Sunday, December 20, 2009

Brittany Murphy Dies. What the Hell, Hollywood?

I know we can't completely blame Hollywood for this.

But when a beautiful, funny actress shows up at premieres looking like a skeleton, denying cocaine use, and then experiences a downhill trajectory in her career, I can't help but get a little pissed.

Today, Brittany Murphy suffered full cardiac arrest and was never revived.  She was only 32 years old.

Murphy's death comes (hopefully) last in a long line of 2009 celebrity deaths.  Y'all know how I feel about Michael Jackson.  Bea Arthur was another.  Natasha Richardson never recovered from a horrible freak ski accident.

True, Murphy wasn't a pop icon like MJ.  She didn't have the dry humor and distinctive baritone of Bea.  She didn't bring an elegance and flair to stage and screen roles like Richardson.

However, she was only 32.  Maybe she had it in her.  And now we'll never know.

In her short lifespan, girl did a hell of a lot.  Reading Jezebel's lovely tribute, I remembered how many fun and cool roles she had.  Of course, we all remember Tai in Clueless, at once "way harsh" and sweet, with beautiful reddish-brown hair and the most winning smile of the three protagonists.  But I'd forgotten about her sensitive, supportive sister of a closeted gay boy in Drop Dead Gorgeous.  Her supportive friend and fellow teen mom in Riding in Cars With Boys (I remember that film made me really love the name Amelia--Murphy's character's daughter).  Her fierce ex-girlfriend with an ax to grind in Sin City--probably one of my favorite vignettes in the film.

And Luann Platter on King of the Hill.  I love King of the Hill--sure, I resisted it at first because it hit too close to my redneck past, but then I learned to embrace it for the very same reason.  I went to high school with many Luann Platters.  Trust me, Murphy's voice characterization hit it out of the park.  And as her career went through increasingly fallow periods, it's a comfort now to know that she had a steady gig.

I didn't know her.  Like every other celeb I gab on about, my theories are pure speculation.  But today, I find myself angry and sad.  No, I didn't worship her like I did MJ or even Bea.  I didn't aspire to emulate her version of "Don't Tell Mama," like I did with Richardson.  I did, however, enjoy hearing her  cute little twang when I just needed a laugh at the end of a hard day.  She always delivered.

I find myself angry and sad because once again I'm questioning what Hollywood does to young women.  Why'd she get so thin a few years ago?  HOW'D she get so thin a few years ago?  She didn't look like a poster child for healthy and responsible weight loss, that's for damn sure.  Her face was positively skeletal and her smile sad.

And I'm not saying she was an angel: she was reportedly fired by her agent and publicist before Sin City was released.  But in this past decade, Brittany Murphy has just seemed . . . lost.  Like a directionless little girl, rather than an accomplished young woman.

Granted, people lose their way every day.  Famous or no, some are susceptible to addiction, eating disorders, and less-than-desirable life choices, for reasons we still debate.  But this happens over and over in Hollywood, and has been going on for decades: Marilyn Monroe.  Karen Carpenter.  Dana Plato.  Lindsay Lohan.  Quite possibly Miley Cyrus.

Hollywood and the film industry are nasty to women in a way they never are to men.  Sure, there's pressure for men too (especially those in the closet), but you don't see them starving themselves into oblivion to fit a mold that no one can realistically aspire to.  Or pumping their chests full of silicone.  Men may go under the knife and needle too, but the results are nowhere near that extreme.

I keep thinking of one of my least favorite episodes of South Park, where the boys try to guard a headless Britney Spears from a scandal-hungry public.  I enjoy uncomfortable humor (way too much sometimes), but seeing the pop princess go around with a bloody, shot-off stump of a head--even though I knew it was just a cartoon--crossed a line for me.  Yet I agreed with the point that Stone and Parker were trying to make: Hollywood has forever made sacrificial lambs out of young girls and women.  At the end of the 2008 episode, they predicted that Miley Cyrus was next, and it's slowly but surely coming true.

I don't know what to do with my anger, either.  I love pop culture.  I have a blog about it.  I write movie reviews and cover celeb shenanigans.  I've pointed and laughed as much as the next person.  I can say I'll boycott mainstream films and renounce reality TV, but I know I won't do it.

She wasn't my friend.  But she was only two and a half years older than I, and those deaths seem to hit me harder.

I wish I could have helped her.


  1. Beautifully worded. What a lovely tribute to Brittany. I too wish there had been some way to help her. She was a very beautiful and talented, though underrated, young actress. RIP.

  2. Perfectly said. The only thing I loved her in was Clueless, but when I found out she was the voice of Luanne (not sure how my IMDB-loving self missed this) in KOTH which my family and I used to watch all the time, I dunno, it hit home harder for some reason. All this aside she was only 32, making this even sadder news.

  3. Thank you both. It's funny--I automatically thought of Clueless when I heard the news, but then I read the Jezebel post that outlined her resume and I started remembering all the things I liked her in. She really did a lot for someone so young.

    I keep thinking of the Elton John song "Candle in the Wind" (the original about Marilyn, not the remake he did for Princess Di).

    Talking to people at work and online today, it really seems like this is hitting home for people our age in particular.

  4. Agreed--this is super sad. I grew up watching Clueless a lot, and I dunno, this just feels wrong. Like a friend has passed on. Poor Brittany!

  5. Excellent post. It just breaks my heart, the way she seemed so lost, how early her life was ended. I don't want to see another celeb end up like her, but I have a terrible feeling that it will keep happening.

    I tend to think of Clueless first because it was such a big movie for people my age; but I actually loved her in Uptown Girls, and my own sister reminded me of her (quite funny) role on Sister, Sister.


    Left you an award on the blog.

  7. An award from me too...

  8. Very nice tribute! Sorry I didn't read this sooner.

    I was mesmerized by her in this scene in Sin City. Clive Owen's fantastic too of course. The sound's not quite synched in the clip, but it doesn't matter.