Hollywood has always been at the centre of scandal and controversy, but nothing quite grabs the headlines like the death of a celebrity. While some beloved actors, filmmakers and other contributors to the entertainment industry live long lives with illustrious careers, others are tragically cut down in their prime. Even though some of these celebrity deaths have been seemingly solved, they were still met by calls of foul play and suspicion when they were first announced and many are still fuelling conspiracy theories to this day.
10. Heath Ledger (1979 – 2008)
Promising young Australian actor Heath Ledger became a teen heartthrob when he starred in hit movies like 10 Things I Hate About You and A Knight’s Tale, but he was apparently eager to shake this image so he could prove himself as a dramatic actor. Ledger found respect and acclaim for his Oscar-nominated turn in Brokeback Mountain and his casting as Batman’s iconic villain The Joker in the upcoming The Dark Knight promised new opportunities for the actor. However, shortly after filming on the blockbuster sequel wrapped, Ledger was found dead in his Manhattan apartment. A toxicology report revealed that he had a huge amount of prescription medication in his system and that he had likely accidentally taken too high a dosage when he mixed the drugs. It also emerged that Ledger was found not breathing by his housekeeper and a masseuse and that their first instinct were to ring Ledger’s friend Mary-Kate Olsen. Olsen called for a private security guard to attend the scene and, 15 minutes after they had discovered Ledger, the housekeeper and masseuse finally called 911 (paramedics arrived at the same time as the security guard). Olsen was subpoenaed by a DEA investigation which looked into where Ledger acquired the drugs from but no charges were filed against her or anyone else.
9. Andy Kaufman (1949 – 1984)
American comedian and sitcom star Andy Kaufman had such a weird life and career that, 30 years after his death, many fans still refuse to believe that the departed star isn’t coming back. Kaufman had a reputation for pulling pranks, refusing to break character and performing, weird avant-garde acts on TV and at comedy clubs. In 1983, Kaufman started suffering from a persistent cough. Doctors originally said it was nothing serious but when he booked himself in for additional medical testing Kaufman discovered that he had a rare form of lung cancer. With his appearance becoming increasingly gaunt, Kaufman publicly announced that he was suffering from a serious condition and that he was undergoing treatment as well as trying New Age techniques. However, his health rapidly worsened when the cancer spread to his brain and he died on May 16, 1984. Many thought the announcement of his death was just another Kaufman hoax (he had joked about such a thing while he was still all alive), but as time passed even close friends came out and said that he would never put his family through such a prolonged ordeal. However in 2013, nearly 30 years after his death, a 24 year old woman came onstage during the Andy Kaufman awards in New York and announced that she was the comedian’s daughter. She said Kaufman was still alive but secretly living a quiet, family life. The act was found to be an elaborate hoax and the ‘daughter’ was actually an actress, but the hoax fooled many who wanted to believe that Kaufman was the type to pull off such a crazy stunt.
8. Marie Provost (1898 – 1937)
Even in the early days of tinsel town the movie industry was the subject of titillating sex scandals, hushed rumours about celebrities and untimely deaths of stars. From the very beginning of the silent movie era, Hollywood already had the reputation of being a place which chewed up bright young stars and spat them back out. Marie Provost was a promising young actress from Canada who made her mark in many silent movies. In 1922, Provost signed with Warner Bros. and became a leading lady, starring in hit comedies like The Marriage Circle and Kiss Me Again. However, like so many actresses of this era, it wasn’t long before her popularity waned and Provost was relegated to secondary roles. Following the death of her mother and the breakdown of her marriage, Provost had sunk into a depression by 1927 and was binge eating and abusing alcohol. Provost’s weight gain over these tough years made it even harder for her to find roles and she was eventually found dead of acute alcoholism on January 21, 1937. A particularly grisly detail associated with Provost is that she was partially eaten by her dog after she died, but this oft-repeated rumour is actually false. Provost was found with bite wounds on her legs because her beloved dachshund bit her in an attempt to wake her up, but the dog had not eaten any part of her.
7. Peggy Entwistle (1908 – 1932)
The Hollywood sign is an iconic, imposing landmark which stands over the movie studios as a constant reminder of the glitz and glamour below, but the death of Peggy Entwistle forever tarnished the glamour and dreams that many aspiring actors attribute to the sign. Entwistle’s family immigrated to America from Wales when she was 5 years old, and surviving records show that she passionately pursued acting from an early age. By 1925 she had proven herself as a breakout stage actress in Boston (a popular rumour has it that her performance in The Wild Duck inspired a young Bette Davis to become an actress) and it wasn’t long before Entwistle headed to Broadway. Fondly remembered for roles which made use of her natural comedienne talents, Entwistle lit up the stage for years but by 1931 she was finding it increasingly difficult to find roles and make a decent income. In 1932 she found herself a small supporting role in Thirteen Women, her very first movie appearance, but the studio RKO Pictures held the movie back from release after it was panned at a critic’s screening, and Entwistle was dropped from her contract. Depressed and downtrodden, on the night of 18 September, 1932 Entwistle climbed to the top of the H on the Hollywood sign and threw herself off.
6. Brittany Murphy (1977 – 2009)
Following her debut in teen hit Clueless in 1995, Brittany Murphy became a popular actress who proved herself to be adept in comedic roles as well as more dramatic fare. Murphy had starred in hits like Just Married, Sin City and 8 Mile, but her career was tragically cut short when she was found dead in her LA home on December 20, 2009. The cause of Murphy’s death was initially reported as being natural, but a deferred autopsy in February 2010 revealed that she died from pneumonia. Murphy had also been suffering from anaemia and her body had elevated levels of over the counter drugs in its system. On May 23, 2010, her husband Simon Monjack’s body was found dead in the same home. An autopsy revealed that Monjack had also suffered from pneumonia and severe anaemia and a coroner suggested that toxic mold in the house may have been the cause of both deaths. Weirdly, Murphy’s mother (who had been living with her daughter and Monjack at the time of their deaths), called these toxic mold claims ‘absurd’, but in 2011 she changed her stance and attempted to sue the builders of the house. The family drama escalated when Murphy’s father claimed that he had sample of her hair independently tested in 2013 and the results showed traces of heavy metal poisoning. However, his vocal ex-wife disregarded these claims and insisted that this poisoning rumour was a smear on her daughter’s legacy.
5. Anna Nicole Smith (1967 – 2007)
A bizarre, escalating series of events preceded the early death of former Playboy model/actress/TV personality Anna Nicole Smith in 2007. Smith first made headlines in 1994 when she married wealthy 89 year old magnate J. Howard Marshall. The then-26 year old year Smith denied she was in it for the money, but when Marshall died 16 months into the marriage a bitter legal battle ensued over the control of his estate and how much Smith was entitled to receive from Marshall’s fortune. Smith married attorney Howard K. Stern in 2006 and announced she was pregnant, but before the baby was even born a paternity dispute arose when photographer Larry Birkhead stated that he was the father. Three days after the birth of her daughter on September 10, 2006, Smith’s life took another turn when her 20 year old son Daniel died while visiting her in hospital. A toxicology report stated that Daniel’s death was an accidental overdose of prescription drugs as well as methadone, which many suspected he stole from Smith. Shortly afterwards Smith and her husband moved to the Bahamas (in a suspected effort to evade paternity testing) but they were evicted from their rented property in November of that year. Three months later on February 8, 2007, Smith was found dead in a Florida hotel room from a drug overdose. The prescription drugs she had been taking were found to be in Stern’s name and charges were ultimately brought against him and two doctors. After Smith’s death, Larry Birkhead was found to be the father of Smith’s daughter and he gained custody of the child.
4. Ramon Novarro (1899 – 1968)
The star of the original movie epic Ben-Hur from 1925, Ramon Novarro was a leading man of the silent era. Classically handsome and an enigmatic presence, Navarro became a huge sex symbol when Rudolph Valentino died in 1926 and he filled the void left by the original “Latin lover”. Like many silent stars, Navarro struggled when the talkies took off but he still managed to work on and off in movies throughout the 30s and 40s before he moved to television in the 50s and 60s. A devout Roman Catholic, Navarro suffered throughout his life with his homosexuality and he turned to alcohol as a result. In October 1968, the aging star was found dead in his home having been tortured to death. It emerged that Navarro had hired two young brothers, Tom and Paul Ferguson, from an escort agency to come to his house for sex. Thinking that Navarro had amassed a fortune from his days as a leading man, the siblings violently beat and tortured the actor for hours in a bid to find out where the supposed stash of money was kept hidden. Navarro choked to death on his own blood and the pair were arrested and sent to prison.
3. Natalie Wood (1938 – 1981)
photo: Allan warren / Wikicommons
A child actress turned leading lady, Natalie Wood played iconic roles in Rebel Without a Cause and West Side Story. She was nominated for three Oscars in the 50s and 60s, but her career eventually waned throughout the 70s and she didn’t quite keep up the success from her early days. Nevertheless, Wood was a popular actress and found leading and supporting roles throughout her career. However, tragedy struck in November 1981 when she was filming the sci-fi movie Brainstorm. Wood had gone on a boat trip with her actor husband Robert Wagner, co-star Christopher Walken and boat captain Dennis Davern, but her body was discovered by authorities with substantial bruises in the water one mile away from the boat on November 29, 1981. Wagner admitted that he had argued with Wood before her death but he had not seen her enter the water. Wood’s death was declared an accident and it seemed like she had slipped while trying to enter into the boat’s dingy (her blood levels revealed some alcohol and drug consumption shortly before her death), but the case was reopened in 2011 when Davern publicly came forward and said that Wagner was responsible for his wife’s death. In 2013, the LA County Coroner’s office amended Wood’s autopsy to state that the bruises on her body were likely present before she entered the water and her cause of death was changed to “drowning and other undetermined factors”.
2. Bob Crane (1928 – 1978)
The star of long-running sitcom Hogan’s Heroes, Bob Crane was a household name in America during the 1960s. However, after the show finished in 1971, Crane’s career quickly waned and the once famous actor stooped to performing in tacky dinner theatres. On June 29, 1978, Crane was found dead in his apartment. Crane’s body had an electrical cord tied around the neck and he had been brutally bludgeoned to death. It emerged that after Crane had divorced his wife in 1970, he had struck up a friendship with a salesman called John Henry Carpenter. The two spent time together picking up women in bars and videotaping their sexual escapades, but their friendship had deteriorated over the years. Blood smears were found in Carpenter’s rented car but DNA testing at the time couldn’t link them to Crane, and the blunt murder weapon (which was never found) was thought to have been a camera tripod. However, no charges were filed until 1994 when Carpenter finally faced trial for the murder. He was found not guilty because of inconclusive evidence and passed away in 1998.
1. Marilyn Monroe (1926 – 1962)
One of the most famous sex symbols who ever lived, Marilyn Monroe’s death has become one of the most talked-about conspiracy theories of all-time. The model turned actress was one of the biggest stars during the 1950s and she lit up the box office with iconic turns in classics like The Seven Year Itch and Some Like It Hot. Monroe’s personal life was equally as fascinating as he had had two brief high profile marriages – the first to baseball legend Joe DiMaggio (married and divorced in 1954) and the second to playwright Arthur Miller (married from 1956 to 1961) – in the space of a decade. It was also speculated that she had had an affair with President John F. Kennedy, and these rumours have led apparent credence to many conspiracy theories regarding her death. Monroe was found dead in the bedroom of her home on August 5, 1962 and the cause of death was deemed to be suicide by “acute barbiturate poisoning”. While it was true that she had suffered from mood swings and psychiatric problems throughout most of her life (she had also attempted suicide in the past) as well as drug and alcohol addiction, many think that the pieces surrounding the night of her death don’t add up. Monroe was said to be in good spirits at the time as she was rekindling her relationship to DiMaggio. Prescription bottles were found in her room but no capsule parts were found in her stomach when her body was autopsied. The idea that she had injected herself with the drugs was dismissed as no bruises or needle marks were found on her body, so some pathologists have discussed the idea that she had received an enema with a lethal dosage. Although this discredits the notion of a suicide, no one knows who administered it and why the dosage was so high. The most popular theory is that Monroe threatened to go public with her affair with JFK and that he either ordered her death or deliberately allowed her latest suicide attempt to actually go through, but it seems as if no one will even really know what happened on the night of her death.