5 mysterious celebrity deaths that will haunt us forever

By Alma Fabiani

Updated Nov 21, 2023 at 03:57 PM

Reading time: 7 minutes


From American actresses such as Marilyn Monroe and Natalie Wood to musician Brian Jones and West Coast rapper Tupac Shakur, we looked into the most mysterious deaths of celebrities to date and picked five which have been left unsolved for years. Will you be able to crack the case?

1. Marylin Monroe


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On 5 August 1962, actress, model, singer and iconic blonde bombshell Marilyn Monroe was found dead at the age of 36 in her home in Los Angeles. She was discovered lying nude on her bed, face down, with a telephone in one hand and empty bottles of pills—prescribed to treat her depression—littered around the room. The said cause? A barbiturate overdose that was ruled a “probable suicide.”

Monroe’s bizarre death led many to doubt the gorgeous star, who was at the time rumoured to have been involved in affairs with both President John F. Kennedy (JFK) and his brother, Robert F. Kennedy, had taken her own life. Instead, members of the public suspected Monroe was murdered (by being forced to take the drugs that actually killed her) to keep her from talking about the Kennedy brothers as well as other government secrets she was gathering.

On 4 August 4 1962, Robert F. Kennedy—then-attorney general in his older brother’s cabinet—was, in fact, in Los Angeles. Two decades later, however, Monroe’s housekeeper, Eunice Murray, announced for the first time that the attorney general had visited the actress on the night of her death and quarrelled with her. To this day, the CIA still maintains files on Monroe’s death though it is highly unlikely anyone will ever discover what really happened.

2. Tupac Shakur


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You can’t really dive into Tupac Shakur’s death without mentioning Biggie Smalls, also known as Notorious B.I.G., Shakur’s East Coast friend-turned-rival who died exactly six months after him. The story of Shakur’s death on 13 September 1996 begins with a failed attempt on his life two years earlier. On 30 November 1994, Shakur was shot and seriously wounded during a robbery committed by two armed men in the lobby of a midtown Manhattan office building that housed a recording studio where he’d been working on his third album, Me Against the World.

Shakur was quick to blame the attack on producer Puff Daddy and Biggie. Shakur’s charges, and his subsequent move to the LA-based record label Death Row Records, sparked the so-called ‘East Coast versus West Coast’ feud that defined the hip-hop scene through the mid-90s.

In Las Vegas on 7 September 1996 for the Mike Tyson/Bruce Seldon boxing match, Shakur and his entourage were captured on tape in the lobby of the MGM Grand hotel engaging in a violent fight with a man later identified as a member of the Los Angeles-based street gang called Crips. Hours later, Shakur was riding as a passenger in a car driven by Death Row Records’ head, Suge Knight, when a white Cadillac pulled up alongside them at a stoplight and opened fire. At least 12 shots were fired, four of which struck Shakur and one of which grazed Knight’s head.

Emergency surgery saved Shakur’s life that night, and in the days following, doctors even announced that his chances of recovery had improved. On 13 September however, the rapper died of his wounds.

Six months later, on 9 March 1997, B.I.G. was shot to death at a stoplight in Los Angeles. The murder was the culmination of the ongoing feud between rap music artists from the East and West coasts. His death came only weeks before his new album, titled Life After Death, was scheduled to be released.

Knight, who was also shot with Shakur but not wounded seriously, is rumoured to have engineered a retaliatory strike against Biggie, whom he held responsible for the Las Vegas shooting. Knight has been incarcerated for a fatal hit-and-run since 2018 but no arrest has been made to date in connection with either of the rappers’ murders.

3. Brittany Murphy


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On 20 December 2009, actress Brittany Murphy, who was first revealed in her role as Tai Frasier in Clueless, collapsed in the bathroom of the home she lived in with her mother Sharon and her husband Simon Monjack. A few hours later, she was pronounced dead. Aged only 32 years old, Murphy’s sudden death shocked Hollywood and the rest of the world, prompting much speculation about her personal life as well as conspiracy theories about the cause of her death.

After dating celebrities like Eminem and Ashton Kutcher, Murphy married Monjack in 2007 after a failed intervention by her friends showing her evidence of his criminal history. He moved in with her and her mother and shortly after began isolating Murphy from her friends by disconnecting her phone lines, cutting off all access to her that did not go through him, and going as far as taking on the roles of her manager, agent, and even makeup artist himself.

An ex-girlfriend and mother of Monjack’s child—a child Murphy never knew about, according to the HBO Max documentary series What Happened, Brittany Murphy?—testified to his abusive, controlling behaviour and serial lying in the two-part series. Murphy was even fired from the last movie she shot in November of 2009 after Monjack showed up to set drunk, according to LA Weekly. The following month, she died of pneumonia with contributing factors of iron deficiency anaemia and multiple drug intoxication, as stated by the coroner’s report—which stated, “She had been sick at least two weeks. Had they taken her to a doctor or hospital, it would have been treatable.”

Following the actress’ death, both Monjack and her mother Sharon remained living together and behaved oddly. In a TV appearance on Larry King Live, Monjack expressed the needlessness of an autopsy in his wife’s case. The two of them also took part in a strange mother and son-in-law photoshoot after Murphy’s death.

Over the years, fans and true crime heads have questioned the likelihood of a 32-year-old dying of pneumonia and alleged that mould growing in the celebrity’s home or perhaps even poison administered to her by her mother or her husband could have caused her death. The mystery grew when Monjack died less than six months after his wife, on 23 May 2010, from pneumonia and anaemia as well. He was 39 years old.

HBO Max’s doc largely debunks these conspiracy theories. A lab performed toxicology testing on Murphy’s hair after her father filed suit against the Los Angeles Coroner’s Office and the Los Angeles Police Department in 2012, and though they found that her hair contained dangerous amounts of lead, they determined that the substance came from her hairspray or hair dye, as no lead or mould spores were found in her system during the autopsy. The coroner, interviewed in the series, stated that Brittany likely would have survived had she been brought to a hospital in the days before her death, while she was suffering from pneumonia and having trouble breathing.

4. Natalie Wood


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Though many of you might not know who Natalie Wood was, her death is one of the most puzzling out there. The American actress, who was the recipient of four Golden Globes and three Academy Award nominations, died off the coast of Santa Catalina Island on 29 November 1981, at 43, during a holiday boat trip and break from the production of her would-be comeback film Brainstorm.

At the time of her death, the county coroner’s officials said she had drowned, although, already some important details were missing—it was never determined how she entered the water but Wood was with her husband Robert Wagner, Brainstorm co-star Christopher Walken and the boat’s captain Dennis Davern on the evening of her death. Authorities recovered her body at 8 am on 29 November, one mile (1.6 kilometres) away from the boat, with a small inflatable dinghy beached nearby. Wagner said that she was not with him when he went to bed.

Davern had previously stated that Wood and Wagner argued that evening, which Wagner denied at the time. In his memoir Pieces of My Heart, Wagner admitted that he had an argument with his wife before she disappeared. The autopsy further found that Wood’s blood alcohol content was 0.14 per cent and that there were traces of a motion-sickness pill and a painkiller in her bloodstream, both of which increase the effects of alcohol. It was thought that Wood had been drinking and may have slipped while trying to re-board the dinghy.

Her sister Lana expressed doubts, alleging that she could not swim, had been “terrified” of water all her life and that she would never have left the yacht on her own. Two witnesses who were on a nearby boat stated that they had heard a woman scream for help during the night.

In 2011, 30 years after the actress’ death, Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials reopened the investigation. Then, in 2013, they changed Wood’s cause of death from “accidental drowning” to “drowning and other undetermined factors.” The new coroner’s report cited fresh bruises on her arms and knee, along with a scratch on her neck and a scrape on her forehead, as evidence that she might have been assaulted before she drowned.

The new report also noted “conflicting statements” about when Wood disappeared and whether she had argued with her husband. According to the report, Wood went missing about midnight, and an analysis of her stomach contents placed her death around that time. The old report said Wagner placed a radio call to report her missing at 1:30 am, yet Roger Smith, the LA County rescue boat captain who helped pull Wood’s body from the water, said he did not receive a call to look for her until after 5 am.

More than 100 people contacted authorities after the investigation was reopened but it became clear that the new probe didn’t provide a big break in the case either. Some detectives claimed Wagner knew more than he let on about Wood’s death, an allegation the actor’s attorney denied. No charges were ever filed.

5. Brian Jones


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For all the highly publicised brushes with the law that Mick Jagger and Keith Richards would have during the late 1960s, it was the original leader of the Rolling Stones, Brian Jones, who was the group’s OG bad boy—who, in the words of The Who’s songwriter Pete Townshend, also lived “on a higher planet of decadence than anyone I would ever meet.”

Apart from his gift in music, Jones also helped create the stereotype of the wasted rock star with his infamous drug habit and his declining ability to contribute to the Rolling Stones’ recordings. “At first, Brian was the most interesting Stone,” John Lennon recalled in a 1970 interview, “[but] he was one of them guys that disintegrated in front of you.” Unable to show up for recording sessions due to his drug problems, Jones was also refused an entry visa to the US in the spring of 1969 due to his recent drug conviction, upsetting the band’s plans for a fall tour.

Jagger and Richards fired him on 8 June 1969, and a little less than a month later, on 3 July, 27-year-old Jones was found dead at the bottom of the swimming pool at his home in Sussex. While it was said that Jones had been drinking brandy and taking sleeping pills before deciding to go for a swim, and as a result was “unsteady on his feet” and his speech was “garbled,” his daughter, Barbara Marion believed he was murdered.

For years, rumours have alleged that Frank Thorogood—a builder working on Jones’ house who was the last person to see him alive—may have killed him after a dispute over money. Many believe that Thorogood and his construction crew were leeching off of Jones and that he had fired them the day before the incident. Thorogood could have then gotten into an argument with Jones that ended with the builder holding Jones’ head down in the pool until he drowned. He would have then allegedly moved the body to the pool to make it look like an “accidental drowning.”

Thorogood’s friend Tom Keylock went as far as to say that the builder confessed to the murder on his deathbed, saying, “He said to me ‘I’ll tell you something after all these years, but you gotta promise not to say anything until after I die… It was me who done Brian’.”

That being said, although the police work done at the time of Jones’ death has been heavily criticised, the Sussex Police has reviewed the case three times over the years, including as recently as 2009, and still stands by its original determination.

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