The Final Difficult Days of Brittany Murphy
A year after her death, Alex Ben Block details her struggles to revive her once-promising career -- and, for the first time, shares his interviews with her late husband and mother.
Being sick had become something Brittany just accepted. There was no sense of urgency to see a doctor because she and Simon practiced their own form of “holistic” medicine — meaning they picked and chose among medicines and doctors. They were always afraid the paparazzi would find out if they were seen as sick and that it would hurt their job prospects in Hollywood. That was one reason Brittany didn’t go to an emergency room that night, and it was an excuse for Simon not to call for help when he had seizures or another of his heart problems. It was also why Brittany used false names to hide her identity at the pharmacy.
One druggist, Eddie Bubar of Eddie’s Drugs in West Los Angeles, became alarmed by the frequency and amounts of their drug purchases and suspected they were “doctor shopping” — getting drugs from multiple sources. He confronted Simon in August 2009 and told them to take their business elsewhere. Bubar said he feared they were being overmedicated, though he never imagined it would have such dire consequences. Simon and Sharon, he said, got drugs under their own names. But Brittany preferred an alias: Lola Manilow, which Bubar was aware of.
The paranoia Brittany had about the public and industry learning of her medical problems played into Simon’s conspiracy theories about people being out to get her. He stoked that paranoia and used it to gain control over Brittany in a surprisingly short time.
Brittany didn’t date until she was 21, then had several long relationships: She had one with Ashton Kutcher for six months after they met on Just Married in 2002, was engaged to Hollywood talent manager Jeff Kwatinetz for four months in 2004 and was engaged to a production assistant she met on Little Black Book in 2005.
Then came her whirlwind romance with Simon, ignited when she phoned him from Tokyo in early 2007 while making The Ramen Girl to say how much she liked his script for The White Hotel, based on the D.M. Thomas novel. They agreed to meet when she returned to L.A. for what turned out to be a dinner at Hotel Bel-Air that went into the wee hours. The following week, he followed her to New York, where she was doing publicity for a movie. From then on, Simon never slept a night away from her, except for nine days he was incarcerated by U.S. Immigration Services for an expired visa. Shortly after that incarceration, on May 5, 2007, they were married by a rabbi at Brittany’s home on Rising Glen Road. Nearly all of the handful of guests were Brittany’s employees or vendors. Simon’s best man was her chauffeur.
Brittany saw the stocky Englishman with the sexy accent and deep voice as he portrayed himself: a wealthy, educated, cultured filmmaker. He had been born in the affluent London suburb of Hillingdon and grew up in Bourne End, Buckinghamshire. His father, William, had worked in the City, London’s financial district, until he got a brain tumor at 29. He died six years later when Simon was 15, an event his mother, Linda Monjack, says left her son devastated. After that, she says, her son began to exaggerate and at times seemed unable to separate fact from fiction. “His intelligence was off the scale, but he was also a child in many ways,” his mother told me. “His father’s death completely destroyed him.”
Simon went to film school at NYU and found some success as a photographer and music video director but faltered in his debut as a filmmaker, Two Days, Nine Lives, financed by his family. A BBC reviewer described it as “a continuous volley of dead conversations.” It was never released, and his family lost the investment, which he promised his mother he would repay but never did.
The author, Alex Ben Block, with Murphy.
While there was some inherited family money, his mother says Simon ran through it long before he met Brittany. He still told her he was heir to a fortune and was able to impress her with his knowledge of art and knack for languages and music. His mother says he had a photographic memory. He also had no problem spinning tales to get his way with women on both sides of the Atlantic, leaving a trail of broken hearts, unpaid bills and angry fiancees. A woman he met in London in 1999 later described Simon as “very manipulative” and said he lied to her about his wealth and properties. He “usually cons good, honest, trustworthy people,” she wrote in a letter to the FBI, meant as a warning to others — which I accessed through the Freedom of Information Act — “simply because they cannot comprehend that a person can be so deceptive to that extent; it’s almost unbelievable. I believe he is sick and lies continuously, defrauding people, hurting people including his own family. He himself has admitted this to me.”
Richard Golub, a New York attorney and best-selling author who got involved with Simon writing a script for what became Factory Girl, says he wasn’t very good as a screenwriter but could spin self-aggrandizing stories. Finally fed up, Golub investigated Simon and confronted him. “I said, ‘I really don’t want to be in business with someone who is flim-flamming people,’ ” Golub told me. “ ‘You’ve left a trail of people behind that are going to sue you because you took their trust funds or inheritance or conned them into investing in projects you never delivered.’ ” Later that night, Simon called Golub. “He said, ‘Look, you really have my number,’ ” Golub said. “ ‘I’ve led this really f***ed-up life, and I really have conned and cheated a lot of people. But I’m turning over a new leaf.’ ”
Several times, Brittany was confronted with evidence of Simon’s checkered past but refused to believe it or chose to ignore it. She was in love and fiercely loyal. After the late George Hickenlooper, director of Factory Girl, went public with criticism of Simon for claiming he produced that film (he really got his credit in a legal settlement), there was a late-night call from Brittany, with whom he had been friends. Hickenlooper said in an interview days before his death in October that Brittany pleaded with him to remove a scathing overview of Simon’s “frivolous lawsuit” he had posted on IMDb. “ ‘If you ruin my husband, you are going to ruin me,’ ” Hickenlooper recalled Brittany saying. “I just said, ‘Look, you’ve got to clear your head on this, honey.’ I just knew she was so fragile that anyone who lovingly gave her the time of day and could put up with her eccentricities she would be attached to immediately.”
Despite the evidence, Brittany believed Simon would provide financial security, help revive her career and allow her to fulfill her dream of being a mother. In their first year, they did find a creative flowering together. He shot hundreds of photos of Brittany and would play piano at night while she lay beneath the baby grand listening.
Brittany had been completely taken with Simon. What she didn’t know when they met was that Simon was nearly broke and in a legal battle with a producer on White Hotel, Susan Stewart Potter, who hired him to direct, then discovered he was trying to cut her out. He eventually paid Stewart a legal settlement of more than $300,000. When Simon moved into Brittany’s house, he didn’t mention he was leaving his last fiancee with thousands in unpaid rent on an L.A. apartment or that he had written numerous bad checks. Shortly after they married, Brittany paid $10,000 to a casting director who had sued Simon over a bounced check.