Marilyn Monroe (born Norma Jeane Mortenson; June 1, 1926 – August 5, 1962) was an American actress, model, and singer. Famous for playing comic "blonde bombshell" characters, she became one of the most popular sex symbols of the 1950s and was emblematic of the era's attitudes towards sexuality. Although she was a top-billed actress for only a decade, her films grossed $200 million by the time of her unexpected death in 1962 (equivalent to $2 billion in 2017). More than half a century later, she continues to be a major popular culture icon.
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Monroe spent most of her childhood in foster homes and an orphanage and married at the age of sixteen. While working in a radioplane factory in 1944 as part of the war effort, she was introduced to a photographer from the First Motion Picture Unit and began a successful pin-up modeling career. The work led to short-lived film contracts with Twentieth Century-Fox (1946–1947) and Columbia Pictures (1948). After a series of minor film roles, she signed a new contract with Fox in 1951. Over the next two years, she became a popular actress and had roles in several comedies, including As Young as You Feel and Monkey Business, and in the dramas Clash by Night and Don't Bother to Knock. Monroe faced a scandal when it was revealed that she had posed for nude photos before she became a star, but the story did not tarnish her career and instead resulted in increased interest in her films. By 1953, Monroe was one of the most marketable Hollywood stars; she had leading roles in the noir film Niagara, which focused on her sex appeal, and the comedies Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and How to Marry a Millionaire, which established her star image as a "dumb blonde". Although she played a significant role in the creation and management of her public image throughout her career, she was disappointed when she was typecast and underpaid by the studio. She was briefly suspended in early 1954 for refusing a film project but returned to star in one of the biggest box office successes of her career, The Seven Year Itch (1955).
During the final months of her life, Monroe lived at 12305 Fifth Helena Drive in the Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles. Her housekeeper Eunice Murray was staying overnight at the home on the evening of August 5, 1962. Murray awoke at 3:00 a.m. on August 6 and sensed that something was wrong. Although she saw light from under Monroe's bedroom door, she was unable to get a response and found the door locked. Murray then called Monroe's psychiatrist, Dr. Ralph Greenson, who arrived at the house shortly after and broke into the bedroom through a window, finding Monroe dead in her bed. She was pronounced dead by her physician, Dr. Hyman Engelberg, who arrived at the house at around 3:50 a.m. At 4:25 a.m., they notified the Los Angeles Police Department.
Monroe had died between 8:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. on August 5, and the toxicology report revealed that the cause of death was acute barbiturate poisoning. She had 8 mg%(milligrams per 100 milliliters of solution) chloral hydrate and 4.5 mg% of pentobarbital (Nembutal) in her blood, and 13 mg% of pentobarbital in her liver. Empty medicine bottles were found next to her bed. The possibility that Monroe had accidentally overdosed was ruled out because the dosages found in her body were several times over the lethal limit.
The Los Angeles County Coroners Office was assisted in their investigation by the Los Angeles Suicide Prevention Team, who had expert knowledge on suicide. Monroe's doctors stated that she had been "prone to severe fears and frequent depressions" with "abrupt and unpredictable mood changes", and had overdosed several times in the past, possibly intentionally. Due to these facts and the lack of any indication of foul play, deputy coroner Thomas Noguchi classified her death as a probable suicide.
Monroe's crypt at Westwood Memorial Park in Westwood Village
Monroe was an international star and her sudden death was front-page news in the United States and Europe. According to Lois Banner, "it's said that the suicide rate in Los Angeles doubled the month after she died; the circulation rate of most newspapers expanded that month", and the Chicago Tribunereported that they had received hundreds of phone calls from members of the public who were requesting information about her death. French artist Jean Cocteaucommented that her death "should serve as a terrible lesson to all those, whose chief occupation consists of spying on and tormenting film stars", her former co-star Laurence Olivier deemed her "the complete victim of ballyhoo and sensation", and Bus Stop director Joshua Logan stated that she was "one of the most unappreciated people in the world". Her funeral, held at the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery on August 8, was private and attended by only her closest associates. The service was arranged by Joe DiMaggio and her business manager Inez Melson. Hundreds of spectators crowded the streets around the cemetery. Monroe was later entombed at crypt No. 24 at the Corridor of Memories.
In the following decades, several conspiracy theories, including murder and accidental overdose, have been introduced to contradict suicide as the cause of Monroe's death. The speculation that Monroe had been murdered first gained mainstream attention with the publication of Norman Mailer's Marilyn: A Biography in 1973, and in the following years became widespread enough for the Los Angeles County District Attorney John Van de Kamp to conduct a "threshold investigation" in 1982 to see whether a criminal investigation should be opened. No evidence of foul play was found.