01.27.10

Brittany Death Suit

In an exclusive interview, Brittany Murphy’s husband Simon Monjack reveals he’s suing Warner Brothers for wrongful death, and talks about Brittany’s final moments.

In an exclusive interview, Brittany Murphy’s husband Simon Monjack reveals he’s suing Warner Brothers for wrongful death; talks about how drug rumors destroyed Brittany’s career; denies rumors that he was drunk on the set of The Caller; and talks about Brittany’s final moments.

The Daily Beast has learned that Simon Monjack, the much-maligned husband of Brittany Murphy, is only days away from filing a wrongful-death action against Warner Brothers, claiming that the studio is responsible for the unexpected death of the 32-year-old actress last December. “They killed her,” he told me. Although the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office hasn’t released a final cause of death, Monjack and Brittany’s mother, Sharon, who also spoke to me, are convinced that the once-promising star died of a heart attack from the stress caused by Warner Brother’s canceling of a contract just two weeks before she died. Murphy was excited to have begun production on the sequel to the animated hit Happy Feet, but when she was fired by Warner Brothers, Monjack says, “She was devastated.”

View Exclusive Images of Brittany Murphy photographed by Simon Monjack

A month before Warner Brothers’ decision, Murphy had been let go from The Caller, a film shooting in Puerto Rico, and replaced with Twilight star Rachelle Lefevre. There were rumors that Monjack—who did Brittany’s hair and makeup—had been so difficult on the set, sometimes showing up drunk, that the producers had let her go. One Hollywood executive told me that the studio had been looking for a reason to dismiss Brittany because Lefevre was a much hotter star.

“Every story needs a villain, and everyone has decided it is me,” Monjack says. “The reports about the Puerto Rican set are fantasy. I was never, ever drunk there. What I did do was demand they follow union rules and after she had worked 12-hour days, six days a week, that she get the breaks she was entitled to. I was ‘difficult’ because I was the enforcer to protect Brittany. She was far too nice to stand up to directors and producers who wanted her to work to exhaustion.”

Sharon Murphy, Brittany’s mother, visited the Puerto Rican set frequently. “Simon protected Brittany,” she says. “That is the role he assumed after they married and it’s why a lot of people in Hollywood can’t stand him.”

If they didn’t like Monjack before, his imminent Warner Brothers lawsuit isn’t going to endear him to the Hollywood power brokers. “It’s a cruel town,” he says. “Warner Brothers relied on conjecture and hearsay about the Puerto Rico film for why they canceled Brittany’s role in Happy Feet. You’re disposable as an actress or actor.”

Monjack described for the first time the morning that Brittany died in his Hollywood Hills house. She had gone to the bathroom shortly before 8 a.m. “That was her comfort zone in our very huge home,” he says. “It was the only Brittany-size room.” There was a small table, and she often spent hours there. When her mother went to talk to her, she found her laying on the floor unconscious, and yelled out for Simon.

“I came running in. I immediately started doing CPR.” Sharon remembers that the 5’3” Murphy, at barely over 100 pounds, seemed so very tiny as her 6’2”, 235-pound husband worked on her.

“I felt a tiny heart beat,” Monjack told me, his voice cracking over the phone. “I was pushing with the heel of my hand. And every second I pushed, I felt my hand become stronger and her heart weaker. And then it stopped. And I kept pushing. She died in my arms. I knew she was dead.”

By the time EMT crews arrived, Monjack and Sharon had been crying and at times almost hysterical. Later a neighbor would describe him as seeming “out of it,” wandering back and forth in front of their house shoeless, in shorts and a T-shirt. “I hope no one ever has to go through what I did,” he says, “to lose the love of your life in front of your eyes. I was out of it? You bet. It was all a surreal nightmare.”

Later, Monjack would ask the doctors at the hospital not to do an autopsy. “It was nothing sinister at all. I just looked at Sharon’s grieving face, and there was no way either of us wanted them to cut open this perfect 32-year-old girl. It wasn’t about hiding anything; it was just the horror of thinking of what they would do to her body.”

“Simon was her soul mate, the love of her life,” Brittany Murphy’s mother said of Simon Monjack.

“I have been in a Fritz Lang film for the past three weeks,” he tells me. It’s not surprising that Monjack thinks he’s been in a film from the German director dubbed the “Master of Darkness.” After Brittany’s death, rumors soon spread about whether she had been a drug user, and a series of articles slammed him as “Conjack.” He was portrayed as a nefarious Rasputin who had ruined Murphy’s promising career while chasing away her loyal friends. “I’ve been grieving for my wife at the same time I’m reading on the Internet crazy stories like I robbed old women of their pensions.”

“I was never the right guy to marry Brittany,” he says. “She was supposed to marry a young dashing star with a million-dollar smile. She wasn’t supposed to end up with a balding, heavy guy who doesn’t play by their rules.” In 2003, the tabloids had reported she was engaged to Ashton Kutcher. In 2005, she was engaged to Jeff Kwatinetz, the dashing founder of one of the most successful Hollywood management companies, The Firm.

Simon Monjack certainly could not compete with Kutcher or Kwatinetz for looks or entertainment-industry power and buzz. Raised in an Orthodox Jewish family, Monjack told me he was on the cover of a London newspaper when he was only 10. “Britain’s smartest child,” was the headline, about how the youngster had scored a then-record 182 on an IQ test. (Albert Einstein’s IQ was estimated between 160 and 180.) He says he had earned a doctorate from UCLA in philosophical aesthetics, specializing in deconstructionism and post-expressionism. He also boasts that he made a small fortune in trading currencies and having the good luck of buying over 100 paintings from a group of then-unknown British artists, including Damien Hirst, Sarah Lucas, and Michael Yandy, among others. Although Monjack was described invariably in the press after Brittany’s death as a writer, producer, and director of tiny films, he says that was never how he earned his money. “My photography, it’s a wonderful hobby that I hope to take up as a career.”

What about the charges about him? Litigious? “I am tough. I litigate when somebody does something wrong to me. That’s one of the reasons I make enemies.”

Did he owe a bank half a million? “Yes, I had guaranteed a person’s overdraft, and they ran up $500,000, and I paid it.”

What of actress Jaime Pressly, who says that after Brittany married, the two actresses stopped speaking? “She was never even a friend of Brittany, and she had never met me. Not once.”

The rumors that his November 29 hospital admission, right after he stepped off a plane, was drug-related? “It was a mild heart attack. Nothing to do with drugs. But why should facts get in the way of a good story?”

And the strong charges by Factory Girl director George Hickenlooper, who said that Monjack was “a con man and a bad guy” who had “sued his way onto the project for a title.” “Hickenlooper is a liar. I sued my way into credit over plagiarism. He’s a hack who’s never grossed over a few million on a movie. He lives in some awful flat in Hollywood, and I drive three cars and had a gorgeous wife. Failure breeds jealously.”

The oft-repeated story that he was a conman looking to live off a rich actress has especially stung him.

“I spent over a million on her engagement rings,” he told me. “And probably $3 million on clothes.”

“$3.5 million,” interrupts Sharon, standing nearby and listening to the conversation.

“When Brittany died, she had 60 pieces of unworn Louis Vuitton. The dog had Louis Vuitton. This was all me. We kept our money separate. When I took Brittany out shopping, I paid for everything.” Their sprawling, multimillion dollar home, where they lived together with Sharon, was his.

And he bristles at the suggestion that he was the ruination of her career.

“Brittany’s films had grossed $100 million before she met me,” he says. “But her career had ended before then.” Her acclaimed roles in Clueless (1995) and Girl, Interrupted (1999) were years before Monjack arrived. A performance that many insiders thought might revive her career, Don’t Say a Word, had the bad luck of being released the week of the 9/11 attacks. “She had gone through four or five agents by the time we met,” Monjack says, “and she had made a lot of indies that went straight to video. She hadn’t earned millions in years, and when we met she was struggling financially, from a series of bad investments. She trusted some people who she shouldn’t have. There are people in Hollywood living off of young successful boys and girls and getting them to invest in things they shouldn’t.”

Monjack believes that Murphy’s career was stopped cold by the failure of 2004’s Little Black Book. Chicago Sun-Times columnist Richard Roeper had a typically negative reaction when he said, “One of the worst romantic comedies of this or probably any other year.” The following year, Murphy, who had lost 20 pounds, was dogged by anorexia and drug rumors. Ted Casablanca, nee Bruce Bibby, E! Online’s entertainment journalist, ran a blind item in 2005 that said a “Jordache Junky” had had sex with a waiter in a back stairwell at a Hollywood bar mitzvah. Almost everyone pegged Brittany, then a Jordache model, as the girl.

“In all the time I’ve known her, she has never, and I repeat NEVER, done drugs,” Monjack told me. “Not a line of cocaine, not a hit from a joint, nothing. She was anti-drugs. There are no drugs involved. If any were, I would not be on the phone with you.” She was afraid of even drinking too much caffeine, adds Sharon, ever since she was diagnosed with mitral valve prolapse, a common heart condition in which the valve doesn’t close completely. She was also hypoglycemic, not diabetic as widely reported. Los Angeles investigators took a number of prescription drugs from Monjack’s house, “but they were almost all mine.” Brittany took only Klonepam, he told me, an antianxiety medication prescribed to control the seizures she occasionally had. And Sarafem, a drug approved for mood swings during a woman’s menstrual cycle.

“The drug rumors made her lose roles, I’m sure,” says Monjack. And they took a toll on her, he says, depressing her and making her fret that she might not find a comeback vehicle. “All she wanted to do was to make movies. She was waiting for the role that would revive her career, waiting for the call from Penny Marshall or Gary Fleder, people she had worked with before, that they might remember how talented an actress she was and call with a new magical role.”

But that call never came. Instead, her last gig, the voice of Gloria in the animated film from which Warner Brothers dismissed her, was paying her $10,000 a day, with a five-day minimum, and the possibility of some box-office bonuses. It was a long way down from being touted years earlier as part of Hollywood’s young emerging elite.

“There’s always some new girl getting off a bus,” says Monjack. “In Hollywood, girls like Brittany are disposable.”

Since her death, he’s launched The Brittany Murphy Foundation, focused on the arts, education for children, and cancer research. “I’ve put $1 million into escrow to fund it,” he claims. “Of course, that won’t get news. It doesn’t fit my image as a bad guy.”

Finally, Sharon grabs the phone from Monjack. “I loved my daughter more than life itself,” she told me. “Simon was her soul mate, the love of her life. They don’t understand that in Hollywood because it was something real.”

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Gerald Posner is The Daily Beast's chief investigative reporter. He's the award-winning author of 10 investigative nonfiction bestsellers, on topics ranging from political assassinations, to Nazi war criminals, to 9/11, to terrorism. His latest book, Miami Babylon: Crime, Wealth and Power—A Dispatch from the Beach, was published in October. He lives in Miami Beach with his wife, the author Trisha Posner.