Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Prescription to Die

Marilyn Monroe

Brown-haired, potato-nosed Norma Jean Baker reinvented herself as a blond bombshell the old-fashioned way: with a little plastic surgery and a lot of hair dye. But nothing could cover up the aching loneliness she had incurred from her traumatic upbringing. Monroe's mother, Gladys had been continuously hospitalized for mental illness, sending Monroe to 12 different foster homes. Fear of abandonment and other psychiatric problems would plague Monroe throughout her foreshortened life.

Marilyn Monroe
Marilyn Monroe

By the time she was at the height of her career after Seven Year Itch and Bus Stop she was already developing a reputation for being unstable on the set. Either she was so stupefied on barbiturates she didn't come to work, or she was so agitated on amphetamines that she frustrated and angered her co-workers.

By the time she married the famous playwright Arthur Miller, her addiction and accompanying psychiatric problems were in full swing. She was admitted several times to hospitals for "exhaustion" and miscarried twice; at least one of the miscarriages due to her abuse of barbiturates.

Her addictions so crippled her that she would spend mornings in bed, drinking a Bloody Mary with breakfast, and chasing it down with champagne, while her make up artists worked on the half-asleep star while she drifted in and out of sleep. In the middle of her final film, "The Misfits," director John Huston sent her to sober up in a rehab; it briefly worked, but she soon returned to her regular diet of injecting the barbiturate Amytal.

After her divorce, she relocated back to Los Angeles. She was about to begin Something's Got to Give when she heard Arthur Miller was getting remarried and relapsed again, the occasion of her notorious performance of "Happy Birthday" for President John F. Kennedy.

At the end of her life, she was playing her psychiatrist and her physician against each other. Her psychiatrist, Dr. Ralph Greenson would sedate her, but she had strict orders not to take the downer Nembutal. She lied to her doctor, Dr. Hyman Engelberg,and got them anyway. On a night when Greenson, who had taken to constantly monitoring Monroe, had left for a dinner party, she swallowed 25 Nembutals, and 40 capsules of chloral hydrate. In a drugged stupor, she nonetheless managed to say goodbye on the phone to her friend Peter Lawford, before drifting into oblivion on August 4, 1962.