Investigation Discovery’s second installment of Nine at 9 examines the story of actor Brittany Murphy’s mysterious death. Monsters and Critics interviewed medical and forensic expert Dr. Cyril Wecht, who appears on the episode to give his opinion.
On Brittany Murphy: An ID Mystery, the story of Brittany Murphy’s entire career and shocking demise is retold. Brittany was a meteoric talent, rising fast and even eclipsing the star (Alicia Silverstone) of her breakout film Clueless, according to many critics. Subsequent roles fueled her career, and her future looked bright.
How on earth did she wind up dead at age 32?
Monsters & Critics spoke with Dr. Wecht about this disturbing celebrity case that Investigation Discovery has profiled in their Nine at 9 series of documentaries.
Monsters & Critics: This ID Mystery screened left me with the gut feeling afterward that it was less criminal malfeasance and more circumstance, bad decisions made that collapsed in a domino effect. Please tell us your gut feeling as a husband, as a father, as a grandfather, give me your take.
Dr. Cyril Wecht: Your statement is absolutely correct. I would agree with that. The degree of personal negligence, intrafamilial. A total failure to deal with basic medical problems is unfathomable when you consider this as a 32-year-old, intelligent, educated adult with the means financially.
Also then socially – because of her status – she would even get the special treatment that I suppose that actors and actresses in Hollywood do. And for her to not have such treatment for these [medical] conditions is truly absolutely incomprehensible.
This severe advanced pneumonia had been around for several days or longer. This was the cause of Brittany Murphy’s death. It did not just arise overnight. The iron deficiency anemia listed as a contributing factor was so advanced as to make me wonder what in the world did she eat? Or, rather, failed to eat.
Her hemoglobin level, the LA office, reported it at three. The average for a woman would be around 10 to 12 grams of hemoglobin, maybe even a little bit more, but let’s say a 10 to 12 in that range. You can see how low that was. Certainly, you are far more susceptible to bacterial infections with that kind of anemic process.
And then on top of it, she’s getting drugs prescribed by different doctors, including the hydrocodone, an opioid, which there was not enough to kill her by itself, but was listed as a contributing factor.
That is why the manner of death was listed as accidental rather than natural. So your statement, in my opinion, is right on target. I assume self-imposed. You’re not talking about someone that has no means, no intelligence, no money, [or] lives by themselves.
There’s something going on now with the COVID-19 sequestering and restrictions across the country and people suffering in that fashion. We don’t have that in this case. It’s not for me to deal with these things. I don’t have the total knowledge, but I do have investigative reports about the living conditions at their [Brittany Murphy] home and the security guards and security measures that they had in place. This is truly, truly unbelievable.
Then when you couple that with Simon Monjack, her husband’s death five months later and as people said, and I’ve said in the past too, ‘well this is quite rare,’ and so on. But when I came to realize, as the evidence emerged, was that Simon Monjack had severe and advanced heart disease.
He had a triple coronary artery bypass and an enlarged heart and some heart valve problems. This is something that just doesn’t develop overnight, and this is not something that is asymptomatic that just strikes you from out of the blue.
What was the matter with these people? How did they live, and how did they fail to take care of each other?
I don’t know the relationship with the mother, who I think lived in that house too, but what this case shows is just absolutely unbelievable.
M&C: Allegedly, she was starving herself for movie roles because she was sort of heavy early on in her career and went on a crash diet and Simon was the mirror opposite. He was over 300 pounds. And they were both alleged addicts.
Dr. Cyril Wecht: Well, there you are. There you are now, then you do get into the question of what she poisoned because a hair of hers, according to her biological father, Angelo Bertolotti, was submitted to a laboratory, and I did get that report. It does show the presence of 10 heavy metals.
So on that basis, he said that stated that his daughter was murdered. The questions and that I have about that is, where do you get 10 heavy metals and put them together? They are found in rodenticides and insecticides and as well as laboratories and so on. But how does one go and get 10, and who would that person be?
And if you want to kill Brittany Murphy by poisoning her, why are you going to do it with 10 heavy metals when one or two alone could do it?
I’ve had such cases – lookup Curley in Wilkes-Barre, about 20 years or so ago where a woman was poisoning her husband sporadically with Thallium from a heavy metal found in rodenticides that had been banned in the United States in the seventies.
And we showed when he had taken them. This regrettably was not done with Brittany Murphy’s hair. They segmental analysis to see and what the different time periods, knowing hair growth when those substances have been ingested.
But you got to think about somebody getting hold of all of these heavy metals, being able to extract them from their parent substance, whatever it may be, putting them together and then giving them to her not only at one time but multiple times and over a period of time.
Because for these drugs to appear in hair, they have to be absorbed, metabolized in the body, and then they have to grow out from the hair follicle into the cuticle and be found upon testing.
So, the more you think about it, the more difficult it becomes to consider that as a likely possibility to explain her death. Mr. Bertolotti had consulted me and his attorney then had followed through. He was willing to even pay for an exhumation. He did not have the power of attorney. And so that could not be accomplished, and it was not done.
M&C: And the LA coroner’s office with no ally to you, they did not help you fight Sharon Murphy’s blocking of Brittany’s father, Angelo Bertolotti, with the body.
Dr. Cyril Wecht: Yes. That’s correct. I think that they should have become more involved in light of everything that was being said and alleged, and they should have then gotten more hairs and submitted them to at least two different laboratories and gotten that kind of segmental analysis.
Every half-inch or so from the root of the hair, you extract it from the root, and then you determine literally, done in half-inch segments. That’ll give you an idea of when the substances have been ingested. That should have been done.
They [LA Coroner] did a very thorough job; otherwise, the autopsy was quite complete. There’s no question about the diagnosis of pneumonia. There’s no question they ruled out fungus because people had raised questions about was there mold in the house? She might’ve acquired a fungal infection. They, the fungal tests, were negative. So we can rule that out.
She was a sick person, and you’ve raised new allegations too, I’m not surprised about her of starving herself to be slim for the roles and so on. She did it to a severe degree that’s taking that hemoglobin level down so low. And then on the day she died reportedly she had severe abdominal pains, went into the bathroom where she was found an hour later by her mother.
And any questions too about what her husband should have done, what her mother should have done. These are not things for me to address except I will repeat just as a sensitive human being, that has been married with children and grandchildren, and so on. What I would do when I have for my wife when ill, or what she has done for me and our kids and they with their kids and so on.
As I said, I just find it absolutely incredulous, totally incomprehensible that these people with all the means in the world to properly take care of themselves, live as they did and failed to acquire appropriate medical care that would have saved their lives.
These conditions of pneumonia are reversible with intravenous antibiotics, with other intravenous fluids, with other appropriate medications, to just sustain you and so on. These are conditions that young adult people who are otherwise healthy, like with Brittany Murphy, who had a good heart. She could have been saved, and she’d gone into a hospital and received treatment.
M&C: How did Brittany’s father, Angelo Bertolotti, find you?
Dr. Cyril Wecht: I don’t know. I do a lot of consulting work for attorneys all over the country. I never ask, not because I’m arrogant or so on. I don’t know.
I’ve been on various television programs talking about different medical, legal issues and, and so on, dealing with the JFK and RFK and other matters.
And so I get people come to see me, and that’s all. I get calls. I just had a call a couple of hours ago from a woman in Texas who wants to meet to consultant on her son’s death. The autopsy was done there, and they don’t have an answer. I get calls every week, if not every day, from people all over and as well as formal consultations from attorneys.
M&C: Interesting. Did you ever sit down with Angelo Bertolotti face-to-face?
Dr. Cyril Wecht: No. He never came to Pittsburgh.
M&C: Did you ever meet anyone from Brittany Murphy’s family like Sharon Murphy or was this all done remotely?
Dr. Cyril Wecht: I never spoke or had any correspondence with Sharon Murphy.
M&C: Now she has sort of disappeared from 2013 on, there’s been no news of her whereabouts…
Dr. Cyril Wecht: Oh, really? I didn’t know that. Is she still alive?
M&C: We don’t know. I can’t find anything about her whereabouts.
Dr. Cyril Wecht: Oh my. Yes. If you can’t find it, Oh my God. She’s gone underground for whatever reason.
M&C: This feels like a cautionary tale for people to safeguard their health. But it also reveals the frustrations that maybe Angelo felt of losing communication with his daughter. It appears, and I’m speculating right now, that she needed someone to guide her. She relied on Simon. She relied on her mother so much; it didn’t appear that she had a strong mind of her own…
Dr. Cyril Wecht: I agree completely. It’s obvious that just, just from the consequences that we have been discussing and the medical pathological processes which evolved over a period of time that she did not have that kind of guidance.
Of course someone might say she’s a 32-year-old person and could she not have known? Or have done things for herself.
But you’re right. If her mother was there and I know mother-daughter relationships, how special they are with my daughter, one of my four children and they’re best of friends…why did they not get that kind of care?
But why did they live like that? And what was the security all about? My God, I’m not a Hollywood person. I know a little bit about some of them, cases that I’ve been involved with, and so on, and I can understand the need for some security, but the extent to which they took it. I mean, she wasn’t Elvis Presley or Marilyn Monroe, so it’s just incredible. Absolutely unbelievable.
M&C: If you could speak directly to the viewing audience for this Brittany Murphy ID murder movie special, what would your parting advice be to anyone watching this particular documentary?
Dr. Cyril Wecht: My parting advice would be …although that is not the primary purpose I don’t believe of the producers, it’s entertainment. and they’ve done a good job in putting together this documentary in a very professional fashion.
But whether they realize it or not, I think that a message to be learned of great value for which they can take credit is that people with any intelligence watching this will come to know that, ‘Gee, I better get medical care. I better see to it that I’m eating the right foods.’
And if I’m not feeling well, I better find out from the doctor whether I have become anemic or whether I have an infection or so on. And then I cannot live in a semi-sequestered fashion. And that I need to rely on people who are close to me for their assistance as I indeed must render that kind of support and assistance to them.
So I think that these are things that people will take away as well as the interesting and highly mysterious aspects of her death.
Brittany Murphy: An ID Mystery premieres Tuesday, May 26, from 9-10 p.m. ET on Investigation Discovery.
This special is a part of ID PRESENTS: NINE AT 9, with new premieres running nightly at 9 p.m. on Investigation Discovery.