It’s been more than a decade since beloved actress Brittany Murphy died at age 32, but fans haven’t stopped looking for answers about the events leading up to her death.
HBO Max’s new documentary, What Happened, Brittany Murphy?, released on Thursday, October 14, attempts to shed some light on the late star’s life, with interviews from friends and colleagues who knew her well.
“Brittany never said an unkind word about anybody, ever,” Marti Faulkner, a friend of the Murphy family, says in the film. “She was very funny.”
Amy Heckerling, who directed the Georgia native in the 1995 classic Clueless, told director Cynthia Hill that the actress’ pleasant attitude came through on camera. It was one of the reasons she decided to cast Murphy, then just 17, as Tai.
“She just felt like a sweet girl who kind of didn’t fit in with the others, and was just trying and being nice but, like, was lost in this world,” Heckerling, 67, explains. “And that’s exactly what I was looking for.”
Though the Uptown Girls star was known for her roles in movies including Drop Dead Gorgeous, Sin City and Girl, Interrupted, her career began a downward turn around the same time she wed Simon Monjack in May 2007. With the exception of her voiceover work for King of the Hill, most of her later roles were in direct-to-video thrillers and horror movies.
In What Happened, Brittany Murphy?, several of the subjects interviewed make it clear that they think Monjack was at least partly to blame for the Just Married star’s waning career. (The London-born producer died in 2010, just five months after his wife.)
“I did start to feel some red flags,” says Alex Merkin, who directed Murphy in Across the Hall, one of her final films. “There was something — I don’t want to say worshipping — about their relationship, but it did feel like it bordered on that. It’s something that felt completely unhealthy, something that felt delusional on some level. A manipulative ploy on his part to control her and to keep his hooks in her.”
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After Murphy died, the Los Angeles County coroner said that the primary cause of her death was pneumonia, but her late father, Angelo Bertolotti, believed that something more sinister was at work. In 2013, he claimed that a toxicology report showed the presence of heavy metals in her system, leading him to believe that she was poisoned.
The documentary addresses those claims but ultimately concludes that the initial coroner’s report was correct. “This was not something that she just got a day or so before,” Dr. Lisa Scheinin, a retired deputy medical examiner, said of Murphy’s pneumonia. “She was walking around with this for some time.”
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