A History of Suicide Attempts

The thing about suicide is many people first attempt suicide and not just once. It’s understandable really. Suicide is a frightening concept. The act of taking one’s own life can’t be easy. It’s not a cry for help and it’s not about trying to get attention (especially when you’re a major movie star). It’s more like practice. The more practice you get the better you are at the real thing. After a person has attempted suicide even if it’s only once friends and loved ones should be very concerned and should be available as a strong support network. This doesn’t always happen, unfortunately, since many people consider suicide attempts to be akin to “the boy who cried wolf“. This time when the wolf really comes calling, people miss the signs and the suicide succeeds. The same could very well be true of Marilyn.

Age 191944 – While married to Jim Dougherty, the unhappy Norma Jeane made her first suicide attempt while her husband was stationed overseas. She was painfully aware that her husband had indulged in an affair with an ex-girlfriend, a beauty pageant winner, before he left. Norma Jeane was quoted as saying the suicide attempt was “not a very serious one.” I beg to differ. Any suicide attempt should be considered very serious. It indicates that the person is, at the very least, thinking about suicide.

Age 24:  By 1950, thanks to a senior agent at the William Morris agency named Johnny Hyde, his efforts to promote his beautiful protege had begun to pay off.  Marilyn attracted attention in small but showy roles in John Huston’s The Asphalt marilyn_johnny_hydeJungle and Joseph Mankiewicz’s All About Eve. It was thanks to Johnny that she had an opportunity to work with the best directors; it was thanks to Johnny that she knew who the best directors were. But just when all that she had been working for finally seemed within her grasp, the fifty-five-year-old Hyde had a fatal heart attack in Palm Springs on December 18. Marilyn had refused to join him there for the weekend. Not only was she devastated over his passing, she blamed herself for his death. The day after Hyde’s funeral, Marilyn attempted suicide for the second time, swallowing the contents of a bottle of barbiturates. Though a roommate discovered her in time, in the days and weeks that followed she never really came back to life. With no one to fight for her anymore, Marilyn seemed to have given up. In January, she reported for work on As Young as You Feel, the last film Johnny had arranged for her, but from the first it was evident that she was merely going through the motions. After this attempt when Marilyn regained consciousness, she said to a friend “still alive. Damn. All those bastards.”

Age 33 – 1959 – while married to Arthur Miller Marilyn attempted a third drug overdose. There is little information as to what led her to attempt suicide at this point in her life. It is speculated that a miscarriage and her struggling marriage led to her depression.

Age 341960 – Marilyn and Miller were going through a divorce. Marilyn was very depressed, not least of which because she felt she was aging and her acting opportunities were beginning to diminish. She attempted suicide for the fourth time.

Age 361962 Marilyn took a barbiturate overdose late on the night of August 4, 1962 and it has been documented thdeadat her body was discovered during the early morning hours of August 5, 1962. Communication before overdose: telephone call saying good-bye to Peter Lawford. There was no suicide note. Most suicides don’t leave a note. Allan Whitey Snyder who usually did Marilyn’s makeup, armed himself with a bottle of gin and made her up for her coffin, something he had joked about years earlier. Marilyn had given him a watch with the inscription “Whitey dear, while I’m still warm“. Snyder commented once that as he did the living Marilyn’s hair he got chills. The more she looked like Marilyn the more she became Marilyn, talking and giggling in that breathy voice. One wonders if he got chills of a different kind when making up Marilyn for her coffin.  Agnes Flanagan, Marilyn’s long time hairdresser did her hair but opted for a wig due to the damage the bleaching and straightening treatments, and the autopsy, had caused to Marilyn’s hair (pictured below).

If you believe in the murder theory, FBI files  then Marilyn did not actually commit suicide. The files reveal Robert and John Kennedy deathwere responsible for Marilyn’s demise. Documents state that Bobby visited Marilyn on her last day alive as did Dr. Greenson. The conspiracy involved Greenson prescribing 60 Seconal tablets for Marilyn. Eunice Murray purportedly placed the Seconal on Marilyn’s bedside table. This in itself isn’t suspect since Murray probably went out and got the prescription and placed it on Marilyn’s table as she would any other prescription. The day of Marilyn’s death, her housekeeper placed the bottle of Seconal on her night table. Both the housekeeper and Marilyn’s personal secretary and press agent, Pat Newcomb, were implicated in the conspiracy to induce suicide.

Actually Seconal was not the medication that killed Marilyn, which was Nembutal. Both are barbiturates with the same side effects and both are used to induce sleep. Greenson was in the process of removing Marilyn from chloral hydrate and his Nembutal prescription was not out of the ordinary. Marilyn, however, played EngelbergHymanGreenson against her regular physician Dr. Engelberg and secured chloral hydrate from Engelberg. The combination of both Nembutal and chloral hydrate was indeed deadly. This article and others have suggested that 60 tablets was excessive but this isn’t so. Several tablets are usually prescribed for regular patients, especially when physicians are carefully monitoring their usage. Considering Marilyn made four prior attempts at suicide, my personal feeling is that she did indeed kill herself, whether purposefully or accidentally, hoping someone would arrive at her home in time to save her. No one could have forced her to take 60 Nembutal tablets (the final number was estimated to be 40) and there was no evidence of a syringe or enema containing medication.

Marilyn had written an undated letter to Lee Strasberg while she studied at the Actors Studio that seems to foreshadow her death. In it she wrote, “I think I am going crazy…. My will is weak but I can’t stand anything….”I still am lost. I can’t get myself together .” She made mention of suicide. In his biography, Anthony Summers wrote thatMarilyn made several suicide pacts with various people, mostly actors or other people in the business. The pacts were meant to prevent a suicide. “If I feel like committing suicide I’ll call you and you can talk me out of out of it and if you feel like committing suicide you call me and I’ll talk you out of it.” These pacts were made  mid-career almost to the last year of her life.

In spite of the lack of short, scribbled notes, the kind we see in movies or think of when we hear someone has left a suicide note, a different perspective has been taken regarding Marilyn’s communication long before her suicide. Her art and poetry is currently being examined by experts in the suicide field for hints and strong messages that she was preparing to die long before she did. A collection of her writings, entitled Fragments, has been published post-mortem in her name. In some of her poetry, her intent to kill herself is very blatant:

Help help16_bertstern_thelastsitting_marilynmonroe_bluesleeping
I feel life coming closer
When all I want to do
is die

This poem is equally pained but more elaborate:

Oh damn I wish that I were
dead — absolutely nonexistent –
gone away from here — from
everywhere but how would I do it
There is always bridges — the Brooklyn bridge
no not the Brooklyn Bridge because

But I love that bridge (everything is beautiful from
there and the air is so clean) walking it seems
peaceful there even with all those
cars going crazy underneath. So
it would have to be some other bridge
an ugly one and with no view —
except I particularly like in particular all bridges — there’s some-
thing about them and besides these
I’ve never seen an ugly bridge

The bridge is an interesting metaphor, possibly suggesting the bridge is needed to cross between the living world and the dead. It may also symbolize her transition from Norma Jeane to Marilyn Monroe, each standing on either side of the bridge, complete opposites. At one time, early in her career, Marilyn contacted a favorite photographer in the very late hours of normaa Sunday night, asking him to bring his camera to her house and photograph her. Curious, he arrived to find her without makeup, her hair a mess, wearing a long, black shapeless coat. Her pictures were pained, her eyes often closed. She named the shoot “the end of everything.”

Marilyn’s photography, writings and art were one long suicide note that was written and drawn over the course of several years. Marilyn herself entertained a morbid obsession with suicide and was quoted as commenting that “suicide is everyone’s right. It doesn’t solve anything though.”

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