What was it about Brittany Murphy?

February 3rd, 2010

Brittany Murphy was a celebrity crush. Not in a stalker way, and she wasn’t even on my laminated card of the five celebrities I’m allowed to sleep with. But I did have a crush on her. Almost two months after her death she’s still popping up in my blogs. You didn’t catch me blogging about Anna Nicole Smith, Farrah Fawcett, or Zelda Rubinstein. So, what was it about Brittany Murphy? I thought it was time to give her her own post, and get it all off my chest. 

Photo by James Devaney, 2006

Those big eyes. Those pouting lips. At 5’3″ (officially, but that’s a stretch, so to speak), 34-24-35, she was a tiny bombshell. I wanted to get that out there first, so the rest of this won’t be dismissed with, “he just thought she was hot.” I did think she was hot, and I wasn’t the only one: She was #8 on Maxim magazine’s Hot 100 of 2005 list. #7 was Angelina Jolie. ’nuff said. Let’s move on. 

I bumped into her once, almost literally. We were both getting off an airplane in LA. I was waiting to step into the aisle, and she was walking up the aisle, behind me, also in coach. She and I looked at each other. Looked away. Did a double take. Looked away again. I thought about what to say. Maybe that I loved the scene in “Clueless” where she bangs her head on the table, distraught over a guy who didn’t know she existed, wailing, “This was our song!” Maybe that I was honored to be travelling with her on her very last trip in coach. Maybe ask if she ordered the chicken. But in a long line of encounters with female celebrities, I choked, big time. 

Perhaps because of this close encounter, along with her height–so close to my own–and the men she dated, I thought of her as accessible. Particularly before David Spade’s game-changing relationship with Heather Locklear, I saw her as one of the few starlets a “guy like me” actually (OK, hypothetically) had a shot with. And this made her feel much more real. 

A few days after her death I watched “Deadline,” one of her final movies, released in 2009. This movie suuuuucked. The script was non-existent. It was like she was just put in a moderately spooky house and told to wing it. And there she was, soaking in a tub. Brittany Murphy. In a tub. And all I could think was how much she now looked like Jake Gyllenhall. I’m a big Jake Gyllenhall fan, but not in a watch-him-in-a-bathtub kind of way. Brittany looked frail and worn. Not quite haggard, but gaunt. Like she was close to death. I just couldn’t watch her like that. After 30 minutes I turned it off. I preferred to remember her in her prime. But even in her prime it was not uplifting to watch Murphy on screen. 

Generally I prefer strong female leads: Sigourney Weaver as Ripley in Alien. Carrie Anne Moss as Trinity in The Matrix. Kim Possible. These were not roles for Brittany Murphy. Her characters were flawed. They were drama queens. They cheated on their boyfriends. They were exceedingly vulnerable, even weak, and although they attempted to put up a tough front their eyes gave them away. They don’t get the guy. They kill themselves. She was perpetually the damsel in distress, and she was rarely rescued. Time and again I plunked down my money and wanted to save her. But no one could. 
As Daisy in "Girl, Interrupted"

As Daisy in "Girl, Interrupted"

In 1999 Murphy played  Daisy in “Girl, Interrupted,” a role that earned her a Young Artist Award nomination for “Best Performance in a Feature Film – Leading Young Actress” nomination. There’s a particularly brutal scene in the movie where her character is visited at her home by Angelina Jolie’s character, Lisa. Daisy is bustling around the house in her bathrobe. In the face of Jolie’s antagonism Daisy bravely squares off and tells her, “You’re just jealous, Lisa, because I got better. Because I was released. Because I have a chance… at a life!” But it takes less than two minutes for the juggernaut of Lisa’s cold, calculated analysis and accusations to melt her resolve. In the morning, Daisy is found dead, hanging from her curtain rod. And Lisa steals money from the pocket of the bathrobe she is still wearing.

"Please, why can't you just let me die?" With Christopher Walken in "The Prophecy II"

Brittany Murphy was not a character actor; in every film I saw she basically presented the same personality, the same psyche, and so we come to identify this as “the real” Brittany Murphy. I could be wrong. She was in 63 movies and television shows, and I only saw a dozen of them. Maybe it’s because I loved “Sin City” and “The Prophecy II,” but avoided “Just Married” like the plague. I mean it was awfully nice what Ashton Kutcher tweeted after her death, but really. I did see “Happy Feet.” Her feet may have been happy, but it’s like a smile that doesn’t extend to the eyes, and she wasn’t asked to reprise that role. 

I refuse to refer to her “untimely” death. When it’s your time, it’s your time, even if you’re way too young to die of a heart attack. I was shocked by her death, at age 32, but I wasn’t actually surprised. I felt like we all should have seen it coming. Indeed, like we all did see it coming, watched it coming, time and again. And we let her die, one last time. 

Tears for Fears video "Closest Thing to Heaven"

Brittany Anne Murphy, nee Brittany Bertolotti
10 November 1977 – 20 December 2009 


Michael Singman-Aste
Postdiluvian Photo

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2 responses to “What was it about Brittany Murphy?”

  1. Mom says:

    This should be posted as a eulogy to her. It probably would have made her happy to know that a “real” person actually thought of her as a “real” person, not just a wacky character in a bad movie. What you just wrote was so much more meaningful than anything I have read anywhere else, i.e. People Magazine.

  2. Excellent tribute, sir.

    “I did see “Happy Feet.” Her feet may have been happy, but it’s like a smile that doesn’t extend to the eyes, and she wasn’t asked to reprise that role.”

    Which in a way sort of adds something to what Gloria (Brittany Murphy’s character) says in the movie at one point about her and another penguin – “He teaches rhythm, I teach blues.”

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