What Really Happened to Marilyn Monroe?
What really happened to Marilyn Monroe? Did she commit suicide, as the official record states ~ or did something more sinister occur, on that hot August night, back in 1962? After reading “The Last Days of Marilyn Monroe,” I’ve been completely OBSESSED with trying to answer that very question. So obsessed, that when my friends came over last weekend, we watched two Marilyn Monroe documentaries…because they too, were dying to figure out this mystery! What really happened to Marilyn Monroe? We all want to know…
**Author’s Note: Article updated as of December 2022.
What Really Happened to Marilyn Monroe?
Why is this such a mystery, & why am I writing about it?
Marilyn’s death remains a mystery, because the “official” story just doesn’t add up. The record states that she died by “probable suicide” (from a MASSIVE overdose of pills). And yet, during her autopsy, no pills or pill residue was found anywhere in her body. Extremely strange. Also, there were at least eight people in her home on the night she died (likely more); but they all either refused to talk, or gave conflicting stories.
The purpose in writing this piece is to find out the truth, after all this time, about what really happened to Marilyn Monroe. I wanted to see, in a clear, timeline format ~ the critical events leading up to her death. Though she died over 50 years ago, Marilyn’s impact is still felt today: her estate generates $5 million annually, after all these years. Marilyn represents something very powerful in our collective psyche: a heady mix of innocence, child-like vulnerability, raw sex appeal, & ultimately ~ tragedy.
This will be the first post in a series of 4 posts, broken down as follows:
1) The Years Leading up to Marilyn’s Death (this post) 2) The Last Months of Marilyn Monroe’s Life, 3) What Really Happened the Day Marilyn Monroe Died, & 4) What Happened After Her Death (aka “The Cover-Up”).
Cast of Characters…
Because the mystery surrounding Marilyn’s death is replete with so many characters ~ many whom are well-known, I feel it’s best to start with a short description of each. You’ll see that these people intertwine in very strange & complicated ways, throughout the last months of her life…
People PRESENT at Marilyn Monroe’s Home on the Night/Morning of Her Death:
- 1) Mrs. Eunice Murray, Marilyn’s housekeeper & trained nurse, who had been referred by Marilyn’s psychiatrist, Dr. Ralph Greenson;
- 2) Pat Newcomb, Marilyn’s publicist & “friend,” but staunch ally & close friend of both Kennedy brothers (Bobby & JFK);
- 3) Dr. Ralph Greenson, Marilyn’s psychiatrist, who saw her frequently in the final year of her life, often giving injections to “sedate” her;
- 4) Peter Lawford, actor & friend of Marilyn’s, & yet another staunch Kennedy pal, known as their “fixer;”
- 5) Attorney General Robert Kennedy, brother of JFK, claimed he was in San Francisco the weekend of Marilyn’s death ~ yet he was seen in L.A. on August 4th, 1962 by no less than 18 people; eyewitnesses say he was in Marilyn’s home TWICE on the day of her death;
- 6) Dr. Hyman Engelberg, Marilyn’s doctor, & close associate of Dr. Greenson’s, who saw Marilyn 13 out of 35 days prior to her death ~ giving her injections (mainly of sedatives) on many of those visits;
- 7) Milton “Mickey” Rudin, Marilyn’s attorney, also known as the “Attorney to the Stars,” & Frank Sinatra’s attorney;
- 8) Norman Jefferies, Marilyn’s handyman & Eunice Murray’s son-in-law, who was NEVER interviewed by police, even though he was in Marilyn’s residence for the last 24 hours of her life.
What Really Happened to Marilyn Monroe?
1926 = Norma Jeane Mortenson is born out-of-wedlock to Gladys Baker; Norma’s father refuses to acknowledge her existence.
1934 = Gladys suffers a mental breakdown, & is committed to a psychiatric hospital, diagnosed with “mental schizophrenia.” Norma Jeane will spend the rest of her childhood in 9 different foster homes.
1946 = Marilyn is signed at 20th Century Fox (by Daryl Zanuck), & changes her name from Norma Jeane to Marilyn Monroe.
Summer of 1954 = Marilyn & John F. Kennedy are publicly seen together at a dinner party (each with their respective spouse: Joe DiMaggio & Jackie Kennedy). At the party, JFK can’t stop staring at Marilyn. It’s believed that this is when Marilyn & JFK began what would become a nearly decade-long affair.
1955 = Marilyn moves to New York to study acting, & is seen numerous times leaving the Carlyle Hotel, early in the morning. The Carlyle was frequented by the Kennedy family during their New York stays.
1960 = Marilyn films “The Misfits” with Clark Gable, written by her then-husband, playwright Arthur Miller. Miller & Marilyn’s marriage falls apart during filming, & her long struggle with barbiturates gets worse. Her psychoanalyst is unable to help her ~ & so her lawyer, Mickey Rudin, suggests that Dr. Ralph Greenson, his brother-in-law, take over as her psychiatrist. (Unbeknownst to Marilyn, Rudin had privately shared with Greenson about her affair with JFK ~ who was soon to be announced as the Democratic Nominee for President.)
What Really Happened to Marilyn Monroe?
1960-1961 = Distraught by the end of her third marriage (to Arthur Miller), Marilyn seems to have found the ideal confidante in Dr. Greenson. They grow close, & he strongly discourages her involvement in unhealthy relationships, with men such as Joe DiMaggio & Frank Sinatra. Though he knows of the affair with JFK, he never discourages that particular relationship.
July 1960 = The Democratic National Convention is held in Los Angeles. Marilyn takes a break from filming “The Misfits” to stay with JFK at Peter Lawford’s beach house. As is typical of his visits, JFK has LAPD officers with him for security. The officers present that weekend are James Hamilton & Marvin Iannone (remember their names ~ because they’ll come back into play later).
November 1960 = JFK is narrowly elected President. Known for his reckless behavior with women (which goes largely unreported by the press), Marilyn joins JFK on various trips, disguised in a black wig & horn-rimmed glasses. She’s also given a private line directly to the President, with the code name: Ms. Green.
Late 1961 = Marilyn moves back to Los Angeles. She soon buys a house on Fifth Helena Drive in Brentwood, just minutes away from Dr. Greenson’s house (who she has multiple sessions with each week), as well as the Lawford beach house. When she buys her new home, Dr. Greenson suggests hiring a housekeeper: Eunice Murray. (Again, unbeknownst to Marilyn, Murray is a trained psychiatric nurse, & close friend of the Greenson’s, due to their mutual involvement with the Communist Party.)
February 1962 = Marilyn meets Bobby Kennedy (Attorney General of the United States & JFK’s brother) at a party in Los Angeles. At the party, she carries around a small journal, to make notes on the topics he discusses ~ for future study (so she can keep up with the conversation). They talk & dance all night, & according to multiple sources, their relationship eventually turns into a sexual one.
What Really Happened to Marilyn Monroe?
Also in February 1962 = Marilyn takes a trip to Mexico City, with Mrs. Murray arranging most of her travel plans. This trip is significant for a few reasons: both Dr. Greenson & Mrs. Murray had long been involved with the Communist Party, even arranging meetings in L.A. One of the men Mrs. Murray told Marilyn to meet in Mexico City, was Frederick Vanderbilt Field ~ a Communist living in exile with his wife. FBI & CIA documents that have recently been released, show that some of Field’s conversations with Marilyn were RECORDED. In them, she is said to have revealed (probably unknowingly) “sensitive information,” that the CIA determined, could only have come from a person with the highest security clearance ~ i.e. the President or Attorney General of the United States.
March 1962 = JFK plans a political trip to California in March 1962. He’s originally supposed to stay with Frank Sinatra, who installs a helipad & spends $500,000 in preparation for the President’s visit. But JFK’s advisers warn him against staying with Sinatra, who has known mob ties, because it could be bad for his image (particularly since Bobby is aggressively targeting the Mob, in his role as Attorney General). So JFK decides to stay at Bing Crosby’s estate in Palm Springs instead, & has Peter Lawford give Sinatra the news. Sinatra goes into a rage, & blackballs Lawford from the “Rat Pack” for the rest of his life, because of this event.
March 22, 1962 = JFK & J. Edgar Hoover meet for lunch at the White House. The Kennedy brothers & Hoover notoriously despise one another, & are NOT political allies. No one knows exactly what was discussed at the meeting, but it’s presumed that at least two of JFK’s mistresses were brought up: Judith Campbell Exner & Marilyn Monroe. Both had logged numerous calls to the White House; Hoover was likely concerned about a security risk ~ particularly given Marilyn’s high profile. JFK still meets with both women following the meeting, saying of Hoover: “Someday I’m going to get rid of that bastard!”
Saturday, March 24, 1962 = Monroe & Peter Lawford take Air Force One from Los Angeles to Palm Springs. She’s disguised in a dark brown wig & glasses, carrying a notebook; they refer to her as the “President’s new secretary.” Monroe stays in the guest cottage at the Bing Crosby estate, which is noted by two witnesses: Philip Watson, the L.A. County Assessor, & her personal masseuse, Ralph Roberts, whom she called that evening, putting President Kennedy on the line with him.
What Really Happened to Marilyn Monroe?
Mid-April 1962 = The start of filming on “Something’s Got to Give” (Marilyn’s final movie) is delayed, & Marilyn flies to New York to attend a fundraiser for John F. Kennedy, held in socialite Fifi Fell’s Park Avenue penthouse. Marilyn is three hours late ~ but is the hit of the party.
Marilyn Monroe & Dean Martin on the set of “Something’s Got to Give,” her final, unfinished picture.
Sunday, April 22, 1962 (the day before “Something’s Got to Give” starts filming) = Marilyn calls screenwriter, Walter Bernstein, & tells him that she’s very sick, & unable to start filming on Monday. The studio, not believing her, sends out one of their doctors ~ who confirms that she’s very ill, with a high temperature & chronic sinusitis. He sends a memo stating that her condition could take weeks to clear up. She goes into set on April 30th, films for about 30 minutes, then collapses on set, & is taken home.
She’s confined to bed from May 5-11th, 1962.
May 10th, 1962 = Dr. Ralph Greenson, Marilyn’s psychiatrist (who sees her almost daily), mysteriously leaves the country for four weeks. He had personally guaranteed to the studio that Marilyn would fulfill her contract ~ which makes his exit even more of a mystery. He asks his associate, Dr. Milton Wexler, to care for Marilyn in his absence. To this day, Wexler refuses to comment on Marilyn or Greenson. It’s said that Greenson may have attended a conference at the Frankfurt School in Germany (a school with strong ties to Marxism) ~ but he was always evasive when asked about this time.
***Author’s Note: I personally have a theory about why Dr. Greenson left at this very critical time in both his & Marilyn’s life ~ but I will reveal it later. So far, though, it fits in with all the crucial details of the case ~ & explains certain things that have remained a mystery.
May 14th, 1962 = Marilyn feels well enough to return to the studio.
Thursday, May 17th, 1962 = Marilyn flies to New York for her planned appearance at JFK’s 45th birthday celebration at Madison Square Garden. On the flight are: Peter Lawford, Pat Newcomb (her publicist), & Paula Strasberg (her acting coach). She had a gorgeous, $6,000 dress made especially for the occasion, covered in thousands of beads.
Because of all the production delays on “Something’s Got to Give,” the studio is not happy with her departure.
Notably: Jackie Kennedy, JFK’s wife, is NOT in attendance at this celebration ~ which is extremely telling. (This lends further credence to the fact that she knew of JFK & Marilyn’s affair.)
Saturday, May 19th, 1962 = President Kennedy’s now-infamous birthday celebration, held at Madison Square Garden. The highlight of the night was Marilyn’s breathy, “Happy Birthday Mr. President” performance ~ now an indelible part of our zeitgeist. Before the event, Mickey Song ~ Marilyn’s hairdresser, is asked by Bobby Kennedy to leave the dressing room. Outside, he hears them arguing, & Bobby leaves about 15 minutes later. Her performance still goes off flawlessly.
Notably: Peter Lawford introduces her as “the late Marilyn Monroe.” At the time, he’s of course referencing her legendary tardiness ~ but with her death occurring two months later: it’s still quite striking.
Marilyn attends a post-gala party at Arthur Krim’s, with both Kennedy’s in attendance. It’s reported that she has a private conversation with both Bobby & JFK for about 15 minutes. It’s also reported that she danced with Bobby five times during the evening, much to the anger of his wife, Ethel. She allegedly left the party early in the morning with JFK. After this night, Marilyn never saw Jack Kennedy again.
What Really Happened to Marilyn Monroe?
I know this post , “What Really Happened to Marilyn Monroe: Suicide or Murder,” has wildly diverged from my typical travel fare. But it’s a mystery that has completely consumed me ~ & for the last few weeks, I’ve been compiling as much information as I can, about the final months of her life. To keep this post from being over 5,000 words, please read the next installment below, where we’ll dig deeper into the mysterious life of this Hollywood star.
And for the most comprehensive, in-depth look at her death, read the phenomenal book by Donald Wolfe, called “The Last Days of Marilyn Monroe.”
Read Next, Part 2: The Last Months of Marilyn Monroe’s Life
Really. YOU think you’re going to solve the murder/suicide when hundreds before you couldn’t? Everyone has to read and come up with their own ending.
Wow. Must’ve struck a nerve with you, Linds. I’m not “solving” anything here. People are always free to come up with their own conclusions. I’m simply compiling a timeline of crucial events in her life, leading up to her death. If something was only witnessed by one person, I try not to include it. But certainly by all means, draw your own conclusions…
ignore the haters ma’am, you did a really good job with this 😉
Thanks, Mychal : ) I try to spend ZERO time on any “haters!” ha #notworthit
I disagree with the comment above – I don’t feel that you’re trying to solve anything here. It seems more that you’re trying to compile what is the most credible testimony, about what happened to Marilyn Monroe on the day of her death and in the months prior. Personally, I’m finding these articles fascinating, and they seem very congruent with the “real story” that has come out over the years. Well done, and we’re looking forward to the final installment.
Hi Dan ~ thanks for your comment! And yes, that’s exactly what I’ve tried to do. The people who have truly “solved” this crime (if you believe that it is, in fact, a crime), are people like Police Sergeant Jack Clemmons & authors Anthony Summers & Donald Wolfe, who have all spent YEARS researching & investigating this case.
Love your articles on MM, I’ve been fascinated w/her lately, been watching her movies & buying books about her, including her autobiography. That woman had a sad life, even world-wide success & adulation couldn’t fill the emptiness in her heart. I’m sure she would be very surprised if she realized how she’s still an icon even all these years after her death.
I’ve always believed that Marilyn was murdered by the Kennedys for the reasons you stated. But I’ve comes across additional info in books by people who knew both Marilyn and the Kennedy family, not sure if you’re aware of it but just in case you’re not, here’s what I’ve read:
Torn Lace Curtain by Frank Saunders (1982), he was Rose Kennedy’s chauffeur from 1961-69 & knew ever family member extremely well (he loved Joe Kennedy, despised Rose). He helped with Joe Kennedy’s therapy in the family pool after Joe’s stroke in December of ’61. Frank was in the pool w/Joe that summer day in August, other family members were around, a radio was playing nearby when a news bulletin announced Marilyn’s death by suicide. Frank noticed that all the people around suddenly quit talking, like no one was surprised, as if they were expecting it. Their reaction was so strange that the impression stayed with him, but didn’t think much of it until years later when rumors were circulated about MM’s relationship w/the JFK & RFK.
Jeannie Out of the Bottle by Barbara Eden (2011), Barbara was filming a movie in April 1962 called Five Weeks in a Balloon on the 20th Century Fox sound stage at the same time Marilyn was filming Something’s Got to Give on the sound stage next door. Both Barbara and Marilyn had the same stand-in, a beautiful, blue-eyed, Southern blonde named Evelyn (Evie) Moriarty. Evie would occasionally share some dirt w/Barb about MM because Barb was in such awe of her & could keep her mouth shut. One day while filming, Evie told Barbara that Marilyn wanted to meet her & dragged her over to the Marilyn’s movie set. Marilyn looked gorgeous, every inch a star. But all was not as it seemed. After Marilyn’s death a few months later, Evie told Barbara that Marilyn had been worried & scared to death because her phone at her Brentwood home would ring, she’d answer, no one would be on the other end, and a big car would follow her around, tracking her every move. Evie was adamant that Marilyn would never kill herself, “Never, never, never! She loved life too much.”
Mr. S.: My Life With Frank Sinatra by George Jacobs (2003), George was Sinatra’s valet from 1953-68, very juicy reading. Frank & Marilyn were very close, George got to know Marilyn very well, she was living in an apartment on Doheny, he didn’t mention when she moved into her Brentwood home. Frank was also close to Joe DiMaggio for a while & Joe was still carrying the torch for Marilyn, just as Frank was still carrying one for Ava Gardner. Frank talked Joe into getting her back, he knew where she lived, he hired a private detective & they all went over to the apartment to break in & try & talk her into returning to Joe. But the detective had the wrong house; an old lady was living there, and she sued Sinatra over it. Very embarrassing. I don’t think it made the papers. I can’t remember who introduced Marilyn to the Kennedys, it could have been Peter Lawford but I get the impression it was Frank, and Joe D., after her death, had his suspicions about the Kennedys killing Marilyn and blamed Sinatra for introducing them, or at least arranging trysts at his house or Pat & Peter’s home in Santa Monica. I was surprised to find out that Marilyn–at least by 1961–was too depressed to care about anything anymore. She had some nasty habits that turned Frank off because he was so fastidious: she was 20 pounds overweight, only losing weight if she was making a movie, then she’d be drugged up to the point of being too “zombied-up” to eat (Elvis used to do this to lose weight). She had pimples & broken fingernails, didn’t bathe or wash her hair very often, rarely used sanitary products during “that time of the month,” eating in bed & sleeping amongst the crumbs & scraps. she’d dress in black & hit the bars on Sunset or wherever, trying to pick up men to convince herself that she was still attractive, and when no one hit on her she’d come back to her apartment & cry. Marilyn was taking a lot of pills & drinking a lot by 1962, she was a mess, physically & emotionally, but the amount of drugs found in her system was more than she would normally take.
George Jacob also spent a lot of time w/JFK, George couldn’t stand Joe Kennedy but loved JFK, who was obsessed w/two things: getting laid (and sex in general) and celebrity gossip. Sleeping w/Marilyn Monroe was the ultimate dream of every male in America, JFK was no different. He’d say anything to get laid, even telling Marilyn that he’d divorce Jackie & marry her by the 1964 election & she could be first lady–and Marilyn believed it. She slept with so many men, believing it was rude to say no; the least she could do was accommodate them.
Poor Marilyn, used and abused almost all her life–even in death.
Hi Wendy, thanks for your thoughtful & thorough comment ~ it’s like a blog post unto itself!
The information you bring up is fascinating, & I haven’t heard any of it before; I tried to focus my articles on testimony from the key players (otherwise, it would have been COMpletely overwhelming to write)! But these other accounts are absolutely fascinating. The one that strikes me most is from Rose Kennedy’s chauffeur, the family’s odd/stilted reaction to Marilyn’s death, as if they already knew. If what I’ve read about Chappaquiddick is true, some members of the family/close friends aided in covering up Ted Kennedy’s involvement with the tragic (& unnecessary) death of Mary Jo Kopechne; there seems to be a familiar playbook here.
Marilyn was indeed very troubled, & certainly on many drugs near the time of her death (most, if not all, prescribed by her doctors) ~ yet somehow her love for life & vulnerability still remain to this day; almost everyone in the world STILL knows who Marilyn Monroe is. Her child-like vulnerability, despite being the ultimate earthly love goddess, touched something in our collective psyche. And I like to think that because of that, in some ways, her soul is at peace & she has the “last laugh,” as they say.
So glad you enjoyed these articles & thank you for adding to them. xoxo Noelia
she was going to tell all about her relations with the presidnt.
Agreed, Denis. Thanks for your comment.
Hi Noelle, all of this is fascinating but I was wondering why the autopsy did not show the needle mark where that nut Dr. Greenson gave her a shot to the heart. Also I read where she was removed from the resident, taken to the hospital and then brought back. Additionally, I read where Dr. Greenson had donated a box of files to UCLA Library but they will be sealed until 2039, isnt that weird. Lastly, there was a black man that worked in the coroners office who was interviewed to have first hand knowledge about the red diary and then it disappeared. I did not read in your time line anything about if Sam Giancana and the mob had a hand in her death and I had read other books or writings or watched interviews where they were fingered as having her killed in order to frame RFK and JFK. Anyway all of this is fascinating. I have also been reading lots on the JFK s assassination. Hollywood cannot create any movie more sensational that this real life events.
All great questions. While I’m certain that the men Bobby Kennedy came in with that night gave Marilyn the “hot shot” that ended up killing her, I’m 50/50 on whether Dr. Greenson gave her that shot to the heart. As for finding needle marks post-mortem, Thomas Noguchi (who performed the autopsy on Marilyn, as well as on many other Hollywood stars) says it can be difficult to discover needle marks on a body, particularly if you don’t know where the shot was given. I believe he performed the autopsy on John Belushi & did not find any needle marks, though it was evident Belushi had died of a lethal speedball (which had been injected).
Lionel Grandison is the black man who worked in the Coroner’s Office & actually saw the red diary (which, how would he know about it if he hadn’t seen it?); he has been interviewed in several documentaries, & I find him to be a very credible witness. And a brave one, because who would want to go against the testimony of so many powerful people? The ramifications could be very serious for going against the standard narrative.
There are theories that the Mob was involved in her death, & the weekend before her death she had an awful weekend at Cal-Neva with Sam Giancana & several others (meaning she had Mob connections herself). It is possible that they killed her, but not likely. If they did, when did they do it? Bobby Kennedy was seen entering her residence (by neighbors of Marilyn’s) around 10PM with two men; Marilyn was dead shortly after. When would the Mob have had time to enter her residence after that? Unless you’re suggesting that the two men Bobby was with were involved with the Mob? Which is unlikely, as he was using his position as Attorney General to go after them. It is my opinion that it was in the Mob’s best interest to keep Marilyn alive; they could use their recordings at Marilyn’s house to blackmail Bobby, & get him to lay off of them. If they tried to frame JFK & RFK as you say, it obviously didn’t work, as neither were ever officially charged with her death.
And finally as for Dr. Greenson, it’s frustrating but not surprising that his files were sealed until 2039; I’m sure he wanted everyone involved with her death to be long dead by the time anyone saw/heard them. But how fascinating it will be to possibly hear them one day.
Also Karen, one more possible “theory” about why there were no needle marks: Donald Spoto (a Marilyn biographer) advanced the theory that she was given an enema soaked with barbiturates ~ not a hot shot, & THAT is what killed her. Personally, I don’t think that’s the most likely theory; a shot is quicker, cleaner, & will almost certainly do the job within minutes. An enema seems unnecessarily messy, for lack of a better word ~ but it is a possibility.
Recommend you read some of the boks written by Mark Shaw, including Denial of Justice. I am on the murder side of the fence !
Hi Gary, thanks for the recommendation! And your timing is really ironic, as I’ve been wanting to read more on Dorothy Kilgallen’s death, which seems as suspicious as Marilyn’s. Thx!! ~ Noelia
Noelle, is there a Part 5? Very well written & researched thank you… I only recently found out that I’m a 3rd cousin, once removed, to her biological father Stan Gifford ( in truth, he was a snuck! ) Stan’s mother is buried nearby!
Hi Tom, how fascinating to find out you are related to Marilyn Monroe! That’s wild. No, there is no Part 5 ~ I basically ended the series with “The Cover-up of Marilyn Monroe’s Death,” which I felt tied together loose ends from that final night. But there are new documentaries surfacing all the time, including on Netflix, which present unheard tapes & such (likely of Fred Otash’s) that help to further illuminate what really happened that night.