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? Girl Who Travels the World, Marilyn

What really happened to Marilyn Monroe on the night of her death, in August 1962, is still one of the greatest mysteries of the 20th century.

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.  

What Really Happened to Marilyn Monroe? Girl Who Travels the World

Marilyn’s image still beckons us, & stays with us….almost 60 years after her death.

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. 

What Really Happened to Marilyn Monroe? Girl Who Travels the World, Norma Jeane

Norma Jeane as a child.

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? Girl Who Travels the World, The Misfits,

Marilyn Monroe, filming with Clark Gable, on set of “The Misfits.”

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). 

What Really Happened to Marilyn Monroe, Girl Who Travels the World, JFK

July 15, 1960: Senator John F. Kennedy gives his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention. Photo published July 16, 1960, in the L.A. Times.

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.)

What Really Happened to Marilyn Monroe? Girl Who Travels the World, Fifth Helena

Marilyn Monroe’s house on Fifth Helena Drive, in Brentwood, CA.

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.

What Really Happened to Marilyn Monroe, Girl WHo Travels the World, Marilyn Mexico City

Marilyn in Mexico City, in 1962, months before her death.

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.  

What Really Happened to Marilyn Monroe, Girl Who Travels the World, JFK & Frank

JFK & Frank Sinatra were close friends at one time ~ but after becoming President, associating with Frank became a liability,

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? Girl Who Travels the World, Marilyn Palm Springs

Marilyn Monroe in Palm Springs.

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.

What Really Happened to Marilyn Monroe, Girl Who Travels the World, Dr. Ralph Greenson

Dr. Ralph Greenson, Marilyn Monroe’s psychiatrist in the final years of her life.

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.

What Really Happened to Marilyn Monroe? Girl Who Travels the World, Kennedy 45th Birthday

The only known photo ever taken of Marilyn Monroe & JFK together (he’s on the right, Bobby on the left), taken on the night of his 45th birthday celebration at Madison Square Garden.

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.”

xoxo Noelia 

Read Next, Part 2: The Last Months of Marilyn Monroe’s Life

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Suicide or Murder: What Really Happened to Marilyn Monroe? Girl Who Travels the World