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.
I first met Simon shortly after their marriage, when Brittany brought him to our house in Encino for Father’s Day 2007. Simon led the conversation, played piano and went outside to smoke a cigar, which Brittany hurried to light. Simon told us they had to take extreme security precautions because they were under surveillance by helicopters and their phone was bugged. He said he had hired a private eye who gave Simon names of family and friends who cheated, stole from them or sold information to the tabloids.
It turned out to be one of the few times we saw them in the next two years. Simon, as many of Brittany’s family members and friends came to believe, had created a web of paranoia around Brittany and used it to separate her from anyone who might have challenged his dominance. Simon even told terrible tales about his mother, apparently to keep her from telling Brittany and Sharon the truth about him. Linda Monjack says she met her daughter-in-law only once, at dinner in New York in 2007. But Simon communicated with his mother by phone and e-mail nearly every day.
Simon’s health, meanwhile, took a sudden turn for the worse in the second year of their marriage after he fell off a ladder during a photo shoot in Los Angeles. That apparently started his seizures, which he also told me were tied to brain tumors. His mother told me his use of prescription medications after the marriage was a surprise to her because before that, he had been adamant about not using drugs. She also believes her son developed Munchausen’s syndrome, where a person fakes illness to get attention. She was skeptical about the cause of his seizures and believes her son could somehow make it appear that his heart stopped. Simon, though, claimed he had various heart problems and needed open-heart surgery. But his autopsy showed a healthy, slightly enlarged heart, and his doctor in Burbank told authorities that Simon had taken an EKG exam shortly before his death and that his heart was fine.
At about 3 a.m. on Brittany’s final morning, power returned to the Hollywood Hills after a 45-minute blackout. Brittany woke and made her way to the little balcony off the cluttered bedroom. At his wife’s request, Simon phoned upstairs to Sharon and said Brittany needed her. Sharon came down carrying Clara, named after Brittany’s favorite old-time star, Clara Bow, another one-time Hollywood “It” girl. What Sharon saw frightened her. “She was lying on the patio trying to catch her breath,” Sharon recalled. “I said ‘Baby, get up.’ She said: ‘Mommy, I can’t catch my breath. Help me. Help me.’ ”
Simon recalled, “She said to her mom: ‘I’m dying. I’m going to die. Mommy, I love you.’ ”
Sharon and Simon were sympathetic, but Brittany frequently complained about ailments, so they didn’t take it seriously. “She was always so dramatic,” Sharon said. “I’ve replayed that so many times. She asked if she could use the oxygen, but Simon said her heart could stop with oxygen, and anyway he then had another seizure, a long, horrific seizure.” Sharon then made her daughter hot tea with ginger and lemon. “Her lips were parched, like she was dehydrated,” Sharon said. “So I made her drink that.”
Brittany returned to her peach bathroom around 7:30 a.m., followed minutes later by Sharon. “She said, ‘Mommy, I really don’t feel well,’ ” Sharon told me. As Brittany collapsed around 8 a.m., Sharon pulled her daughter to her and screamed for Simon, who said to call 911 while he moved Brittany into a cold shower. Sharon, on instructions from the 911 operator, talked Simon through resuscitation efforts until the paramedics arrived. [In a statement to Entertainment Tonight, Brittany's mother says: "As I am dealing daily with the heart-wrenching loss of my entire family, I am shocked by Mr. Block's statements. This is very disturbing that someone that was supposed to be mine and Brittany's friend, and someone who works for The Hollywood Reporter, would make statements that are 100-percent untrue. For anyone to even fathom that I would just sit and watch my only beloved daughter die and not get help instantly is beyond my way of thinking and despicable."]
Brittany was rushed to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, with Sharon and Simon following by car. Simon remembered being directed to a children’s waiting room with little green chairs. Around 10 a.m., a physician said they couldn’t save her. “I said, ‘What about medical science?’ ” Simon recalled. “ ‘Isn’t there anything that can keep her alive? Do anything!’ But then they told us she hadn’t made it.”
Simon at first refused an autopsy because he didn’t want her beautiful body violated, he said, and felt it went against his orthodox Jewish tradition. But the L.A. coroner insisted, eventually finding that she died of pneumonia, anemia and a toxic cocktail of prescription drugs: a perfect storm of ailments and overmedication. “She had been sick at least two weeks,” assistant L.A. Coroner Ed Winter said. “Had they taken her to a doctor or hospital, it would have been treatable.”