Skip to main content

The Disease of Addiction- Marilyn Monroe’s Death Seems Less Mysterious

  • Author:
  • Updated date:

Rose Mary has been an Occupational Therapist since 1987. She has treated children and adults with a wide array of conditions.

Iconic Marilyn

Marilyn Monroe died of a barbiturate overdose in 1962 at age 36. The official report of her death concluded “probable suicide”, but speculation continues as to what really happened. Some believe it was an accidental overdose. Conspiracy theorists believe she was murdered because of her relationship with John F. Kennedy and his brother Bobby. Many stories swirl around out there. One postulates that she couldn’t possibly have taken the amount of drugs found in her system because she had trouble taking pills, therefore she had to have been murdered.

Glorious Marilyn

Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blonds

Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blonds

Marilyn Monroe in The Seven Year Itch- Iconic Scene over Subway Grate, Marilyn's Skirt Blows Up


Goodbye Norma Jeane, Elvis Has Left the Building, and the Thrill[er] is Gone

Over the years, I’ve casually thought about Marilyn, and what may have happened to her. Even though she died 50 years ago, she remains part of our culture. You don’t have to be a regular watcher of American Movie Classics to know who Marilyn was. She is immortalized not only by her movies, but through Elton John’s classic song, Candle in the Wind. She remains the gold standard of what it means to be a sex symbol. Unfortunately she is also a classic example that fame and money can’t buy happiness.

With the backdrop of recent celebrity drug-related deaths, I have watched the new series Smash. Smash is about the world of musical theater. The characters featured are a pair of writers, a fledgling producer, a director, and young singers and dancers who are trying to bring a musical about Marilyn Monroe to the Broadway stage.

Somewhere along the line, episode 3? Episode 4? I realized Marilyn is Whitney, Michael, and Anna Nicole. Marilyn is Elvis! Marilyn, like hundreds of celebrities before and after her, suffered from the disease of addiction. Her death no longer seems mysterious at all, just sad and senseless. Maybe it wasn’t suicide (or murder), but just another overdose by another addict.

Norma Jean Dougherty aka Marilyn Monroe

Norma Jean Dougherty aka Marilyn Monroe

Dr. Drew Speaks on the Dangers of Prescription Drugs

Addiction, a Potentially Fatal Disease

Dr. Drew Pinsky has brought a lot of attention to the disease of addiction through his shows Celebrity Rehab on VH1, and Dr. Drew on HLN. He has recently drawn attention to the alarming rise is prescription drug addiction and related deaths. The class of drugs causing the most concern seems to be the benzodiazepines. Benzos have largely replaced barbiturates in medical practice.

Short acting benzodiazepines, such as ProSom, Dalmane, Restoril, and Halcion are typically prescribed for clients who have difficulty falling asleep. Versed is often used for sedation for medical procedures, and for sedation, anxiety, and amnesia in critical care.

Scroll to Continue

Longer acting benzodiazepines such as Xanax, Ativan, Serax, Centrax, and Doral are prescribed for clients with insomnia and daytime anxiety. Klonopin, diazepam, and clorzepate are also used as anticonvulsants.

Celebrities, and “regular people” all over America have prescriptions for multiple benzodiazepines. One of Dr. Drew’s biggest concerns is doctors prescribing benzos to patients who are in recovery for alcohol and [illegal] drugs. The MDs may have good intentions, prescribing the meds for anxiety, but it is a recipe for disaster. Benzos, especially in combination with alcohol and other drugs, depress the respiratory drive, and can easily cause death.

Street Drugs or Prescriptions, Does it Matter?

It’s pretty well accepted that addiction is a disease, and should therefore be likened to diabetes, cancer and the like. No one asks to get cancer or diabetes, and no one asks for the disease of addiction. Yet it remains impossible for most people to bestow the same sympathy on someone suffering from addiction as they would someone suffering from cancer or diabetes.

We certainly seem to pass judgment on those addicted to illegal drugs. Even among illegal drugs, there is a pecking order. Those addicted to heroin or crack are looked on as “junkies”, and seemed to be judged more harshly than addicts who snort cocaine or smoke marijuana.

Alcohol is probably the most commonly abused drug in most countries, certainly in the United States, yet relatively few consider it a drug. Thousands of lives are ruined with alcohol. Families are broken apart, marriages end, and people die from motor vehicle accidents involving alcohol. Yet alcohol remains accepted in society, and is even glamorized. We no longer allow cigarette commercials. And we don’t have TV commercials for cocaine. Why do we allow commercials for beer, wine and liquor?

When it comes down to it, does it really matter what substance a person is addicted to? Addiction is a disease, often fatal. Alcohol, street drugs, and prescription drugs are all poison to the body. If we consume enough of any of these substances, they can kill us.

Prescription does not necessarily mean safe

Prescription does not necessarily mean safe

False Safety of Prescription Drugs

So goodbye Norma Jeane. And Michael, Whitney, Anna Nicole, Elvis, and countless others, past and future.

We all know that alcohol and street drugs are harmful. Perhaps prescription drugs are the worst of all however. It’s too easy for an addict to rationalize the use of prescription drugs, somehow believing they are safe. They are quick to say that they are only taking medication, prescribed by a doctor. They seem to ignore the doctor’s prescribed dose however, of one or two pills or capsules. Doctors certainly are not prescribing 10 or 20, or 50 a day. Addicts also ignore common sense, as well as medical advice, in combining their “medication” with alcohol and other drugs.

These are celebrities who have died from drug- and alcohol-related causes, and their cause of death determined on autopsy.

Whitney Houston

Whitney Houston

Chris Farley

Chris Farley

River Phoenix

River Phoenix

Deaths from Illegal Drugs, or Mixed Drugs and Alcohol

Whitney Huston, singer and actress. Accidental drowning due to atherosclerotic heart disease and cocaine use. Cocaine, marijuana, Benadryl, Flexeril, and Xanax in her system.

Hank Williams Sr., Country singer. Accidental overdose of morphine and alcohol.

Janis Joplin, singer. Heroin overdose, and possibly effects of alcohol.

John Entwistle, bassist for The Who. Cocaine-induced heart attack.

Chris Farley, Saturday Night Live comedian and actor. Cocaine and morphine overdose.

Jeff Conaway, actor known for Taxi. Aspiration pneumonia related to opiate use.

John Belluci, Saturday Night Live comedian and actor. Speedball of heroin and cocaine.

Jim Morrison, singer for The Doors. No official autopsy, but heroin, cocaine, and alcohol have been implicated.

River Phoenix, actor. Heroin and cocaine overdose.

Billy Mays, TV pitchman. Heart disease related to cocaine.

Anna Nicole Smith

Anna Nicole Smith

Michael Jackson with the Reagans

Michael Jackson with the Reagans

Amy Winehouse

Amy Winehouse

Deaths from Prescription Drugs, or Mixed Drugs and Alcohol

Marilyn Monroe (Norma Jeane Mortensen Baker), actress. Barbiturate overdose (Chloral hydrate and Nembutal), probable suicide.

Elvis Presley, singer. Cardiac arrhythmia. Ethinamate, methaqualone, codeine, and barbiturates, including amobarbital, pentobarbital, and phenobarbital found in his system.

Anna Nicole Smith (Vickie Lynn Hogan), model, actress, TV personality. Chloral hydrate and multiple benozodiazepines.

Michael Jackson, singer, Jackson Five and solo career. Cardiac arrest after administration of propofol, lorazepam, diazepam, and midazolam.

Brittany Murphy, actress. Pneumonia, iron deficiency and “multiple drug intoxication”

Heath Ledger, actor. Accidental death from drug intoxication from oxycodone, hydrocodone, alprazolam, diazepam, temazepam and doxylamine.

Jimi Hendrix, musician. Respiratory arrest from alcohol and barbiturate overdose (sleeping pills), and vomit aspiration.

Amy Winehouse, singer. Alcohol poisoning.

Mike Starr, bassist for Alice in Chains. According to Dr. Drew, prescription drug overdose.

Brian Epstein, Beatles manager. Accidental overdose from sleeping pills.

Tommy Dorsey, famous “Big Band” bandleader. Choked in his sleep while heavily sedated on sleeping pills (barbiturates).

Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley


Suzie from Carson City on May 29, 2018:

Fascinating, factual and educational. This is excellently done and quite a vital piece of information. Drug addiction is of epidemic proportions, certainly in this country (USA) and throughout the world. The harder the drug war is fought, the higher the numbers of illegal drugs, suppliers and users grows. Not intending to connect the 2 realities, it's merely a fact that must be dealt with..

The list of high-profile personalities/celebrity's deaths via overdose, goes on forever and if we multiply that a thousand times, we might have an idea of the total deaths of all others.

This is an excellent expose that IMO, is mandatory reading by all.

BODYLEVIVE from Alabama, USA on December 30, 2012:

Nice list and all so "it could have been," all the money in the world can not set depression free no matter the circumstance. Living above the means, partying all night into the next day with alcohol, drugs, prescription drugs added on top of all that on a daily or nightly basis is why they're dead. No one had to kill them, the heart and body can only withstand so much. Many celebs live this type of lifestyle and when you continue the same abuse on a regular basis, it's a death setup on behalf of yourself.

By Lori from USA on October 29, 2012:

If you read every book that has been published about Marilyn, the only conclusion you will likely have is that indeed she was murdered. Marilyn did have prescriptions. However, the night she supposedly killed herself she had locked herself in her room. The next day, empty pill bottles were found. But what was missing ? A drinking glass. There was no drinking glass. Her bathroom faucet was out of order as well, the plumbing there was in progress of being fixed. There was no evidence that she drank anything with the great number of "pills" she supposedly took.

Cover ups have been universal in Hollywood, ever since it began. Cover ups in Government have been forever as well, and there is proof she was involved with both Kennedy brothers. Marilyn was way over her head, and she was silenced.

Gustave Kilthau from USA on April 30, 2012:

Hi Rose Mary - Great article and very appropriate illustrations, too. If the list encompassed all who do themselves and others in with dangerous substances, either intentionally or by ignorance, there is not enough writing space available to hold the writing. It is too bad, but since it IS, maybe we can eventually do some things so as to control it better than we do now or have done in the past.

Gus :-)))

Angela Joseph from Florida on April 29, 2012:

This is such a timely subject. I just finished reading an article in New York magazine that describes this decade as the era of Xanax. The article goes on to talk about the types of anxiety that are making people resort to pill-popping. Something should be done to stop this habit, but what? When doctors put money before their patients' health, what can you expect?

Paradise7 from Upstate New York on April 28, 2012:

It is a very sobering list. So many people, so much talent, to expire before their natural times. So sad.

Mary Krenz from Florida's Space Coast on April 28, 2012:

That is a very extensive list, of course that's only a drop in the bucket. It is so true that celebrities seem to drop like flies. I wonder about the MD's that are so enamored by the fame that they would prescribe a recipe for death for their favorite celebrity.

Related Articles