What happened to Brittany Murphy?

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - DECEMBER 01: Actress Brittany Murphy arrives at the premiere of "Across The Hall" on December 1, 2009 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Michael Tullberg/Getty Images)

To many millennials out there, Brittany Murphy was one of the most famous young actresses in contemporary pop culture. She was a versatile television, film, and voice performer that had appeared or done work in a number of well-known productions during the 1990s and 2000s.

For some though, they might not remember why or even how her name isn’t mentioned much, if at all anymore.

So, what happened to her?

Brittany Murphy’s dreams of performing started at an early age and then skyrocketed out west

Murphy was born November 10, 1977, in Atlanta, Georgia. Her parents divorced soon after that and she then spent the bulk of her childhood in Edison, New Jersey with her mother. At the age of four, Brittany was already training in vocal arts, dancing, and acting at the Verne Fowler School of Dance and Theatre Arts, about a half-hour northeast of Colonia, New Jersey.

When she was 13, Brittany persuaded her mother to move the entire family out to Los Angeles so that she could seriously pursue a career in the performing arts. She quickly earned her first role starring as Brenda Drexell in the TV series Drexell’s Class. Then came a role in Almost Home, a sitcom spinoff of The Torkelsons. She also had small roles on several television shows such as Blossom, Frasier, Boy Meets World, and Sister, Sister.

In the middle of all that she also made her on-stage debut on Broadway in a revival of Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge.

But it was in 1995 when Murphy had a supporting role in the cult classic teen comedy Clueless. From there, she also appeared in more movies like Freeway, Bongwater, and then another notable supporting role in the 1999 drama Girl, Interrupted, alongside Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie. And she also lent her voice talents to the character Luanne Platter on Fox‘s animated sitcom King of the Hill, for all 13 seasons of the show’s run.

The turn of the century brought more success for Murphy

After the year 2000 hit, Murphy yet again wowed audiences when she had the lead role alongside Michael Douglas in the 2001 thriller, Don’t Say a Word. She followed that up by appearing in The Devil’s Arithmetic and then what many believe was her best performance ever in the 2002 drama 8 Mile, alongside rap legend Eminem.

She also starred in the popular romantic comedies Just Married in 2003, and also Little Black Book, in 2004. Murphy then continued to add to her film repertoire over the next few years by starring in a number of independent movies, including Spun, Neverwas, and The Dead Girl.

Murphy also got to do some more work with her vocal talents when she put out a hit single called, Faster Kill Pussycat, with British musician Paul Oakenfold. It got to number one on Billboard’s Hot Dance Club Play chart and seventh on the U.K. charts after its release. She also got to contribute two-fold to the production of the popular 2006 kids animated movie Happy Feet, by recording two songs and also voice acting as one of the main characters.

A shocking loss that’s still surrounded by mystery

After the release of Happy Feet, Murphy would continue working on a handful of projects for the next few years. She also married Simon Monjack, a British screenwriter in May of 2007.

On the morning of December 20, 2009, authorities were called to the home which Murphy and Monjack shared in Los Angeles. She was said to have collapsed in a bathroom within the residence, from unknown causes. She was pronounced dead hours later at a local hospital after going into cardiac arrest.

According to the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office, Murphy’s death was accidental, and the cause of death was pneumonia, with secondary factors of severe iron-deficiency anemia and multiple drug intoxication. Over-the-counter and prescription medications in Murphy’s system were found and were thought to be from an attempt to self-treat a cold or respiratory infection. But that didn’t stop the rumor mills from turning.

Her widower, Monjack, and her mother, Sharon Murphy, were quick to dissolve any rumors that Brittney’s death was caused by illegal drugs or alcohol but instead, explained that she died from a heart condition, mitral valve prolapse, to be specific.

Six months later, Monjack himself would pass away in the same home that he shared with his late wife, under similar, yet mysterious circumstances. Several more “battles” would ensue involving Murphy’s surviving relatives regarding her true cause of death but the complete answer remains a mystery.

Shortly after her death, the Brittany Murphy Foundation was set up in early 2010, to support children’s arts education, the USO, and cancer research. After a brief hiatus, the organization was relaunched in 2013 but likely ceased operations again in 2018.

Then, in October 2021, HBO Max aired What Happened, Brittany Murphy? a documentary that focused on her life’s work, her mysterious death, and even the lack of clarity surrounding her husband. It received mixed reviews from viewers.