Marilyn Monroe (1926–1962) was an American actress, singer and model. After spending much of her childhood in foster homes she began a career as a model, which led to a film contract in 1946. Her early film appearances were minor, but her performances in The Asphalt Jungle and All About Eve (both 1950) were well received.
By 1953, Monroe had progressed to leading roles. Her ‘dumb blonde’ persona was used to comedic effect in such films as Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, How to Marry a Millionaire and The Seven Year Itch. Limited by typecasting, Monroe studied at the Actors Studio to broaden her range, and her dramatic performance in Bus Stop was hailed by critics, and she received a Golden Globe nomination. She received a BAFTA nomination and won a David di Donatello award for The Prince and the Showgirl. She won a Golden Globe for her performance in Some Like It Hot.
She was married to Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller, and had affairs with both President Kennedy and his brother Robert.
In the late 1950s her dependence on alcohol and prescription medications began to take a toll on her health and her final years were marked by illness, personal problems, and a reputation for being unreliable and difficult to work with – Clark Gable's widow claimed the ‘eternal waiting’ on the set of The Misfits had contributed to his death. In 1961 she spent three weeks in a psychiatric clinic, as well as undergoing both gynacological and gallbladder operations.
Her last significant public appearance was singing ‘Happy Birthday, Mr. President’ at a birthday party for President John F Kennedy at Madison Square Garden in 1962. The dress that she wore to the event, specially designed and made for her by Jean Louis, sold at an auction in 1999 for $1.26 million.
The circumstances of her death, from an overdose of barbiturates, have been the subject of endless conjecture; officially classified as a ‘probable suicide’, the possibility of an accidental overdose, as well as the possibility of homicide, have not been ruled out.
In 1999 she was ranked as the sixth greatest female star of all time by the American Film Institute. In the years since her death she has become a cultural icon as well as a sex symbol.