There has been a lot of mystery around Brittany Murphy‘s cause of death, and whether mold in her Hollywood Hills home could have contributed to why she and her husband died within six months of each other.
Murphy—an actress who has starred in movies like Clueless, Drop Dead Gorgeous and Girl, Interrupted—was born in Atlanta, Georgia, but was raised by her mother, Sharon, in Edison, New Jersey, after her parents’ divorce when she was 2 years old. When she was 13 years old, Murphy moved to Los Angeles and landed her first Hollywood job as Brenda Drexell in the TV show, Drexell’s Class, which ran from 1991 to 1992. She went on to star in shows like Boy Meets World and Sister, Sister, before her breakthrough role as Tai Fraser in 1995’s Clueless.
In May 2007, Murphy married British screenwriter Simon Monjack, who lived with her and her mother in their Hollywood Hills home together until her death two and a half years after her wedding. So what was Brittany Murphy‘s cause of death? Read on ahead for how Murphy died and the dark history behind the home she shared with her husband and mother.
How did Brittany Murphy die?
Brittany Murphy died on December 20, 2009. She was 32 years old. At 8 a.m. that day, emergency responders from the Los Angeles Fire Department responded to a “medical request” at Murphy’s Hollywood Hills home, which she shared with her husband, Simon Monjack, and her mother, Sharon. The firefighters found Murphy collapsed in a bathroom. After attempts to resuscitate her at the scene, Murphy was transported to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where she died at 10:04 a.m. after going into cardiac arrest.
What was Brittany Murphy’s cause of death?
Soon after her death, Assistant Chief Coroner Ed Winter told the Associate Press that the cause of Murphy’s death “appears to be natural.” (Her death certificate listed her cause of death as “deferred.”) An autopsy was performed the day after Murphy died, and in February 2010, a Los Angeles County coroner confirmed that the primary cause of Murphy’s death was pneumonia, with secondary factors of iron-deficiency anemia and multiple drug intoxication.
The coroner released a report at the time stating that Murphy had been taking various over-the-counter and prescription medications to likely treat a cold or a respiratory infection. The medications, however, led to “elevated levels” of hydrocodone, acetaminophen, L-methamphetamine and chlorpheniramine, according to the report, which may have contributed to her death, which was ruled an accident. “The possible adverse physiological effects of elevated levels of these medications cannot be discounted, especially in her weakened state,” the report stated. In January 2010, Murphy’s mother and husband denied that Murphy used drugs or alcohol and maintained that the cause of the actress’ death was a heart condition and mitral valve prolapse—not drugs.
On May 23, 2010—less than a year after Murphy’s death—her husband, Simon Monjack, was also found dead in their Hollywood Hills home. The Los Angeles coroner’s department also confirmed that the cause of death was acute pneumonia and anemia.
Was Brittany Murphy’s cause of death mold?
Because Murphy and her husband died of the same condition in their home, there was speculation that a so-called toxic “black mold” could have been the cause of their deaths. The Los Angeles County Department of Health confirmed at the time that mold was considered as a possible cause of Murphy and Monjack’s fatal pneumonia, but the investigation was later dismissed by the coroner’s department who stated that there were “no indicators” that mold was a factor in Murphy or Monjack’s deaths. Murphy’s mother, Sharon, also called reports that mold was a possible cause of her daughter and son-in-law’s deaths “absurd” and claimed that their Hollywood Hills home was never inspected for mold by the Los Angeles Health Department.
“I have never been personally asked by the coroner or anyone from the Health Department to come and inspect my home for mold,” Sharon told People in 2010. “In the last eight months, I have been through the most unimaginable events, which no one could ever fathom. I have and will continue to be very cooperative and fully comply with any such request.” She continued, “It’s absurd that this kind of misinformation is being reported by the media.”
However, in December 2011, two years after her daughter’s death, Sharon retracted her statement and claimed that toxic mold was indeed the cause of Murphy and Monjack’s death. She filed a complaint at the time against Steiner & Libo, the attorneys who represented her in an earlier lawsuit against the builders of Murphy’s Hollywood Hills home. She charged the firm with legal malpractice, breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty for not properly informing her that—when she accepted the final settlement of her earlier lawsuit in January 2011—that she was giving up her right to sue for the wrongful deaths of her daughter and son-in-law due to the presence of mold in their 13-year-old home, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
The lawsuit stated at the time that the firm, who was first hired in early 2009, “should have known that Brittany and Simon had died and that their deaths were the result of complications from conditions associated with the subject property.” The suite also alleged that the firm “had a duty to advise and/or inform (Sharon Murphy) that she may have had a wrongful death claim.”
Ed Winter, the Los Angeles County assistant chief coroner, denied Sharon’s claims about the mold at the time and stated that the coroner’s office specifically looked for evidence of mold in Murphy and Monjack’s autopsies but didn’t find any. He told The Hollywood Reporter that, at the time of Monjack’s death, Sharon told him that she didn’t believe mold was the cause of his pneumonia and wouldn’t permit an inspection of the house by the Los Angeles health department.
Sharon and Murphy purchased the five-bedroom, 8,000-square-foot Hollywood Hills home from Britney Spears in June 2003 for $3.85 million. (Britney lived in the house with her then-boyfriend, Justin Timberlake.) Sharon sold the home for $2.7 million in 2011. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Sharon moved to hotel in the weeks before she sold the house because of concerns about the mold.
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