Every Detail From the New Brittany Murphy Documentary That Made Our Jaws Drop

HBO Max's new documentary What Happened, Brittany Murphy? explores the mysterious circumstances surrounding the Clueless star's 2009 death. Here are the biggest bombshells.

By Tierney Bricker Oct 14, 2021 10:00 AMTags
Watch: Jaime Pressly Connects With Brittany Murphy

Will we ever really learn what happened to Brittany Murphy?

Perhaps not. But nearly 12 years after her death, the Clueless actress' loved ones are sharing details surrounding her private life—including her mysterious relationship with husband Simon Monjack—in in HBO Max's What Happened, Brittany Murphy?

The two-part documentary, which was produced by Blumhouse Television, features new footage and interviews with Murphy's close friends, including actresses Kathy Najimy and Lisa Rieffel, and those who worked with her in the months leading up to her sudden death in 2009 at the age of 32.

Since then, people have continued to speculate about the cause of the star's untimely passing, ignoring the coroner's report which explicitly stated that her death was accidental, caused by pneumonia, anemia and multiple drug intoxication. Conspiracy theorists accuse Monjack, who mysteriously died just months after Murphy in May 2010, of isolating his wife from the world, while others point their finger at the toxic mold that allegedly infested their home on Rising Glen Road in Los Angeles.

Brittany Murphy's Biggest Roles

All of that speculation is explored by documentarian Cynthia Hill in What Happened, Brittany Murphy?, which serves as an in-depth character study of the 8 Mile actress and an investigation into the circumstances surrounding her tragic death. The film also features interviews with Monjack's family, speaking out for the first time, and his former fiancée. 

Here are the biggest bombshells and most heartbreaking revelations from the documentary:

Brittany and Simon's Reclusive Relationship

Before meeting Simon Monjack, then, a writer and director, in 2006, Brittany Murphy endured multiple "situations that left her heartbroken," Clueless director Amy Heckerling said, including a public breakup with her Just Married co-star Ashton Kutcher and two broken engagements. Speculated Heckerling, "She must have been searching for something."

And as soon as Murphy met Monjack, their relationship became very serious and they were inseparable. 

"She wanted to marry him and I said, 'Honey, it's not been long enough,'" pal Kathy Najimy recalled, revealing only her mother was supportive of the whirlwind romance. "I think Sharon was for the marriage…we were all scared and freaked out, like, who was this guy and what was happening?"

After the pair wed in a quiet 2007 ceremony, they became reclusive, according to those close to her, rarely leaving their home, here Murphy's mother Sharon was also living.

"One day her numbers were changed, no one knew where to find her,"  Murphy's longtime friend Lisa Rieffel said. "Disappeared. Simon took her away. That was it. He made sure no one could get to her." 

According to Najimy, Monjack "was making all of her decisions, he was clearly getting her money. 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 magazine at the time, provided details of what she learned about the final months of Murphy's life. 

"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," Hammel said. "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 Secret Struggle

Early in her career, Murphy was devastated when she lost a part after being told "she was cute, but she wasn't f--kable," Murphy's first talent agent Chris Snyder claimed. Afterward, he continued, she then "lost an inordinate amount of weight and she was dressing totally differently."

Kathy Najimy, who became close with the actress after co-starring on King of the Hill, recalled asking Murphy if she was okay, concerned over her "diminishing" appearance. "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.'"

According to Hammel, Monjack 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.'"

By her final months, said Najimy, reflecting on the last time she saw Murphy before her death, she had "bleary eyes" and "I didn't recognize her anymore. Brittany was just cloudy and gone."

Simon's Tall Tales

Filmmaker Allison Burnett shared a memory of an evening he spent with Monjack at a dinner party he hosted in 1999, recalling how the London native shared endless stories about his life, claiming 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. 

Months later, Burnett 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.

"One of the ways he legitimized those lies was by bringing a lovely girl into the equation," Burnett said. "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."

Burnett was so dubious that after he learned Monjack was dating Murphy, he called her agency to warn her to stay away from the "bottom-feeding sociopath," but was told her manager had already tried and gotten fired as a result. Burnett then "did something I never imagined myself doing," he revealed: He called the National Enquirer tip-line and said Monjack was dangerous.

Journalist Hammel claimed Murphy's friends held an intervention at her home after the stories about Monjack began coming out. Despite showing coverage about Monjack's alleged troubles with the law, "Brittany and her mom said, 'No, we love Simon and believe Simon,'" said Hammel. "The intervention fails.'"

Celebrity trainer Harley Pasternak also revealed he almost went to the press after Monjack hadn't paid him in a long time, only to receive a check for the full amount soon thereafter. Reflecting on his sessions with Murphy, Pasternak alleged 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."

Preferring to work directly with Murphy's team, Pasternak tried to reach out to them about payment for her sessions, only to be told they had all been fired and that "'Simon is her agent, manager, lawyer and everything now. You have to go through Simon. We're concerned because no one can contact her directly,'" he recalled of the interaction. "I don't even know if she had a phone."

Issues On-Set

Monjack's role in his wife's professional life caused problems, according to several people in the documentary. 

Alex Merkin, director of 2009's Across the Hall, said he began to feel 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. "He seemed fairly out of it," noted Merkin. "I was definitely concerned about it."

Merkin added that Murphy would often not know her lines and that he noticed a "stark change in her mood" whenever she would spend time with her husband. "It would be like Jekyll and Hyde from the moment she had interacted with him," he described. "It felt a lot to me that he was planting this insecurity in her." 

Merkin reached a breaking point and was "ready to replace" Murphy after she refused to kiss her co-star in a scene because of her relationship with Monjack. The filmmaker then decided to talk about firing Murphy in front of Monjack and "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 in 2009 on what would ultimately be her last film, the 2014 psychological horror Something Wicked, revealed she was surprised when she was told on the first day that Monjack would be doing Murphy's hair and makeup. The end result was smeared red lipstick, caked-on blush and greasy hair, according to Davis, who said Monjack would just stare at his wife while she was in front of the camera.

"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," Davis recalled. "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."

Her Last Job

Just two days after filming started on The Caller in Puerto Rico in late 2009, Murphy was abruptly replaced in what would have been her final role and Monjack's behavior was alleged to be the reason behind her firing.

"We found that evidently Simon got involved," Ed Winter, the assistant chief coroner at the time of Murphy's death, detailed. "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 became ill with flu-like symptoms, and after returning to Los Angeles, they began Murphy's sickness with over-the-counter medications, said Winter. 

"According to the information we got, it was kind of a habit," Winter alleged. "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."

Addressing the Cause of Death Theories

After Murphy's death was determined to be the result of pneumonia, many true crime web sleuths were unable to accept that a 32-year-old died solely due to the infection.

One theory was that there was mold in her home making her sick. (Winter alleged he offered to send someone from the county health department to check the home, but Murphy's mother declined because "she was selling the house anyway," her lawyer alleged, "so stay away.") 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 continued to explain 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. "

Murphy's estranged father Angelo Bertolotti also went to the press with allegations that he believed his daughter had been poisoned.

While a high concentration from 10 heavy metals were found in Murphy's system from a sample of hair taken and examined by a private lab Bertolotti had hired, forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht, who looked over that report, explained that they were not found in her roots. So, the heavy metals were not absorbed into her blood system and the traces found in her hair "had to come from hairsprays and dyes," Dr. Wecht said. In conclusion, added medical examiner Scheinin, there wasn't "any evidence of any kind of poisoning."

Simon and Sharon's Close Relationship

Following Murphy's sudden death, her husband and mother's behavior—including their continued cohabitation in the house and a joint interview on Larry King Live—raised eyebrows, leading Monjack to hire a publicist, Roger Neil. Before meeting with Monjack and Murphy's mother, Neil did a Google search and saw some photos they had staged, admitting, "I wouldn't have them put in that position, to me that's not a typical mother and son-in-law post. As for their joint interview, Neil said, "Watching that show, man...wasn't good for them at all. It made you cringe watching some of it."

But 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." In 2010, Murphy called the rumors "disgusting," telling People magazine, "We're close friends and we're family. It's an awful and ridiculous thing to say."

Shortly after Monjack's death, Sharon learned of some of his deceptions, according to Neil, when she asked him to sell some of the jewelry Monjack had purchased with Murphy's money. Two jewelers examined it and determined 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."

"He went through $3 million of her money in three years," he continued. "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."

While she won't return any of his e-mails or phone calls, the last Neil had heard of Sharon was that she was living in Southern California, but was "very reclusive. Sharon was just heartbroken." (E! News has reached out to Sharon for comment.)

Neil also believed 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.  

The Coroner's Account

A now-retired Winter reflected on the scene at Monjack and Murphy's home immediately following the tragedy, explaining "there were several little indicators that something didn't feel right."

According to Winter, "Sharon was sitting on the couch and she'd cry a little bit. Then she'd stop and she'd talk to Simon or say something and then she'd start crying again."

As for Monjack, Winter said he "appeared to be somewhat under the influence, just pacing around, that maybe he wasn't totally coherent."

When Murphy's mother and husband explained that they had put her in the shower under cold water before calling 9-1-1 or attempting CPR, Winter wondered, "What's going on? Why did it get that far?...Something isn't right."

During the investigation, Winter said his search revealed Monjack had "approximately 90 prescription bottles with several different names, which is highly unusual." Winter added they also found several prescription bottles under Murphy's name, as well as the possible alias Lola Manilow. Winter then issued search warrants for several of the pharmacies the couple had received the prescriptions from, discovering they were coming from several different doctors.

Simon's Former Fiancee Speaks Out

"It's time now to tell my story."

For the first time, Elizabeth Ragsdale speaks out about her relationship with Monjack, claiming in the documentary that he left her "pregnant and abandoned."

After meeting in Paris and quickly falling in love, Ragsdale said she became pregnant in September 1998 after Monjack told her he had spinal cancer and the "shark fin cartilage" treatment he was undergoing was going to make him sterile. (She also alleged Monjack had first mentioned his diagnosis one night after she refused to sleep with him, "and then we have sex after that," she claimed. "He got what he wanted. He was very rough. It wasn't always when I wanted to.")

After Ragsdale became pregnant, Monjack sent her to the U.S. to have the baby while he remained in Monaco to undergo his alleged cancer treatments, she said. But when she tried calling him after arriving in New York, Ragsdale claimed Monjack did not pick up, completely avoiding her. After talking to his mother and discovering he did not have cancer, Ragsdale was told by the owner of the villa Monjack was staying at that he was with someone else.

"I thought about killing myself because...who does that?" Ragsdale said. "And then the reason I didn't is because of the baby."

Almost a decade later, Monjack contacted Ragsdale in 2007 just after he married Murphy, and offered to buy her a house. But, Ragsdale, alleged the phone call ended with Monjack threatening to come and take her son, Elijah, to keep her from going to the press. (Even Monjack's publicist no idea, with Neil saying, "Excuse me? I didn't know about that. There was a second child? Wow.")

"I know why Brittany chose Simon, he worked his spell on her and she fell for it," Ragsdale said. "Like I did."

When asked about Elijah, Monjack's mother Linda Monjack said, "Well, you do know he never acknowledged his existence...it's very difficult to acknowledge something that you don't know." 

Monjack's Family Comes Forward

At the end of part one, it's revealed that Monjack's mother and brother James Monjack reached out to the filmmakers and asked to be interviewed for the first time.

"He was the most incredible guy," Linda said. "He had an IQ off the scale. He was able to charm anyone." James added, "From early childhood Simon had that ability to manipulate the environment to get what he wanted out of it."

When Monjack was 16, his father died and Linda explained, "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." Perhaps as a result, she added, "He did fall in and out of love very easily."

When it came to Monjack's relationship with Murphy, Linda said she believed, "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."

Simon's Unusual Connection With a Journalist

Amber Ryland, a reporter for worked for Radar Online at the time of Murphy's death, was tasked with waiting outside of the home for any updates. And on Christmas Day, her boss suggested she drop off flowers. The gesture worked, with 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."

Thirty-nine days after Murphy's death, Ryland and Monjack met for dinner at Chateau Marmont, with Ryland claiming Monjack took credit for his late wife's career during their conversation. "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 would later invite Ryland and cameras into his house, offering a tour that included showing the "infamous" bathroom in which Murphy died. "It was amazing but it felt weird for this grieving husband to be like, 'Let's show the world where Brittany died,'" Ryland explained. "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 for the first time during that interview, with the reporter claiming 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."

In May 2010, Monjack grew angry with Ryland when she went on vacation and didn't return his calls. "Some of his messages, you could  sense this growing frustration that I wasn't there for him," Ryland said. "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."

But Ryland would never know as Monjack died just days after she returned from her trip. 

What Happened, Brittany Murphy? is streaming on HBO Max.