Brittany Murphy’s 2009 death was one of the most shocking celebrity losses of the 2000s. Found in her Hollywood home’s bathroom at age 32, the subsequent autopsy and numerous conspiracy theories surrounding her sudden passing gripped the world.

It feels like Murphy’s death hasn’t been discussed in media for quite some time, but now a new HBO Max documentary What Happened, Brittany Murphy? – currently airing on Binge in Australia – takes a look back at Murphy’s rise to fame, troubling final years and controversial relationship with writer/director Simon Monjack.

Brittany with co-star Dakota Fanning in Uptown Girls

The documentary is… not the best. Using dramatic reenactments and spliced footage of scenes from films, it feels like they’re not telling us much we don’t already know. The inclusion of YouTube conspiracy videos feels off – like padding out the story with wild theories that don’t have a lot of substantial evidence behind them. Yes, Murphy’s death was shocking and the conspiracy-riddled aftermath deserves investigation, but often the claims from YouTubers aren’t really assessed, making it all feel a little salacious.

Still, the documentary – which has two hour-long episodes and includes interviews with Simon Monjack’s mother and brother, and close friends of Murphy and those who worked with her – sheds some light on the lead up to her untimely death, and is definitely worth a watch if you aren’t across Murphy’s story.

Here are the key takeaways.

1. Simon Monjack and Brittany Murphy’s mother, Sharon, had a strange relationship

A clip from Simon and Sharon’s infamous Larry King interview.

If you followed Murphy’s story in the 2000s, you’re probably already aware of the conversations around her husband, Simon Monjack, and her mother. The three lived together in Hollywood, and after Murphy’s death, Monjack and Sharon continued to live together in the same house – even sharing a bed on occasion.

The documentary doesn’t get to the bottom of what their relationship was, specifically, but it shows some fascinating footage of interviews with Monjack and Sharon, including the infamous mention from Monjack of Murphy’s body on Larry King Live, when asked why they didn’t want to do the autopsy. “This pristine body, curvy in all the right places, with skin like silk. How could I say ‘cut it up’ in front of her mother?”

2. The autopsy did not support the “toxic mould” cause of death

Brittany as Tai in Clueless

Brittany Murphy’s death was primarily caused by pneumonia, and Monjack died five months later from lung inflammation caused by a bacterial infection. It was reported that after he died, it was discovered that their house had toxic mould, and speculation arose as to whether this was the cause of their deaths.

However, in the documentary it is ruled out as a cause by the post-mortem examiner, who says evidence of mould didn’t show up in Murphy’s body. 

3. Simon Monjack allegedly had secret children

Simon and Brittany in footage from the HBO documentary.

The documentary alleges that Monjack had two secret children with other women – children Murphy knew nothing about.

They interview Elizabeth Ragsdale, who claims her son Elijah is with Monjack. She says he abandoned her in the 90s, but reconnected in 2007 – offering to buy her a house. She believes it was his attempt to buy her silence, as that was the year he got engaged to Murphy.

4. Simon Monjack controlled Brittany Murphy’s life

Brittany in Girl, Interrupted

The documentary goes deep on Monjack, asking friends and associates of Murphy’s about their relationship. According to the doco, she fired everyone in her team due to expressions of concern about Monjack, and by the time of her death he was her sole manager – including her makeup artist. He even controlled her sex scenes, with one director interviewed saying Murphy originally refused to do a kissing scene, until Monjack said he would convince her. 

Most concerningly, friends said Murphy changed her phone number and became essentially uncontactable unless through Monjack.

5. Could Brittany Murphy have been saved?

Brittany in Uptown Girls

One of the biggest questions the documentary attempts to answer is whether Murphy’s death was preventable. For the last three months of her life, she was isolated in her home with Monjack and her mother. Footage from a RadarOnline interview with Monjack shows her bathroom – where she was found dead – revealing what this living situation was like. 

All three came down with what they termed flu-like symptoms, but instead of seeing a doctor, they treated these with over-the-counter medication. Even when Murphy’s condition went downhill, she wasn’t taken to see anyone. Experts who were part of the autopsy process say in the documentary that if she were treated in the days prior to her death, she would have been hospitalised.

Overall, the documentary paints a harrowing portrait of a woman whose rise to fame was marred by experiences with drugs, body image issues and toxic relationships. Like the recent New York Times documentary Framing Britney Spears, it makes you consider how we speak about and treat celebrities – particularly women – and how what is going on behind the scenes is not always seen by the masses.

thoughts?