20 Years After Her Breakout Role in ‘CLUELESS’, We Examine Brittany Murphy’s Tragically Short Career

Brittany Murphy

This Sunday marks two decades since the world met the young, cherubic Brittany Murphy in one of the best teen comedies of all time.

From there, she catapulted to semi-stardom in a mix of comedies, dramas and thrillers, showing the world her range and skill as an actress before her untimely death in 2009. In honor of the anniversary of her breakout role, we looked back at six films that show what Hollywood lost.


Clueless — “You’re a virgin who can’t drive…”

Starring as the naive Tai Frasier in Amy Heckerling’s seminal teenage masterpiece, Murphy outshone Alicia Silverstone and Stacey Dash during a lot of the movie (maybe that’s why they ended up a fanatic vegan and right-wing nutcase, respectively.) Her charm was present in every scene, transforming a caricature into a character with each line, especially the deadpan, “You’re a virgin who can’t drive.”

Bonus points for her performance based on this:


8 Mile — “So, I hear you’re a real dope rapper…”

Playing the love interest of Eminem’s character in this hip-hop biopic, Murphy exhibited “hot desperation and calloused vulnerability” in the words of Peter Travers.

Girl, Interrupted — “That’s fucked up, Daisy!”

What could be better than seeing Murphy stash chicken carcasses underneath her bed in a psych ward? In this Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie film about a woman entering the world of a psychiatric hospital, Murphy rounds out the manic menagerie (with Clea DuVall and Elisabeth Moss) as a girl suffering bulimia and OCD.

Spun — “It’s weird, cause stuff happens and you don’t really notice it while it’s happening… life is sort of passing by.”

Perpetually tweaked out during Jonas Åkerlund’s exploration of the Oregon drug subculture, Murphy’s hyperactivity, deceitful depravity, and pole-dancing (yes, pole-dancing)  showed a grittier side to the actress.


Don’t Say a Word — “You want what they want, don’t you… I’ll never tell.”

The critics may have eviscerated Don’t Say a Word upon release, but Girl, Interrupted proved to be an amuse bouche signaling the levels of psychosis Murphy could display on screen in this psychological thriller. Alongside Michael Douglas as a psychiatrist whose daughter is kidnapped, Murphy plays the psych patient who holds the key to getting her back. A standard MacGuffin plot, we at least got some thrills and her iconic delivery of the line, “I’ll never tell.”

Uptown Girls – “I don’t see any grownups around here.”

Though she excelled in most of her dramatic roles, Murphy was a skilled comedienne, drawing comparisons from Roger Ebert to Lucille Ball during her career.  In Uptown Girls, as the nanny of uptight eight-year-old Ray (Dakota Fanning), Murphy flexes her funny bone, playing well off of the precocious Fanning.

Links: Chelsea Handler to Host MTV Awards, Snooki to be Charged With ‘Annoying People’

● Chelsea Handler will host the MTV Video Music Awards, the first woman to do so since Roseanne Barr in 1994. Better luck in your next life, Kathy Griffin. And yes, Joan Rivers, you are too old. [NYT] ● Brittany Murphy’s mother Sharon Murphy told police that after her daughter’s death she shared a bed with Brittany’s late husband Simon Monjack. [TMZ] ● So it’s true: Kat Von D confirmed via Twitter that she’s dating Jesse James, but then deleted the tweet because, uh, who wants to be dating Jesse James? [PopEater]

● Snooki’s beachfront wildin’ will earn her a charge police are calling “annoying people.” Only in New Jersey. [Vulture] ● Kate Major has dropped her harassment charge against Michael Lohan. There’s no winning when you’re these people. [Wonderwall] ● Bill Clinton is 64 today, or as he would say, “ripe.” Do “Happy Birthday, Mr. President” privileges carry over? [Page Six]

Links: Brittany Murphy’s Husband Found Dead; ‘Lost’ Is—As You May Have Heard—Over

● Simon Monjack was found dead in his Los Angeles home just months after his wife, the actress Brittany Murphy, died after going into cardiac arrest. His cause of death is as of yet unknown. [LAT] ● Saturday Night Live skit-turned-unnecessary feature film, MacGruber, bombed hard at the box office, pulling in only $4.1 million, or way less than A Night at the Roxbury. [HR] ● Mark Twain’s autobiography, which he demanded be kept sealed for 100 years after his death, is scheduled for release this year. [DM]

● So, about that Lost thing… Reactions abound. [The Entire Internet] ● A thirteen-year-old boy climbed Mount Everest this weekend, while all other thirteen-year-olds died in video games. [Reuters] ● Sarah Ferguson, better known as Fergie, Duchess of York, was caught on camera selling access to her royal ex-husband. Brits have all the secret camera tabloid fun. [MSNBC]

Links: Ke$ha, 13, Sings Radiohead; Brittany Murphy Was Sick and Sober

● A 13-year-old, exceptionally awkward Ke$ha performed Radiohead’s “Karma Police” at a middle school talent show. You’ve come a long way, baby? [Buzzfeed] ● A Facebook glitch sent boatloads of people’s private messages to unsuspecting recipients. Luckily, a journalist got 128 of them and now we all know everyone’s business. [WSJ] ● Missing actor Andrew Koenig, best known for playing Boner on Growing Pains, was found dead by suicide, nearly two weeks after being reported missing. [CNN]

● Brittany Murphy was clean of drugs and alcohol, and was not “dangerously thin,” at the time of her death, according to a final coroner’s report. Pneumonia, Vicodin and over-the-counter meds killed the actress, so, uh, take your vitamins. [People] ● Yesterday, CNN ran a story about a 140-year-old hot dog found frozen in a block of ice at Coney Island. As it turns out, ice can not preserve a hot dog for almost a century and a half — it was a hoax. [NY Post] ● The ex-wife of Two and a Half Men star Jon Cryer tried to have him killed in a hit job. Even Charlie Sheen’s crazy wife is like, “Damn.” [TMZ]

Links: Howard Zinn Dies, Missing State of the Union; Leno Turns to Oprah

● Historian and activist Howard Zinn died at 87, as if the left wasn’t dead enough already. [Boston Globe] ● An MTA employee brought a wild chicken on the subway where he proceeded to grope it and make everyone uncomfortable. [Gothamist] ● Brittany Murphy’s husband Simon Monjack plans to file a wrongful death suit against Warner Bros., alleging that losing a role in Happy Feet led to her heart attack. And apparently his delusions? [TMZ] ● Something, something Apple iPad… [Just Kidding!]

● Jay Leno seeks to rescue his rep with an appearance on Oprah. [Sun Times] ● Amber Lee Ettinger — or “Obama Girl” from those chesty YouTube video — is so over the president, who she believes should focus “a lot more on jobs and the economy.” Joe Biden’s totally going to give her a call, though. [NYP] ● ABC informed Ugly Betty producers that their show would be canceled to make room for the more easily marketable spin-off, Slutty Betty. [Variety]

7 Worst Brittany Murphy Headlines

Maybe I’m asking for too much, but can’t we all just shut the eff up and remember Brittany Murphy for all her many wonderful contributions to cinema and music? A deluge of stupid headlines by nimrods trying to pick at the carcass of Murphy’s career continues to plague the worldwide web. Especially considering that foul plays has been ruled out and autopsy results are over a month away. Who are among the web’s biggest offenders in failing to honor the dead?

Brittany Murphy: Did a ‘depressed’ Brittany…..commit suicide? [Entertainment and Showbiz!]

Experts: Nothing ‘natural’ about Brittany Murphy’s death [USA Today]

Bottles for 10 prescription medications found in Brittany Murphy’s bedroom … [FOXNews]

Brittany Murphy’s Prescription Drugs [CBS News]

Brittany Murphy’s Husband, Simon Monjack, Finds Himself In Media Spotlight [MTV]

Brittany’s ‘crash course’ [New York Post]

What Went Wrong With Brittany Murphy? [ABC News]

Conclusion: It’s almost like a large chunk of the media fraternity are in a conspiracy to conduct a posthumous witch hunt that makes Murphy out to be a pill-popping mess to the end of her days. Most disturbingly, ABC News treats Murphy as a thesp who had some kind of Lohanian breakdown which rendered her unfit for work. Which really couldn’t be further from the truth, looking at all the projects she had lined up. More annoying are bought opinions of quacks who make little of Murphy’s Type 2 Diabetes and play up the prescription drugs at her bedside. Then again, everyone kind of dropped the ball when it came time to make peace with Michael Jackson’s death months ago. So, instead of continued pointless speculation, let’s look back at another vintage Murphy moment and put the thesp to rest already.

Brittany Murphy: The Death of An Almost Oscar Contender

Just when you think that Death has claimed so many lives in the oughties–making sport out of everyone from Heath Ledger to Bea Arthur to Michael Jackson–that he may fuck off for a while, the bastard swoops in for one last kill this year: Brittany Murphy. She was 32 when she was pronounced dead this morning by a heart attack. And while we could dwell on how a past checkered with drug abuse and eating disorders could’ve contributed to such tragedy, let’s instead ruminate on the potential–however realized or not it may be–of Cher Horowitz’s most successful make-over project from Clueless. That is, a leading lady who was so clearly on the up-and-up, that a brush with Oscar and consequent superstardom was not such a far-fetched idea.

Excepting The Ramen Girl, Murphy’s career had a pretty promising upward arc. After Clueless, the star embarked on a vigilant workload that saw her balance banal rom-coms and nichey films alike. This combined versatility, along with continued small-screen gigs, quickly helped Murphy ascend to the comfortable ranks of the A-list–if even for just a moment.

However in 2006, she hit a career high. Murphy starred in Karen Moncrieff’s little-seen, critically-acclaimed (and now, unfortunately-titled) The Dead Girl. Girl was a dark, gritty thriller. It was a rarity in that it brought out the best in Murphy. Perhaps too easily, as it combined the ill-fated plights of a single mother, a teenage runaway, an abused prostitute into a single character. But still. In portraying Krista, Murphy didn’t miss a beat, delivering a nuanced performance that had us wondering what she was doing years past with sludge like Uptown Girls and Just Married.

In fact, the gift of this particular highlight from Murphy’s too-short repertoire is that it tore through a safety net woven from boring rom-coms and the narcissistic edge of 8 Mile and Sin City to present a role where she couldn’t rely on her bombshell status or ditzy demeanor as an acting crutch. Bottom line: This was Murphy’s first major turn of playing someone other than Murphy. She glowed, too. So it’s a shame that it may be her last time playing such a part too, save for some projects which still remain production. It easily falls in league with the type of carefully restrained acting that made critical favorites out of Gabourey Sidibe in Precious role and Charlize Theron in Monster.

While Girl featured Murphy in a much smaller capacity than most of her projects around that same time, the film assembled a strong supporting cast–including Marcia Gay Harden, James Franco, Toni Collette, and Kerry Washington–all whose performances served to bolster the rare Oscar-worthy turn in Murphy’s oeuvre. In fact, this film was the first time anyone had taken the late thesp’s name and placed it anywhere near the phrase “Oscar award.”

However, Murphy may be well remembered, apart from her turn as Tai Frasier, for her forays off the big-screen. Most memorably as Luanne from King of the Hill and as Paul Oakenfold’s muse in “Faster Kill Pussycat.”

Missing: ‘Expendable’ Brittany Murphy’s Career

imageA few short years ago, Brittany Murphy was omniscient. Like God, or the Orbit gum lady. She used to do crap-fests and Oscar-caliber strokes of indie genius with equal aplomb. But, apparently, she’s a little hard on her luck these days. Her character in the upcoming Mickey Rourke flick The Expendables (who you’ll recall she worked with in this facsimile of Requiem For a Dream) has proved to be, well, expendable. During rip-roaring rounds of rewrites, the malevolent they went ahead and deleted her entirely from the script. Haters. We can all say such things as, “Oh this happens all the time in production!” and “Brittany’s a dream to work with, so it’s not personal!” but the question will remain. How does one of America’s it-girls end up with such Lohanian failures and a stray straight-to-DVD Ramen-mongering role?

I suppose, when in doubt, blame Poor Man’s Hillary Duff for snatching up all the good girl roles. Or Murphy’s part-time gig lending her voice to King of the Hill — for curbing all potential glamor. Sadly, even her future prospects look a bit thin. So failing a high-profile project soon, perhaps she’ll be ready for a Rourkian comeback. In 2020.

Brittany Murphy Ruins Ramen for Everyone

imageA few weeks ago, this poster inspired me to write a post entitled “Whatever Happened to Brittany Murphy’s Career?” This inspiration was fleeting since I soon realized I was writing about Brittany Murphy’s career. Today, I’m forced to revisit this increasingly irrelevant actress because the trailer for a ghastly looking movie starring Murphy called The Ramen Girl has popped up online.

In it, she plays a nuisance in Tokyo who can only find redemption and love through the power of ramen. Two of the best meals I’ve had in New York were bowls of ramen at Momofuku and Ippudo. From now on, I won’t be able to even walk by these establishments without thinking about this grotesque trailer. Care to join me?