Famous Deaths

The Terrible True Stories Behind The Most Infamous Deaths Of Old Hollywood Stars

Published November 25, 2020
Updated June 13, 2024

From the sudden demise of blonde bombshells Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield to the traumatizing murder of pregnant starlet Sharon Tate, these notorious deaths are Tinseltown's worst nightmares.

Hollywood conjures visions of celebrity and glamour, but underneath the twinkle of Tinseltown lies a sinister underbelly that has led some of the brightest stars to their tragic ends. Indeed, these famous celebrity deaths are particularly haunting.

For instance, there is the notorious death of Hollywood stud James Dean, who was unexpectedly killed in a car crash just months before the premiere of Rebel Without a Cause, which would cement his A-list status.

Then, as if his sudden death was not devastating enough, the fans who purchased parts of his totaled car were allegedly killed themselves, sparking conspiracies of a curse.

Perhaps the notion of a curse isn’t so unbelievable, given how Dean’s Rebel co-star, Natalie Wood, also makes this list of famous celebrity deaths. After disappearing at sea one night in 1981, Wood’s body was recovered off the shore of California’s Santa Catalina Island.

Though officials declared her death as most likely an accidental drowning, questions remained about how she ended up in the water in the first place, given that the starlet was terrified of the sea.

From a fast life of drinking and drugs to unfortunate accidents, alleged suicides, and suspected murders, the unhappy ends of these Hollywood stars are nearly as memorable as their careers.

The Famous Death Of Marilyn Monroe That’s Shrouded In Conspiracy

Marilyn Monroe

Wikimedia CommonsAs is the case with many famous dead celebrities, Marilyn Monroe’s death was unexpected.

Sex symbol Marilyn Monroe was the impetus behind the term “blonde bombshell,” and she launched an archetype of sultry platinum blondes in 1950s Hollywood. But on Aug. 4, 1962, her legacy was cut short by her notorious death.

Of all famous dead people, the death of Marilyn Monroe spawned a tabloid fury that was never seen before in the city of angels — nor around the world.

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Though her death was officially ruled a suicide, even decades later, many suspect that it was perhaps not an accident or suicide at all — but rather a politically-fueled murder.

But before she became one of the most famous dead celebrities of all time, Monroe was born Norma Jeane Mortenson on June 1, 1926, in Los Angeles, California to a single mother. Her childhood was spent in foster homes and she was sexually abused multiple times during this period.

After being spotted by a photographer while working in a munitions factory in 1944, Monroe eventually made her foray into entertainment as a model and rose to fame through small film roles. By the 1960s, Monroe’s filmography was worth an estimated $2 billion.

How Did Marilyn Monroe Die

Wikimedia CommonsMarilyn Monroe’s Los Angeles home where her body was found in 1962.

But Marilyn Monroe’s off-screen romances attracted just as much attention as her on-screen personas did, and her extreme celebrity status exacerbated a destructive drinking and drug habit, which has proven to be the downfall of many famous dead people.

“[She] was drinking champagne and straight vodka and occasionally popping a pill,” recalled James Bacon, Monroe’s close friend. “I said, ‘Marilyn, the combination of pills and alcohol will kill you.’ And she said, ‘It hasn’t killed me yet.’ Then she took another drink and popped another pill.”

Monroe was found dead inside her Los Angeles home by her psychiatrist Dr. Ralph Greenson, who had been called by her housekeeper. Monroe’s personal team described an eerie scene where she lay dead, sprawled naked in bed with her hand gripping the telephone and an assortment of prescription pills littered on her nightstand.

Her death was initially ruled an accidental overdose or possible suicide.

Marilyn Monroe's Bedroom

E. Murray/Fox Photos/Getty ImagesMonroe was found dead inside her bedroom, pictured here.

But questions about her death quickly emerged. Though it was believed that Monroe died of suicide, no capsules were found in her system following an autopsy. Those closest to her also believed that if she had killed herself, perhaps she would have left a note.

Among the most famous conspiracies surrounding Monroe’s death is the claim that U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy, brother of then-President John F. Kennedy, assassinated her. Rumors of an affair between Monroe and JFK had circled before she died, and some believed that Robert wanted to prevent her from leaking scandalous information about them to the press.

Others suspect that an employee of hers killed the actress through lethal injection to get her fortune.

But a report released under a second investigation into her death in 1982 again ruled it as a probable suicide. However, that report also stated that investigators found “factual discrepancies and unanswered questions” during their new examination.

Of all famous dead people, Marilyn Monroe remains one of the most well-known, and the truth of her demise remains hidden in the shadows of Hollywood, like that of so many others.

Natasha Ishak
A former staff writer for All That's Interesting, Natasha Ishak holds a Master's in journalism from Emerson College and her work has appeared in VICE, Insider, Vox, and Harvard's Nieman Lab.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
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Ishak, Natasha. "The Terrible True Stories Behind The Most Infamous Deaths Of Old Hollywood Stars." AllThatsInteresting.com, November 25, 2020, https://allthatsinteresting.com/famous-deaths. Accessed June 13, 2024.