Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Mysterious Death of Marilyn Monroe

It's one of the enduring mysteries of our time.

How did Marilyn Monroe die?

Forty-six years ago today, her dead body was found in her Brentwood, Calif., home.

Brentwood has made the news before — not just because it's been home to countless celebrities over the years.

O.J. Simpson's wife and her friend were murdered there in 1994. Also, during the 1990s, Monica Lewinsky was often referred to as being from Brentwood — but, although her father lives in the area today, she was raised elsewhere.

Monroe's death, at the age of 36, was suspicious, and it has remained a starting point for conspiracy theories for nearly half a century. The coroner, Dr. Thomas Noguchi, ruled her death a "probable suicide," but there wasn't enough evidence to rule conclusively that it was either a suicide or a homicide.

The rumors have continued to swirl. They have included rumors of her relationships with rich and powerful men (i.e., John and Robert Kennedy) and the possibility that she was murdered because she was a security risk (based on allegations of discussions she had about atomic testing issues with President Kennedy).

A former Secret Service agent told CBS that it was "common knowledge" among his cohorts that John Kennedy and Monroe had an affair, but the rumors involving Robert Kennedy were never verified.

There have also been tales (never confirmed) that she was murdered by organized crime figures.

And Monroe's housekeeper/housemate Eunice Murray (who was 60 years old when Monroe died) told the BBC that Monroe was still alive when the doctor arrived at the house after being summoned in the early morning hours of Sunday, Aug. 5, 1962.

Murray died in 1993 without ever elaborating on that claim.

Like President Kennedy's assassination, the death of Marilyn Monroe will probably remain shrouded in mystery. So many years have now passed and so many of the people who would have made the most plausible witnesses are gone now.

It is highly unlikely that we'll ever know the truth. Monroe's death is now the fodder of conspiracy theorists.

What we're left with are her films, and most of them only hint at the potential that was lost. But you can see one of the best examples of her work later this month, when Turner Classic Movies shows "Some Like It Hot" on Wednesday, Aug. 27 at 7 p.m. (Central).

It's no exaggeration to say it's one of the finest films ever made. It was directed by Billy Wilder and it also stars Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon. If you've never seen it, trust me, you'll be entertained — right up to Joe E. Brown's memorable final line, "Well, nobody's perfect!"

(Believe me, it will make sense to you after you've seen the film. And the American Film Institute thought highly enough of the line to rank it #48 on "AFI's 100 Years ... 100 Movie Quotes" list.)

But if you want to explore Monroe's psyche, you may have to rent the DVD of HBO's "Norma Jean & Marilyn." It's an imaginative examination of the conflicting emotions that certainly tormented Monroe, starring Ashley Judd and Mira Sorvino.

It got mixed reviews when HBO first aired it in 1996.

I thought it was a remarkable film, and, although it sheds no new light on the circumstances surrounding Monroe's death, I recommend it.

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