where things get iffy. Eunice and Greenson’s statements about Marilyn’s suicide clashes with that of Arthur Jacobs. Eunice claimed she woke up around 3 a.m., saw a light under Marilyn’s bedroom door, which later proved impossible because of deep-pile carpeting, found the door locked, also impossible since there was no functional lock on the door, and called Dr. Greenson. Eunice stated the telephone cord alarmed her since Marilyn usually put the telephone in another room and covered it with pillows, so it couldn’t ring and wake her in the night. She claimed Greenson told her to go around the side of the house and look through the window. Eunice did, returned to the phone and told Greenson Marilyn was lying on her bed, not moving and not responding to her knocking on the bedroom door. Greenson told Eunice to call the police. Greenson came to the house, went to the side window and smashed it in order to enter the bedroom. He stated “I could see from across the room that she was no longer living.” Around 3: 50 a.m. declared that Marilyn was dead. This conflicts with Fact # 2, that Greenson hadn’t contacted authorities right away until given permission to do so by 20th Century Fox.
The murder theory arose from Nguchi’s statement that Marilyn’s died as a “probable suicide.” Many people have believed the following theories about Marilyn’s death:
Theory # 1 – The Kennedys were involved with Marilyn’s death. Marilyn had threatened to hold a press conference and reveal her affair with John F. Kennedy to avenge her rejection by the president. He saw fit to silence her and either she was injected with a syringe or given an enema with an overdose of Nembutal.That sounds ridiculous to me. A dead Marilyn was more dangerous to the Kennedys than a live one. If Marilyn had threatened to hold a press conference, no evidence has been found that she contacted the media or set up any such interviews. In fact, her final interview included no mention of the Kennedys.
Theory # 2 – The Mafia killed Marilyn Monroe. What the hell for? This would be a misguided attempt to make it appear that the Kennedys had killed Marilyn but with a complete lack of evidence planted at the scene, this makes little sense. Besides, the mafia and J. Edgar Hoover were good friends. They worked together to assassinate the president. It’s doubtful Kennedy’s fling with Marilyn Monroe was of any concern to them.
Theory # 3 – Eunice Murray killed Marilyn Monroe by giving her an enema with an overdose of Nembutal. The motive Eunice Murray could have in killing Marilyn is unclear. She stood to be blamed, since she was the only person in Marilyn’s house as the time of her death. Eunice would also be without employment if she killed Marilyn.
Ultimately, the suicide theory is the most widely believed. Marilyn had tried it four times previously during her 20’s and 30’s through drug overdoses. She was manic-depressive (Bipolar today) and the medications she was using didn’t appear to significantly help her mental health. That was probably due to the fact that if Marilyn was taking Lithium (the designer drug of choice used to treat manic-depression back in the day), it may not have proven effective. Lithium is a salt. There is a much wider variety of mood disorder drugs that are far more effective available on the market today.
Another worry about Marilyn’s mental health was the combination of chloral hydrate (sleeping pills) and lithium. Admittedly, I am no medical physician by any means, but I know a little something about chloral hydrate: it is a sedative, meaning a mild depressant, probably not the wisest choice of drug for Marilyn when she was battling both depression and mania. At higher doses sedatives result in slurred speech, staggering gait, poor judgment, and slow, uncertain reflexes. This accounts for Marilyn’s slurred speech when she spoke to Peter Lawford on Saturday evening about his dinner party. If combined with another sedative, many of these drugs can cause unconsciousness and even death. This accounts for Greenson’s comment that he told Engelberg not to prescribe Nembutal, a central nervous system depressant, to Marilyn.
It is the conflict in reported hours of Marilyn’s death based on witnesses and documentation by Jack Clemmons, Dr. Greenwood and the coroner that have triggered the murder theory. Knowing what I know about Marilyn Monroe (years of research into her life, including reading her own diary entries from the age of 17, letters she wrote, several biographies and televised documentaries), I am convinced of her suicide, accidental or not. I base this on 3 reasons:
(1) Her unhappy childhood. Norma Jean(e) Baker was a foster child for several years, often experiencing sexual abuse, until she was taken in by “Aunt Grace’, a friend of her mother’s. Marilyn’s mother Gladys Baker was unable to care for her daughter as she was schizophrenic and lived most of her life in a mental institution. Grace maintained care of Norma Jean until she was 16. By then Marilyn, like many foster children, had lost the ability to form lasting, trusting bonds and relationships. Hence her many divorces and abortions. I believe her childhood was the core of her loneliness and ultimate suicide.
(2) Manic-Depression. Mental illness is a strong factor in suicide. Since Marilyn visited her doctor daily for several months before her suicide, it is safe to say her mental health was deteriorating, rather than improving.
(3) Hollywood. Marilyn became involved in an unstable, fickle industry. She worked with actors who had their own psychological problems. She felt disrespected and mistreated by her studios. She was exposed to drugs and alcohol. We see the effect celebrity has on young people today and it is usually disheartening. For her part, Marilyn was often quoted as saying “I’m so sick of being treated like a thing!” Her public image as a sex symbol was another burden. As she aged, Marilyn quipped to the press, “gravity catches up with all of us.” In reality, she was terrified of aging and losing her beauty and youth, since all of her movie roles revolved around her sex appeal. During her last interview she spoke for 8 hours about fame. Marilyn was quoted as saying, “Fame may go by and – so long. I’ve had you. But that’s not where I live.” In my opinion, comments such as Jeanne Carmen’s, who stated she won’t name Marilyn’s killer because “I’d still like to breathe”, are demonstrative of the melodrama many people display when discussing the enigmatic celebrity. Finally, according to the third assistant director of the film The Prince and the Showgirl, Marilyn medicated herself to the point where “she sometimes [came] on the set looking like a zombie. You could see it was getting harder and harder for her to be her.”
Geraldo Rivera once stated, “Marilyn Monroe died in 1962 and we’re still talking about her death. I guarantee you they’ll be talking about it in 2062.” Well said.