Brittany Murphy And The Hollywood Starlet SyndromeS

Ultimately, an autopsy will determine how Brittany Murphy died. For now, we know enough about how she lived to detect some depressingly familiar themes about how she lived: needy, agitated, ever-shrinking, drawn to an apparently unsavory man as a protector.

Such is the Hollywood starlet machine, which draws eager entrants like Murphy. Willing to do anything for their turn on the red carpet, even the ones who make it often seem chewed up and spat out by the system, unable to overcome their own fragility or ill-advised choices.

In recent years, Murphy became one of those tabloid mainstays whose misfortunes, real or circumstantial, outweighed the impact of her actual career. On gossip blogs, the read on her life was brutal and efficient. A typical one, after news of her 2007 marriage to Simon Monjack, who had recently been arrested for staying in the country on an expired visa:

Brittany Murphy is crazy and gets engaged like once a month, so if I was an illegal, I'd feel pretty good about my chances. She also never knew her father and used to be kinda fat. So all you have to do is tell her she looks good in her dress, and a little while later she'll say there must be something about you because she "normally doesn't do anal on the first date."

Cruel and misogynistic, but not diverging terribly from the facts. Speaking to The Los Angeles Times yesterday, Murphy's father, Angel Bertolotti, "described himself as a 'retired mobster' who now works in the movie business, [and] said he and Sharon Murphy divorced when Brittany was 4. He last saw his daughter about three years ago." (Other news reports put Murphy's age when her parents divorced at two years old). Berlotti, who hadn't seen his daughter in eight years, told Radar that he "served prison time on federal drug charges."

At 13, Murphy moved to Burbank, California with her mother to try to make it as an actress. Her toothy smile, brown curls and klutzy sweetness served her well enough to play Tai, the out-of-towner who gets glammed up by her Los Angeles classmates, in Clueless. But the actress who had gotten her big break with a makeover storyline could not help but draw the same lesson for her own life. In her twenties, slimming down and going blonde and straight-haired served her even better, at least on the romantic fluff circuit.

This is not just outsider speculation. On Sunday, Amy Heckerling, who wrote and directed Clueless, giving Murphy her most memorable role as a teenager, told one blogger,

Maybe she felt like she was not the, like, skinny, pretty girl, you know? And then the next few movies she was, you know, thinner, blonde ... and going out with Eminem and Ashton Kutcher, and, you know, suddenly got more into that whole glamorous scene … I think she felt the pressure to become a different sort of commodity to survive in show business, and I think it was awful."

And today, People goes even further. Says one anonymous friend:

A lot of her problems were due to poor self image. She wore extraordinary amounts of makeup, tons of fake eyelashes, got her teeth capped, dyed her hair blonde, lost weight – she wanted to be a beauty. She didn't want to be the fat girl from Clueless. She didn't eat a lot. She would drink copious amounts of coffee.

A director who had hired Murphy for the upcoming (and aptly named) Shrinking Charlotte told E! this morning of a recent meeting, "I noticed that she had dropped a lot of weight in the last six months." An anonymous on-set makeup artist told The Daily Beast,"She had too many drugs and too little food."

Then there were the men in her life. She was engaged three times. The third time, she married Monjack, a man she met when she was seventeen. As reports of his checkered past and their erratic behavior together are multiply, it's hard not to see the connection with her absent father and his own run-ins with the law.

Nearly every photo of Monjack and Murphy together shows her clinging to him, or touching him protectively, or looking dreamily into his eyes. Some news reports refer to him as her manager. People on the sets of her movies called him her "handler." Producers on films Murphy worked on had "summits" to discuss how to deal with his constant interruptions, according to The Daily Beast. Murphy's own unstable behavior on set was also harming her career and leading to persistent speculation about drug use.

Having turned herself into what Hollywood seemed to want, Murphy became like so many other young actresses who clung to a man or men who seemed to offer something real, who ignored telltale signs and put up a wall between "us" and the world — Britney Spears and Anne Hathaway come to mind. Maybe it was just the enormous eyes and the slightly nervous smile, but she wore more openly than most that needy vulnerability, an extension of the kind that lead all of these women to seek affirmation from the entire world on the biggest stage available, no matter what the price. Though it came at a price, Murphy got some of that affirmation in her short life. Her sudden death, ironically, will give her more of it than ever, at least for now.

Brittany's 'Spaced-Out' World [The Daily Beast]
Brittany Murphy's Husband Is Trouble, Producers Say [THR]
Brittany Murphy's 'Inner Demons' [People]
Brittany Murphy 'Barely There' on Recent Movie [The Wrap]

Earlier: Girl Interrupted: The Life Of Brittany Murphy