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'What Happened, Brittany Murphy?': 7 revelations from the new documentary

A new HBO Max documentary unveils heartbreaking details about the "Clueless" star's final days.
/ Source: TODAY

A new HBO Max documentary is describing details about actor Brittany Murphy's tragic final days.

In the two-part "What Happened, Brittany Murphy?," premiering Thursday, director Cynthia Hill examines Murphy's life from her childhood as an aspiring starlet in New Jersey to her heartbreaking death inside her West Hollywood mansion.

Murphy rose to fame playing the lovable Tai Frasier in 1995's "Clueless," and went on to become a Hollywood It Girl, starring in serious dramas, including "Girl, Interrupted" (1999) and "8 Mile" (2002), and comedies like "Just Married" (2003) opposite then-boyfriend Ashton Kutcher.

A new HBO Max documentary, "What Happened, Brittany Murphy?," tells the story of the life and tragic death of Hollywood star Brittany Murphy.
A new HBO Max documentary, "What Happened, Brittany Murphy?," tells the story of the life and tragic death of Hollywood star Brittany Murphy.WENN via HBO

But after marrying the mysterious British screenwriter Simon Monjack in 2007, Murphy's career and personal life took a dramatic turn. The one-time Hollywood A-lister underwent a dramatic weight loss and began exhibiting erratic behavior, according to colleagues including Alex Merkin, director of one of Murphy's last films, the 2009 thriller "Across the Hall," who details Murphy's bizarre on-set antics in the documentary.

Murphy died in December 2009 at age 32 of untreated pneumonia with contributing factors of anemia and drug intoxication from prescription and over-the-counter medications, according to Ed Winter, former assistant chief at the Los Angeles County coroner’s office, who also appears in the documentary.

To tell the story of Murphy's life, director Hill and her team talked to the late star's friends and colleagues, as well as those close to Monjack, including his mother, Linda, and brother James.

Among the documentary's revelations:

1) Murphy was beloved in Hollywood.

Kathy Najimy, Murphy's co-star on "King of the Hill," tells filmmakers that Murphy's death was all the more tragic because she was so "wonderful."

"There was nobody else like her," Najimy says. "She wasn't a Hollywood girl. The movie of her life is like: Who walks into a room and almost every single person there is thrilled that you're there, and then knows that when she leaves the room and goes home, she's the same freaking person?"

Murphy rose to fame playing the "tragically unhip" Tai Frasier in the 1995 comedy "Clueless."CBS via Getty Images

Murphy's "8 Mile" co-star Taryn Manning echoes Najimy's sentiments, comparing Murphy to a "butterfly," while "Clueless" director Amy Heckerling says Murphy's "sweetness" transcended onto the screen. "She was just genuine," says Heckerling.

2) Friends saw red flags in Murphy's relationship with Simon Monjack.

Those close to Murphy saw trouble right away in her relationship with Monjack. Najimy recalls Murphy acting "hypnotized" by Monjack. "We all were scared and freaked out," she says, later noting "He was making all her decisions. He was clearly getting her money."

Roger Neal, a publicist hired by Monjack and his mother-in-law, Sharon Murphy, after Brittany Murphy's death, details how Monjack "started building a wall around" Murphy, while taking over management of her finances. Neal later alleges in the doc that Monjack blew through $3 million of Murphy's money in three years.

Simon Monjack and Brittany Murphy.
Murphy with husband Simon Monjack in 2007.Michael Bezjian / WireImage

Alex Merkin, director of the 2009 thriller "Across the Hall," tells filmmakers that he couldn't reach Murphy without going through Monjack. "I learned that she didn't have access to her own email address. I learned she had no access to her own phone," says Merkin.

Former People magazine journalist Sara Hammel says in the doc that while she was reporting on Murphy, she heard "talk" about Murphy's friends staging an intervention at Murphy's home to show the actor and her mother "documentation" about Monjack's brushes with the law. "Brittany and her mom said, 'No, We love Simon and we believe Simon. Sorry.' And the intervention failed," says Hammel.

3) Murphy previously dated A-listers Ashton Kutcher and Eminem.

Najimy notes that Murphy met the unknown Monjack in 2006 during "a little dip" in her life. "Her judgment was muddled and desperate and she became prey to things she thought would help her," says Najimy.

Brittany Murphy and Ashton Kutcher in, Just Married.
Brittany Murphy co-starred with then-boyfriend Ashton Kutcher in that 2003 rom-com "Just Married."Alamy

At the height of her career, Murphy had high-profile romances with her "Just Married" co-star Ashton Kutcher and her "8 Mile" co-star Eminem. She was also briefly engaged to talent manager Jeff Kwatinetz and production assistant Joe Macaluso.

"I know there were situations that left her heartbroken," says director Heckerling, who adds that Murphy "must have been searching for something" she couldn't find in Hollywood when she began dating Monjack.

4) Monjack allegedly had a long history of telling lies.

In one of the documentary's most chilling moments, filmmaker Allison Burnett recounts meeting Monjack at a Hollywood dinner party, where Monjack introduced himself as a billionaire screenwriter whose grandfather founded British Steel. He also said he'd dated Madonna and had battled brain cancer with an experimental shark cartilage treatment.

Burnett tells filmmakers he later learned that "every single word" out of Monjack's mouth was a lie. "I can't stress enough how convincing this man was," recalls the director.

Elizabeth Ragsdale, Monjack's former fiancée and the mother of one of Monjack's two children, says she understood exactly how Monjack won over Murphy's heart. "He worked his spell on her and she fell for it like I did," she says.

Publicist Roger Neal compares Monjack's life to a jigsaw puzzle. "He had all these secrets nobody knew about, all these little secrets," Neal recalls.

5) Monjack’s brother described him as manipulative.

Monjack's brother James reveals that Monjack, who died less than six months after Murphy, always had the ability to control others. "From early childhood, Simon had the ability to manipulate the environment to get what he wanted out of it," James says.

Monjack's mom, Linda, says his personality began to change after his father died when he was 16. After that, Monjack's life became increasingly "unreal."

However, Linda tells filmmakers that Monjack, who "fell in and out of love easily," really did love Murphy and was "devastated" after her death. "When you saw them together, they literally fell into each other's eyes," she recalls.

6) Monjack may have been behind Murphy’s drastic weight loss.

After the success of "Clueless" and "Girl, Interrupted," Murphy shed pounds and bleached her hair blond in order to be considered for leading lady roles. But what began as a glam makeover seemingly went too far, with Murphy losing a shocking amount of weight. Her thinness sparked rumors of an eating disorder, which she denied having in interviews.

Monjack’s ex-fiancee Elizabeth Ragsdale says in the doc that when she saw media photos of an emaciated Murphy, she knew that Monjack, who constantly pushed Ragsdale to get thinner when they were together, "had something to do with that."

"He loved anorexic women," says Ragsdale.

7) People were creeped out by Monjack's relationship with his mother-in-law.

After Murphy's death, fans noted that Monjack and Sharon, still lived together in Murphy's West Hollywood mansion. The pair sparked gossip when they posed together for pics that found Sharon resting her head on Monjack's chest. According to one reporter in the doc, the grieving in-laws even began sharing the same bed.

Roger Neal, the publicist hired by Monjack and his mother-in-law, says the pair's unusual behavior was certainly "tabloid media fodder," but Neal denies there was ever a romance between the two.

In 2010, Sharon Murphy called the rumors “disgusting" while speaking to People, adding, “We’re close friends and we’re family. It’s an awful and ridiculous thing to say.”

"What Happened, Brittany Murphy?" premieres Thursday on HBO Max.