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Hall of Fame: Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe (born Norma Jeane Mortenson; June 1, 1926 – August 5, 1962) was an American actress and model. Famous for playing comic “dumb blonde” characters, she became one of the most popular sex symbol 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. More than half a century after her death, she continues to be considered 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 with 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 becoming a star, but rather than damaging her career, the story resulted in increased interest in her films.

Monroe’s troubled private life received much attention. She struggled with substance abuse, depression, and anxiety. She had two highly publicized marriages, to retired baseball star Joe DiMaggio and playwright Arthur Miller, both of which ended in divorce. On August 5, 1962, she died at age 36 from an overdose of barbiturates at her home in Los Angeles.

The possibility that Monroe had accidentally overdosed was ruled out, because the dosages found in her body were several times over the lethal limit. Her 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, the coroner classified her death as a “probable suicide”.

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 Tribune reported that they had received hundreds of phone calls from members of the public who were requesting information about her death. French artist Jean Cocteau commented 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”.

In the following decades, several conspiracy theories have been introduced to contradict suicide as the cause of Monroe’s death, including murder and accidental overdose. The murder speculations 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.


This is an excerpt from Youth Shades Magazine October 2017 Issue. Click here to get your copy for free. 


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