We may never learn what really happened to Brittany Murphy, but the new HBO Max doc, What Happened, Brittany Murphy?, is bringing us closer to the truth than ever before.
On Wednesday, the two-part documentary premiered, and it shared way more crazy details than fans were likely expecting — including the bizarre nature of the actress and her mother’s relationship with her husband, Simon Monjack, and just how much of a “sociopath” Monjack was perceived to be by those who worked with the late star.
Related: Hollywood’s Most Haunted Homes!
Ch-ch-check out some of the biggest bombshells from the first part of the doc (below).
Brittany and Simon’s Odd Romance
Brittany was apparently in a vulnerable place when she met the writer and director in 2006. According to Clueless director Amy Heckerling, the actress endured multiple “situations that left her heartbroken,” including a public breakup with her Just Married co-star Ashton Kutcher and two broken engagements. Heckerling mused:
“She must have been searching for something.”
Murphy and Monjack became inseparable right after they met, and their relationship got serious quickly — much to the chagrin of Brittany’s friends.
Pal Kathy Najimy, who became close with the actress after co-starring on King of the Hill, recalled that only Brittany’s mother Sharon was supportive of the whirlwind romance, sharing:
“She wanted to marry him and I said, ‘Honey, it’s not been long enough.’… I think Sharon was for the marriage… we were all scared and freaked out, like, who was this guy and what was happening?”
According to those close to her, Brittany and Monjack became reclusive after they tied the knot in a low key 2007 ceremony. Friends say the newlyweds would rarely leave their home, where Brittany’s mom was also living. Longtime friend Lisa Rieffel said:
“One day her numbers were changed, no one knew where to find her. Disappeared. Simon took her away. That was it. He made sure no one could get to her.”
Najimy went on to note that Monjack “was making all of her decisions, he was clearly getting her money,” adding:
“He was driving her to work, but waiting. And every time there was a break, she would leave and go be in the car with him. It got more and more restrictive.”
Sara Hammel, a journalist who worked for People at the time, shared that Brittany became “increasingly paranoid” in the final months of her life because Simon essentially cut her off from everyone. She recalled:
“Simon and Brittany were basically locked up in that house. They did these really weird photoshoots in the middle of the night where he would dress her like a doll. She became increasingly insecure about her appearance, increasingly paranoid about people being out to get her. Simon had the landlines disconnected, so the only way you could reach Sharon or Brittany was through Simon. Simon and Brittany would stay up late nights and take downers and then chug coffee and take uppers to come back up. They rarely left the house.”
Brittany’s Severe Body Image Issues
Chris Snyder, Murphy’s first talent agent, said the actress developed body image issues after she she lost a part after being told “she was cute, but she wasn’t f**kable.” He explained that, afterward, Brittany “lost an inordinate amount of weight and she was dressing totally differently.”
At the time, Najimy became concerned over her “diminishing” appearance, and asked Murphy if she was okay. The Hocus Pocus actress explained:
“She said, ‘That’s what I’ve been told, if I want to be considered as a leading lady, I needed to lose a lot of weight.’”
Unfortunately, Monjack fed into Brittany’s insecurities and only made them worse. Hammel explained the star’s husband also “encouraged her to become addicted to plastic surgery. He would tell her, ‘Your teeth aren’t right. Your nose isn’t right. We might need to do something about your chin.’”
Najimy said that the last time she saw Murphy, the actress had “bleary eyes” and “I didn’t recognize her anymore. Brittany was just cloudy and gone.”
Pants On Fire
Filmmaker Allison Burnett said he got to know Monjack at a dinner party he hosted in 1999, recalling how the London native shared many extraordinary stories about his life. Monjack apparently claimed he was a billionaire, that he dated Elle MacPherson and Madonna, that he was dying of brain cancer, and had a collection of 17 Ferraris.
But Burnett learned the truth months later when he received an email from Monjack’s girlfriend who had accompanied him to the event claiming “every single word out of” Monjack’s mouth was untrue. The filmmaker recalled:
“One of the ways he legitimized those lies was by bringing a lovely girl into the equation. That was the cloak and it was perfect because she believed the lies too. So he lived off this girl that had worked her heart out for every penny she had. And when her money ran out, he was gone and very quickly he became engaged to one of her friends. I can’t stress enough how convincing this man was.”
When Burnett learned Monjack was dating Murphy, he called the star’s agency to warn her to stay away from the “bottom-feeding sociopath,” but was told her manager had already tried and gotten fired because of it. Burnett then called the National Enquirer tip-line and said Monjack was dangerous — something he said he “never imagined myself doing.”
After the stories came out, Brittany’s friends became just as dubious. Hammel claimed pals of the actress held an intervention at her home after learning about Monjack’s past. But, despite being shown coverage about Monjack’s alleged troubles with the law, Hammel explained:
“Brittany and her mom said, ‘No, we love Simon and believe Simon.’ The intervention fails.’”
Celebrity trainer Harley Pasternak, who had been training Murphy, said he tried to reach out to the actress’ team about payment for her sessions, but was told they had all been fired and that “Simon is her agent, manager, lawyer and everything now.” He recalled them saying:
“‘You have to go through Simon. We’re concerned because no one can contact her directly.’ I don’t even know if she had a phone.”
Reflecting on his sessions with Murphy, Pasternak claimed the actress “was for sure under the influence of something…she was kind of slurring her words. She was very sweet and kind of all over the place.”
Problems At Work
Alex Merkin, director of 2009’s Across the Hall, said he started to see some “red flags” when production began on the horror film: Murphy was three hours late on the first day and when Merkin went to her trailer, Monjack tried to order breakfast from him. The filmmaker recalled:
“He seemed fairly out of it. I was definitely concerned about it.”
Merkin noted that Murphy would rarely know her lines and that he noticed a “stark change in her mood” whenever she would spend time with Monjack. He explained:
“It would be like Jekyll and Hyde from the moment she had interacted with him. It felt a lot to me that he was planting this insecurity in her.”
After Murphy refused to kiss her co-star in a scene because of her relationship with Monjack, Merkin was “ready to replace” her — but the director then decided to talk about firing Murphy in front of Monjack and said “he started to panic.” Merkin recalled:
“He said, ‘Listen, we can work this out. She’ll do whatever you want to do. Let me go speak with her and we’ll get this all worked out.’ I don’t want to say there was something worshipping about their relationship, but it did border on that. It was 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.”
Makeup artist Trista Davis, who worked with Murphy on her last film in 2009, the 2014 psychological horror Something Wicked, said she was surprised when she was told on the first day that Monjack would be doing Murphy’s hair and makeup — which ended up being smeared red lipstick, caked-on blush, and greasy hair.
Even more alarmingly, Davis said Monjack would just stare at his wife while she was in front of the camera in a “catatonic state.” She recalled:
“He was in a catatonic state and I snapped my fingers in front of his face to see if he’d react and he didn’t even flinch. She just seemed like she was in pain, especially when she moved. I think she was sick. I think she just lost the ability to care.”
Murphy was abruptly replaced in what would have been her final role on The Caller, just two days after filming started in Puerto Rico in late 2009. Ed Winter, the assistant chief coroner at the time of Murphy’s death, learned that Monjack’s behavior was to blame. He explained:
“We found that evidently Simon got involved. I don’t know if he slapped somebody or hit somebody and she got fired.”
While in San Juan, Murphy, Monjack, and her mother all came down with flu-like symptoms, and Murphy was treated with over-the-counter medications when they returned to El Lay. Winter claimed:
“According to the information we got, it was kind of a habit. He would keep her up late. They would order food at 2 or 3 in the morning and stay up and watch television. She’d be exhausted the next day and she wasn’t getting enough rest and her immune system was dropping. He was just blanketed around her, yet did not remove that blanket and seek medical attention when she needed it.”
The Real Cause of Death
Few believed the headlines reporting that Murphy’s death was determined to be the result of pneumonia, as many had trouble accepting that a 32-year-old died solely due to the infection.
One possible theory was that there was mold in her home making her sick, but medical examiner Dr. Lisa Scheinin said:
“On my autopsy, I didn’t see any evidence of mold in her lungs or any other organs.”
Scheinin went on to explain that Murphy was a “very anemic person,” and if a hemoglobin test had been performed a week before her death, “any decent doctor would have her in the E.R., hooked up to a transfusion as quick as they could.”
While Murphy’s estranged father Angelo Bertolotti went to the press with allegations that he believed his daughter had been poisoned, Scheinin confirmed there wasn’t “any evidence of any kind of poisoning.”
Simon and Sharon’s Bizarre Relationship
After Murphy’s death, Monjack and her mother got even closer. Their continued cohabitation in the house and joint Larry King Live interview sparked rumors that the pair were romantically involved.
This led to Monjack to hire a publicist, Roger Neil, who said their joint interview was definitely cringeworthy. He reflected:
“Watching that show, man…wasn’t good for them at all. It made you cringe watching some of it.”
Still, Neil denied any rumors of a romantic relationship between the pair, saying it was “absurd to think they were anything other than mother and son-in-law. Nothing like what had been speculated.”
After Monjack died in May 2010, Sharon was exposed to some of his lies. Neil explained that when she asked him to sell some of the jewelry Monjack had purchased with Murphy’s money, they learned that every piece was fake. When Neil told Sharon, he claimed she said:
“I guess there’s no property either then, I guess there’s no stocks and bonds and I guess there’s no real estate.”
Neil also said he believes that “quite a bit of Brittany’s money went to” a teenage daughter Murphy had no idea Monjack had, and was putting through private school in London. He continued:
“He went through $3 million of her money in three years. Sharon thinks she has financial security. She’s got nothing. All she’s left with is the house, Brittany’s pension and whatever was in the bank. She was devastated.”
The last Neil had heard of Sharon was that she was living in Southern California, but was “very reclusive. Sharon was just heartbroken.”
Simon’s Former Fiancée Shares Her Story
Elizabeth Ragsdale told the filmmakers that Monjack left her “pregnant and abandoned” after a brief courtship.
The two allegedly met in Paris and quickly fell in love. After Monjack told her he had spinal cancer and the “shark fin cartilage” treatment he was undergoing was going to make him sterile, Ragsdale became pregnant in September 1998. She also claimed Monjack had first mentioned his diagnosis one night after she refused to sleep with him, “and then we have sex after that,” she claimed, adding:
“He got what he wanted. He was very rough. It wasn’t always when I wanted to.”
During her pregnancy, Monjack sent her to the U.S. to have the baby while he stayed in Monaco to undergo his so-called “cancer treatments.” But when she called him after arriving in New York, Ragsdale claimed Monjack immediately hung up and ghosted her.
After talking to his mother and learning he did not, in fact, have cancer, Ragsdale discovered Monjack was staying at a villa with someone else. She admitted:
“I thought about killing myself because…who does that? And then the reason I didn’t is because of the baby.”
In 2007, almost a decade later, Monjack called Ragsdale and offered to buy her a house. But Ragsdale claimed the phone call ended with Monjack threatening to come and take her son, Elijah, to keep her from going to the press. She said of Murphy:
“I know why Brittany chose Simon, he worked his spell on her and she fell for it. Like I did.”
Simon’s Obsession With A Journalist
Former Radar Online reporter Amber Ryland was tasked with waiting outside of Murphy’s home for any updates following her death. On Christmas Day, her boss suggested she drop off flowers, which led to Monjack later calling a “shocked” Ryland, saying:
“You know you’re the only one I’ve called and I’ve decided you’re the only one I want to talk to.”
Over a month after Brittany’s death, Ryland and Monjack met for dinner at Chateau Marmont. According to Ryland, Monjack took credit for his late wife’s career during their conversation. She recalled:
“He said, ‘I know how people see me, they think I’m controlling…the truth of the matter is we were soul mates. What it really was was this great Hollywood love story and no one wants to see it that way.’”
Monjack later invited Ryland and cameras into his house, offering a tour that included showing the “infamous” bathroom in which Murphy died. She explained:
“It was amazing but it felt weird for this grieving husband to be like, ‘Let’s show the world where Brittany died.’ Their house, it was so much security. He sort of alluded to like, ‘We’ve been targeted,’ almost like a conspiracy theorist would. Like people in the government were watching them.”
Ryland met Sharon during that interview, and noted that she “acted submissive” with Monjack. She also noticed that the bed in the main bedroom looked like two people had been sleeping in it, with Ryland claiming Monjack explained:
“Sharon crawls in with me sometimes and we just cry.”
Right before his death, Monjack apparently grew angry with Ryland when she went on vacation and didn’t return his calls. She said:
“Some of his messages, you could sense this growing frustration that I wasn’t there for him. I certainly never viewed my friendship with Simon as anything romantic. And I don’t think he did? I mean, I have a wife, I don’t even look at men that way. So, it definitely wasn’t something, but it did cross my mind, just because you never know. That probably was hard for him at the time.”
Monjack died days after she returned from her trip.
Simon’s Family Speaks Out
At the end of part one, Monjack’s mother Linda Monjack and brother James Monjack open up about the late producer while being interviewed for the first time. Linda reflected:
“He was the most incredible guy. He had an IQ off the scale. He was able to charm anyone.”
“From early childhood Simon had that ability to manipulate the environment to get what he wanted out of it.”
Linda explained that Simon changed when he was 16 after the death of his father, sharing:
“It was a terrible shock. He never was the same again…something died in him and he became more and more unreal. He lived in the now. The now is important, the now meant everything to him… He did fall in and out of love very easily.”
As for his relationship with Murphy, Linda offered:
“They were very much in love, [but] it’s a very fine line… between controlling somebody and managing them to have the best career.”
Linda also denied that her son ever stole money from her, saying:
“He never swindled money off of me. I gave him money, copious amounts of money, but I gave it willingly and freely, probably foolishly, but nevertheless, he didn’t cheat me.”
What Happened, Brittany Murphy? is streaming on HBO Max. You can watch parts 1 and 2 (which features the Leak Herald interview) now.
[Image via Alexander Dixon/WENN]