The Mystery and Shock of Suicide: Marilyn Monroe, Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain, Robin Williams

And so it begins…the comparisons and conspiracies, Marilyn Monroe style.

With the recent suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, recollections of the passing of Marilyn Monroe come to mind for fans around the globe, myself included. In fact, every time a celebrity takes his or her own life I am reminded of Marilyn, much in the same way I’m reminded of her when someone famous dies from a drug overdose, most recently Whitney Houston, Cory Monteith, and Heath Ledger. This weekend I thought to myself, “It’s only a matter of time. Two famous suicides…the stories will begin soon,” and they have. But, there is something that’s significantly different: It’s indisputable that the more recent suicides of Spade, Bourdain, and even Robin Williams and Chris Cornell, were intentional. While it has been proven that Marilyn Monroe died as the result of a drug overdose, whether or not it was intentional will forever be unclear.  Regardless, in looking at books from her personal library we know that she read about suicide.  In her personal copy of Man Against Himself by Karl A. Menninger, which is part of my personal collection, Marilyn called out passages on suicide in the first chapter of the book.  The main question of course is why.  Why was Marilyn seemingly interested in suicide?

This book, sold in 1999 by Christie’s, is photographed with Marilyn in her Beverly Carlton Hotel studio apartment, and also her apartment on Doheny Drive in Hollywood.

While some say it’s time to just accept the fact that Marilyn killed herself, I beg to differ. The truth is, we’ll never know the intent behind Marilyn’s death. We’ll never know if she intentionally ended her life, or if it was just a very sad and shocking accident.

Amazingly, as I write this post, an alert flashes across my mobile device: Actor Jackson Odell of TV’s ‘Goldbergs’ found dead at 20. The cause of death hasn’t been announced, but there must be curiosity as to whether or not he too died by suicide.

In spite of the evidence that proves she died of an overdose of prescription drugs consumed orally, conspiracy theories surrounding Marilyn’s death are plentiful. Everything from the Kennedys to the mob, and believe it or not, even aliens, have been blamed for murdering Marilyn Monroe. Quite amazingly, I saw a comment on a celebrity suicide focused Facebook thread where someone posted a photo from Niagara showing Marilyn in bed in a hospital room.

A scene from Niagara, starring Marilyn Monroe. 20th Century-Fox Studios, 1953.

Someone else left a comment stating, “Did you notice the lady in the background holding a suitcase? I’ve never clued in on that before. Gee, wonder what evidence is hiding in that thing. Especially since it took so long them to call an ambulance after they got into the room.” Seriously? It’s a publicity shot from a film. It’s not real life, but somehow someone believed this was a photo of Marilyn Monroe’s death scene. This is how conspiracy theories quickly spiral out of control.

Anthony Bourdain’s death is being blamed on everything and everyone from Bill and Hillary Clinton to the fact he was speaking out in support of the “me too” movement to his feelings toward Valdimir Putin and other world leaders.  In actuality, just like with Marilyn’s death, there should be no conspiracies here.  The truth is he took his own life in his hotel room in France. Kate Spade also died by suicide, and so did Robin Williams. Period. But, unlike Marilyn’s death, their intentions were clear. They wanted to die and the methods in which they took their own life prove that, but did Marilyn want to die?

I feel that fans should logically consider the conspiracy theories around Marilyn’s death. The idea that President Kennedy and/or his brother Robert Kennedy had Marilyn Monroe killed is dumbfounding. Imagine Barack Obama having a Hollywood actress killed. It’s really quite ludicrous. As far as the mob, what would be the motive? The idea of aliens is not even worth mentioning. Sadly though, these conspiracy theories, in a way, help keep her legend alive. Fans simply can’t accept the fact it was either intentional or accidental, and I am regularly surprised at the frequency in which people I talk to bring up, and believe, the outrageous theories. In fact, at the Marilyn Remembered Fan Club birthday celebration for Marilyn’s 92nd birthday just last June 2nd, someone actually mentioned to me that they believed the Kennedys killed Marilyn.  I scoffed and quickly set them straight.

Regardless of the manner in which they died, the social and global parallels surrounding the deaths of Marilyn, Kate, Anthony, Robin, Whitney, Cory, Heath, and other celebrities are incredible and indisputable: Talented, successful, driven, accomplished, and seemingly leading a life that others dream of…and then in the blink of an eye it’s over, and the bright light has gone out leaving the world shocked and saddened.  Also undoubtedly the same is the grief and confusion experienced by the followers, friends and family of those who died. Just like recent occurrences of celebrity deaths, Marilyn’s passing was broadcast around the world, consuming headlines in newspapers for days after she passed away. Below are just a few examples of the headlines:

“Film World Stunned by Death of a Queen”
“World Feels Shock About Monroe’s Death”
“Marilyn Monroe’s Last Hours”
“MM Was Many Things to Many People”
“Actress’ Body Lies Unclaimed”
“Marilyn Speaks”
“MM’s Mexican Pal is in Beverly Hills”
“Joe to Marilyn at Rites: ‘I Love You’”
“Big Stars Banned at Marilyn’s Funeral”
“Her Life Was a Suicide Note for All to Read”

Some of the newspaper stories following Marilyn’s death:

The New York Times announced Marilyn’s death with the message that she was “Found dead in bed – Suicide suspected” in bright lights on the side of its office building in Times Square, in exactly the same way her name was highlighted at movie theaters around the world when they were showing her films.

New York Times building announces the death of Marilyn Monroe.

While I’ve read and seen quite a bit lately about Marilyn Monroe and the recent high profile suicides, what I haven’t’ seen enough of in the MM community is information on how to help. The fact is suicide is real and it’s on the rise in the US. From the CDC website:

Suicide rates have been rising in nearly every state, according to the latest Vital Signs report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In 2016, nearly 45,000 Americans age 10 or older died by suicide. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death and is one of just three leading causes that are on the rise.

“Suicide is a leading cause of death for Americans – and it’s a tragedy for families and communities across the country,” said CDC Principal Deputy Director Anne Schuchat, M.D. “From individuals and communities to employers and healthcare professionals, everyone can play a role in efforts to help save lives and reverse this troubling rise in suicide.”

If you observe others in your life exhibiting the following behaviors, or if you’re feeling them yourself, please reach out and get some help:

  • Talking about suicide, hurting themselves, death, or dying
  • Seeking access to firearms or pills
  • Withdrawing from friends, family, and society
  • Having severe mood swings
  • Feeling hopeless or trapped
  • Increased use of alcohol or drugs
  • Sleeping all the time or having issues with sleep
  • Uncontrolled rage or agitation
  • Self-destructive and risky behavior
  • Giving away personal belongings
  • Telling people goodbye for seemingly no reason

Assistance is available. Talk to someone now at the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline:


Call: 1-800-273-8285

Additional numbers for Spanish, deaf and hard of hearing, and veterans is available here.

Resources for the LGBTQ community can be found here.

If you’re feeling like hurting yourself, please remember that you are one of a kind, and you can never be replaced. Regardless of how you’re feeling right now, someone, and probably many people, will be utterly devastated that you are not here anymore. If you don’t want to reach out to a suicide support group or prevention service, you can reach out to me.  I’ll listen and try to help.  Here are all of the ways you can reach me:


I know what it’s like to personally feel the effects of suicide.  My cousin Cory, born just a month before me, took his own life in his early twenties.  He just couldn’t handle the pressure of day-to-day life.  He left no note and there were no signs.  He simply put a pistol in his mouth and pulled the trigger.  His mother found him.  He left behind a wife and a young son, and an unborn child.  To this day I still think about him and wonder if there was something more I could have done to help him.  Below is a very early photo of Cory and me, probably at three or four years of age.  He’s on the right.

In a conversation with friend and photographer George Barris, Marilyn said, “I’m 36 years old. I feel I’m just getting started.”  Was her death suicide or was it accidental?  We will never know, but what we do know for sure is the indelible impression she left on the world in 36 short years.

George Barris photographs Marilyn Monroe, 1962.

Please get help if you feel you need it, and offer help to those you’re worried about. Suicide isn’t the only option.