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She came from nowhere and rocketed to stardom. But always there was something dark beneath the glamor. Her decline seemed inevitable, as if we'd heard her story before. Who will be the next young star we love to death?
By Ben Montgomery, Times Staff Writer
Published January 22, 2008
Editor's note: The story you are about to read is crafted from individual lines from actual obituaries and stories about starlets, divas and sex symbols who died way too young. Read the corresponding footnotes below to find out which doomed celebrity the lines are about.
HOLLYWOOD, Calif. - ________________1, the blonde actress who had been the golden girl of the films and the most admired modern symbol of sex, was found dead in her home early today of an overdose of sleeping pills. (2)
She was curled up on her side, her cheek resting on a jewel box. In one hand she held an envelope containing one white pill. On the outside of the envelope was written, "red - quick - two hours. Yellow about 5 - can take two." (3)
On the other side, the actress wrote: "Take care of Chips and Chops." They are her dogs. (4)
The cause of death was not immediately determined. (5) But the police said she apparently died of an overdose of drugs. They said she had been dead for about two hours when she was found shortly after 10 p.m. (6)
"Initially, we had no reason to suspect suicide, but later in the investigation, we discovered that she had used suicide attempts as a gesture for attention before," said police Sgt. Scott Singer. "And someone could not take that quantity of pills unless it was intentional." (7)
Pat Newcomb, (her) press agent and close friend, was one of the first arrivals at the house after the death was disclosed. She turned to a crowd of photographers on the lawn and said: "Keep shooting, vultures." (8)
Her death came one day after she faced a barrage of merciless questions on Howard Stern's radio show about her drug use.
"I have been sober for over a decade now," she said in what would be the last interview of her life. "No joke." (9)
The tabloids had been anticipating her death for years, the National Enquirer as recently as a few months ago. (10)
"My biggest fear is that someday I will pick up a tabloid and read she is dead," the National Enquirer once quoted her mother as saying. (11)
Her dream since childhood had been to be a movie star, and she succeeded beyond her wildest imaginings. (12)
She ran away to Kansas City at 16, and worked as a waitress and then as a $60-a-week dancer in a burlesque show. (13) An album was quickly released to capitalize on her popularity, containing what now seem astonishingly inappropriate songs. (14)
But the pressures of adolescent stardom sent her to a psychiatrist at the age of 18; she was married five times; she was frequently ill; her singing voice faltered, and she suffered from the effects of drugs she once said were prescribed either to invigorate or tranquilize her. (15)
She admitted that she had had difficulty growing up. (16)
In an earlier era, or in another society, she might have grown up slowly, developing her talent as she disciplined it, and gone on like other, tougher performers to enjoy a long and profitable career. (17)
In between breakdowns and canceled engagements and marriages and comebacks, she talked and wrote freely about how she got that way. (18)
"The words of the songs I was singing didn't mean anything to me anymore. I looked bubbly and bouncy. Inside, I was dying," she said. From then on, things went from bad to worse. (19)
Her behavior was explosive. In November . . . she was arrested after a concert in Tampa, Fla., for screaming obscenities at a policeman in the audience. (20)
It was during this period that she also began taking stimulants and depressants. "They'd give us pep pills," she wrote. "Then they'd take us to the studio hospital and knock us cold with sleeping pills . . . after four hours they'd wake us up and give us the pep pills again." (21)
The other side of the compulsively vibrant, exhausting performances that were her stage hallmark was a seemingly unquenchable need for her audiences to respond with acclaim and affection. (22)
Her desperation for fame was so raw that she didn't mind being the butt of the joke if it helped maintain her place in the spotlight. Her sense of how to court attention was simply to show up, pose and practically say, "Come get me, use me." In that blatant desire for publicity she embodied the ultimate symbiosis of celebrity: between an individual who acted as if life out of the spotlight were worthless, and a press and public eager to indulge her craving for attention. (23)
She was made to become a part of the image, and as the image grew into a symbol, a standardization, there was no telling how much she had allowed herself and her own life to be merged and absorbed in it. The dismal background and frequent tempests of her life were discovered and exposed as fodder for popular curiosity. (24)
Despite her success, she was, in her own words, "very much a hard luck girl." (25)
Recent actions of the actress indicated, studio sources said, that she was faced with a financial stringency. (26)
Periodically, the men of the Internal Revenue Service, vultures in white-on-white shirts, swooped down and carried off a car or a house, and there were suits and countersuits with an ex-husband over the possession of children and a television set. Even more often than she exploited the public, by not showing up for a performance or giving a second-rate performance when she did, she was exploited by the people around her. (27)
Attempts at writing her autobiography floundered on her lack of happy memories. (28)
She posed nude for Playboy in 1989, but by the early '90s she was spending most of her time playing the nickel slots in Las Vegas after she was turned down for a $6-an-hour job picking up garbage and cleaning bathrooms. (29)
In 1991 she was arrested for robbing a Las Vegas video store, and was placed on five years' probation. In 1992 she was given an additional five years' probation for forging prescriptions for Valium. (30)
Lawyers estimate the actress had about $25,000 in unpaid bills. (31)
Whenever she stepped out on a stage in recent years, she brought with her, whether she welcomed it or not, all the well-publicized phantoms of her emotional breakdowns, her career collapses and her comebacks. (32)
Some said (she) was fated to die. But others indicted the public, prying newsmen, gossip columnists, press agents - and Hollywood itself. (33)
"Popular opinion and all that goes to promote it is a horrible unsteady conveyance for life and she was exploited beyond anyone's means," (a) British actor said in commenting on her death. (34)
The greatest shock about her death was that there was no shock. One simply wondered how she survived as long as she did. (35)
Ben Montgomery can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8650.
2 (Authorities) Find Film Star (Marilyn Monroe) In Bed, Drug Bottle Empty; Chicago Tribune, Aug. 5, 1962.
3 Carole Landis, 29, Is Found Dead With a Suicide Note in Next Room; United Press, July 6, 1948.
4 Lupe Velez Suicide By Sleep Tablets; Associated Press, Dec. 14, 1944.
5 (Anissa Jones) Co-Star In Television Series Found Dead in California; UPI, Aug. 29, 1976.
6 Janis Joplin Dies; Rock Star Was 27; Reuters, Oct. 5, 1970.
7 (Dana) Plato's Drug Death Labelled Suicide; New York Post, May 22, 1999.
8 Actress Marilyn Monroe Is Dead!; Chicago Tribune, Aug. 5, 1962.
9 Plato's Drug Death Labelled Suicide; New York Post, May 22, 1999.
10 (Anna Nicole Smith) Things Fall Apart; Slate, May 13, 1999.
11 Ex-Child Star ODs; Diff'rent Strokes Curse Hits Dana Plato; Daily News, May 10, 1999.
12 (Marilyn Monroe) First scene put her in limelight; New York Times, Aug. 6, 1962.
13 Inger Stevens, Actress, Is Dead; UPI, April 30, 1970.
14 Lena Zavaroni; Times of London; Oct. 4, 1999.
15 Judy Garland, 47, Found Dead; New York Times, June 23, 1969.
16 Lena Zavaroni; Times of London; Oct. 4, 1999
17 Judy Garland, 47, Found Dead; New York Times, June 23, 1969.
18 Judy Garland, Loneliness and Loss; New York Times, June 29, 1969.
19 Obituary: Lena Zavaroni; The Independent (London), Oct. 4, 1999.
20 Janis Joplin Dies; Rock Star Was 27; Reuters, Oct. 5, 1970.
21 Judy Garland, 47, Found Dead; New York Times, June 23, 1969.
22 Judy Garland, 47, Found Dead; New York Times, June 23, 1969.
23 (Anna Nicole Smith) Why Did We Watch? The Answer Isn't Pretty; New York Times, Feb. 10, 2007.
24 Actress as a Symbol; Build-Up of Marilyn Monroe Tended to Obscure Her Artistic Capability; New York Times, Aug. 6, 1962.
25 Inger Stevens, Actress, Is Dead; Star of TV Farmer's Daughter; UPI, May 1, 1970.
26 Blamed In Landis Death: Unhappiness and Financial Trouble Held Suicide Factors; New York Times, July 7, 1948.
27 Judy Garland, Loneliness and Loss; New York Times, June 29, 1969.
28 Obituary: Lena Zavaroni; The Independent (London), Oct. 4, 1999.
29 Ex-Child Star ODs; Diff'rent Strokes Curse Hits Dana Plato; Daily News, May 10, 1999.
30 Dana Plato, 34, Star of Diff'rent Strokes; Associated Press, May 10, 1999.
31 Blamed In Landis Death; New York Times, July 7, 1948.
32 Judy Garland, 47, Found Dead; New York Times, June 23, 1969.
33 World Press Probes Death of Marilyn; Reuters, Aug. 7, 1962.
34 (Marilyn Monroe) Hollywood Is To Blame; Olivier Says; Associated Press, Aug. 5, 1962.
35 Judy Garland, Loneliness and Loss; New York Times, June 29, 1969.
[Last modified January 21, 2008, 19:48:41]