“What Happened, Brittany Murphy?” Shows Us How Marrying The Wrong Man Can Be Dangerous, Even Deadly
I had always liked Brittany Murphy’s portrayal of Molly Gunn in Uptown Girls, a story about a spoiled but likable New York heiress who loses her entire inheritance and takes a job nannying an 8-year-old girl to make ends meet.
At first, it seems the movie is going to be another wins-the-guy chick flick, but the actual love story ends up being between Molly and the child. Sure, it’s just a chick flick - but Brittany is lovely to watch, and the song and dance at the end still makes me cry.
Being a casual fan, I was surprised and upset by the news of Brittany Murphy’s sudden death at the age of 32. I recently watched a new HBO Max documentary, “What Happened, Brittany Murphy?,” released as a two-part series in October 2021, that sheds light on her life and death. The film focuses on some shocking and saddening revelations about her husband, a known con man named Simon Monjack.
Brittany Murphy in Uptown Girls, 2003, MGM Studios.
Monjack had a history of exploiting people, and under his control, Brittany Murphy’s finances and physical health quickly deteriorated. On December 20, 2009, she collapsed in their bathroom, dead of pneumonia and anemia.
Sadly, I think if there was a stable father figure in Murphy’s life, she may still be alive today.
A Rising Starlet
The film starts with early footage of the effervescent Murphy, with a megawatt smile, singing and dancing in local theater productions. Her first acting coach and director, John Menter, tells us that during her first audition at age 10, “we knew we had someone very rare here.”
Raised by a single mother, the duo moved to Los Angeles so she could continue to pursue acting. In LA, Murphy had no trouble winning roles - she appeared in popular 90’s television shows such as Fraser, Sister, Sister, and Boy Meets World. She eventually appeared in films such as 8 Mile, Just Married, Girl, Interrupted, and Clueless.
Unfortunately, Brittany’s career took a turn for the worse after she met Simon Monjack. She went from doing major films to doing low budget horror films in just a few years. Throughout the documentary, it is widely agreed upon that Murphy’s husband Simon Monjack was not good for her.
The documentary shows us how much Murphy wanted to settle down - according to her ex boyfriend Ashton Kutcher, she wanted to get married “more than anyone I’d ever met.” She was engaged twice in her late 20s - first to talent manager Jeff Kwatinetz, who called off their engagement, then to a production assistant named Joe Macaluso she met while working on the film Little Black Book. They ended their relationship in August 2006 while Murphy was abroad for a film. She was quoted as “nursing a broken heart.”
Murphy landed back in Los Angeles single and 30. She had a meeting set up with Simon Monjack, who was supposedly a writer and director. From that meeting on, they were inseparable. She was ready to get married, and he offered her what she was looking for.
Desire for Marriage and Women’s Vulnerability
This part of the story is the most tragic, in my opinion, because it marks the moment when Brittany Murphy’s life started to spiral down.
She had wanted to get married for several years, but as a friend says in the documentary, “she didn’t have a great track record with men who cared about her.”
I suspect Brittany was hurting about this deeply - when you find yourself 30 and single, it can be very heartbreaking and anxiety-inducing. Women who want to get married can be vulnerable to attaching themselves to the wrong man out of desperation.
And sadly, there are plenty of men who will take advantage of a woman’s desire to marry, some in worse ways than others. In some cases, she’ll get strung along, and he’ll enjoy her presence with no intention to marry her, while she continues on in the hope that someday he’ll change his mind and pop the question. When a woman is open about her desires, unfortunately this also puts her at risk of that desire being used.
In Brittany Murphy’s case, her desire for marriage made her vulnerable to a predator like Simon Monjack. He saw a wealthy, beautiful starlet who wanted love more than anything, and therefore an opportunity he could exploit for his personal advantage.
Predation Can Be Deadly
Simon Monjack quickly married Murphy and moved in with her and her mother Sharon. Murphy’s King of the Hill costar and friend Kathy Najimy (you might know her from Hocus Pocus or Sister Act) is quoted as saying, “We all were scared and freaked out. Who was this guy? They seemed hypnotized.” It’s clear that the pair had lacked a stable, dependable father figure in their life for at least 3 decades, and Murphy and her mother were looking for someone to take care of both of them.
Simon had lied and told the pair he was a billionaire – in reality, he had a criminal track record, including warrants for his arrest and lawsuits for credit card fraud. During their 2 year marriage, Monjack cut Murphy off from her family, friends, and professional contacts. He fired her entire management team. If anyone wanted to work with Brittany, they had to go through him. She had no access to her email or to a phone. He was so controlling that he became her only hair and makeup artist - he made sure he was the only one who was allowed to touch her. Friends had tried to intervene, but both women said they believed Simon’s lies.
Throughout their marriage, Murphy was drastically losing weight, and friends said he’d keep Murphy up late doing drugs. Her friends rarely saw her any more, and her appearance had changed. She was in visibly poor health.
Brittany Murphy at a premiere 2 weeks before she passed away.
After her death, it was revealed that Simon spent $3 million of Murphy’s money in the 2 years they were together. He had supposedly put her money into precious jewels as investments - but when it was time to cash in on them, it was discovered that they were made of plastic.
The Importance of Fathers
I think not having a father in her life resulted in Murphy confusing Monjack’s domineeringness for care and love. Brittany’s birth father ran off to the club scene in Florida and was never around until she made money. Without a stable, virtuous father figure, I’m not sure Murphy had the ability to recognize that Simon’s efforts to control her life were tyrannical, not gallant.
“What Happened, Brittany Murphy?” film director Cynthia Hill said in an interview with Vanity Fair that people who loved Brittany would “express their concern, and then he would find ways to plant distrust for these people who were friends with Brittany for four years, 13 years, 14 years…he would find ways to put a wedge in there to isolate her.” This is the classic behavior of an abuser.
Part of the role of being a father is to guide women to a good marriage, and to protect his daughter from marrying a man who will not treat her well. Without fatherly protection, women have a much harder time knowing who and who not to trust.
My twin sister Julie and her fiance discuss this on a new podcast:
Simon Monjack is a monster, and most women won’t encounter a man who plays with his victims in such a horrific way, or leaves so much carnage behind. But women can learn from this story to heed red flags, and note that a man’s attentions and affections do not necessarily mean he has your best interest at heart. People are often not who they say they are.
I wish women were taught what virtuous masculinity looks like, so they would not fall prey to bad men. I wish we had more examples of good male leadership. I wish men who fathered children would not run away from their most important and precious responsibility.
If we had more of these things, who knows. Maybe Brittany Murphy would still be alive today.