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Brittany Murphy: Her Rise to Stardom and Heartbreaking Loss

Plus, learn if her life could have been saved

Brittany Murphy, the 1990’s “it girl,” certainly left her mark in Hollywood thanks to performances in such popular films as Clueless (1995), Drop Dead Gorgeous and Girl Interrupted (both 1999). But what was the actress really like? And how exactly did she die?

She was born on November 10, 1977 in Atlanta, Georgia with the name Brittany Anne Bertolotti. However, her father, Angelo Joseph Bertolotti, who was heavily linked with the Italian Mafia, knew she wouldn’t have an easy time in life with that last name, so he allowed Brittany to take her mother’s maiden name (Murphy) so that she wouldn’t be held back by anything.

Soon after her birth, the family moved to New Jersey, where, at the age of 3, Brittany’s parents would get divorced, leaving her mother to be the primary caretaker. That being said, given their location, they would spend a lot of time in New York City, which would turn out to be fortuitous.

The actress in 1993
Brittany Murphy in 1993Getty

One night, while at dinner in New York, a five-year-old Brittany reportedly approached Burt Reynolds and George Segal and said that she, too, would be a star someday. As it turned out, she was right!

At nine, Murphy worked in a lot of regional theater productions before appearing in her first-ever national commercial at age 13. Soon after, Brittany’s mother quit her job and moved the two of them out to Burbank, California to see if her daughter could find stardom.

Her earlier works

After moving to Hollywood, Murphy wasted no time scoring roles on television. She appeared in 18 episodes of the short-lived TV show Drexell’s Class (1991-1992) and one episode of the hit show Blossom (1993).

The actress in 1999
Brittany Murphy in 1999Getty

Murphy’s real entry into stardom, though, was in 1995, when she booked the role of Tai Frasier in Clueless.

Brittany Murphy in Clueless

It’s impossible to reflect on Clueless and not think of Murphy’s iconic line: “You’re a virgin who can’t drive!”

In a later interview, Murphy ironically said, “Actually, when I filmed it, I was a virgin who couldn’t drive.” However, the true inspiration for the quote wasn’t actually from Murphy, but rather director Amy Heckerling.

Brittany Murphy, Alicia Silverstone and Breckin Meyer on set of 'Clueless' (1995)
Brittany Murphy, Alicia Silverstone and Breckin Meyer on the Clueless set (1995) Paramount Pictures

Murphy was 17-years-old when she filmed Clueless, making her the youngest cast member, but that didn’t stop her from winning the role.

“I just remember thinking she [Murphy] was so great for the part,” costar Alicia Silverstone said. “I can’t remember how many girls came in to audition for Tai that day, and I don’t know if I saw a few girls for it or just her, but I remember Brittany being really adorable.”

Brittany Murphy, Alicia Silverstone and Stacey Dash on the 'Clueless' set (1995)
Brittany Murphy, Alicia Silverstone and Stacey Dash on the Clueless set (1995) Paramount Pictures

Silverstone added, “I love when she [Murphy] says, ‘You’re a virgin who can’t drive.’ It’s just one of my favorite moments of the whole movie.”

Life after Clueless

After leaving behind the role of Tai Frasier, Murphy continued to thrive in Hollywood. Some other titles include David and Lisa (1998) and Drop Dead Gorgeous (1999), which was the last thing she worked on before becoming Daisy in the 1999 cult classic Girl Interrupted, alongside Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie.

Brittany Murphy in 'Girl Interrupted' 1999
Brittany Murphy in Girl Interrupted 1999 Pictures

The three became very close while filming, and because of that, Ryder reportedly won’t watch Girl Interrupted, doing so being too painful and sad.

Murphy’s other credits before her death include 8 Mile (2002), Uptown Girls (2003) and Happy Feet (2006).

The personal life of Brittany Murphy

Similar to a lot of Hollywood stars, Brittany Murphy’s personal life’s was just as dramatic as her professional one.

In 2007 she married Simon Monjack, the two remaining together until her death in 2009. They had no children.

Simon Monjack and the actress in 2007
Simon Monjack and Brittany Murphy in 2007Getty

Monjack definitely brought issues into their marriage. Physically, he was prone to seizures and even suffered a heart attack shortly before his wife’s death. But emotionally he was extremely manipulative and moved to isolate Murphy from her friends and family, going so far as to disconnect her phone and becoming the one to decide which roles she would or would not take.

Monjack died shortly after Murphy from acute pneumonia and severe anemia, which were also his wife’s cause of death.

The death of the actress

Brittany Murphy died on December 20, 2009, at age 32. According to Ed Winter, the Coroner’s assistant, “She was really sick with pneumonia, very anemic, and she was taking medications. All that combined, killed her.” He also confirmed that there were no illegal drugs found in the actress’ system: “It was only prescription and over-the-counter meds.”

Sadly, in retrospect, she didn’t have to die. “This death could’ve been preventable,” he said. “Murphy was planning on seeing a doctor, but she, unfortunately, passed away before she did. This was a case of a person with pneumonia who was anemic and was taking medication when she should’ve been getting medical treatment.”

Brittany Murphy and Simon Monjack in 2008
Brittany Murphy and Simon Monjack in 2008Getty

There were unsubstantiated rumors that Monjack may have had something to do with her death, a theory fueled by his appearance on The Larry King Show where he said he didn’t believe an autopsy — on a 32-year-old woman — was necessary.

It should be noted that Monjack was never charged with anything and there is little evidence to suggest that he should have been, so the case remains closed, though the memory of Brittany Murphy, and what she brought to filmgoers, continues to live on.

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