Family & Companions
Versatile actress Brittany Murphy easily segued from mainstream comedies to gritty indie dramas, but unfortunately audiences were never able to see the full range of her talents, due to her untimely death at age 32. Murphy shot to stardom in the classic high school comedy "Clueless" (1995), where she elicited laughs and sympathy as the ugly-duckling-turned-swan buddy of "it" girl Alicia Silverstone. The raspy voiced starlet, who spent over a decade as ditsy beautician Luanne on the animated Fox series "King of the Hill" (Fox, 1997-2009), worked her way up from supporting roles in films like "Riding in Cars with Boys" (2001) to leading lady status in the light comedies "Uptown Girls" (2003) and "Little Black Book" (2004), where she imbued her characters with a bit of a wild-child edge. But it was Murphy's darker roles that earned her the most critical attention, including her streetwise turn opposite rapper Eminem in "8 Mile" (2002) and her mad, unhinged characters in "Girl, Interrupted" (1999) and "Don't Say a Word" (2001). The underrated actress always brought a spark to the screen, and upon news of her early death, her peers came forward in droves to express disappointment at the loss of such a talented, vibrant personality.
Murphy was born Nov. 10, 1977, and raised in Edison, NJ by a single mother following her parents' divorce when she was a baby. Her father, who was involved with organized crime, later served time in federal prison for drug charges, but his daughter's life began full of promise and ambition. Murphy was dancing from the time she was a toddler, performing at age two, and was the star of a regional production of the musical "Really Rosie" at age nine. At age 13, Murphy convinced her mother to relocate to Los Angeles so she could launch a professional acting career, and the move paid off quickly when the teen landed the role of Dabney Coleman's daughter on the short-lived Fox sitcom, "Drexel's Class" (1991-92). She rebounded with a role on the sitcom "Almost Home" (ABC, 1993), and when that program only lasted 13 episodes, Murphy stayed on primetime with recurring appearances on "Blossom" (NBC, 1991-95) and "Sister, Sister" (ABC, 1994-95; The WB, 1995-99).
In "Clueless" (1995), Amy Heckerling's modern update of Jane Austen's Emma, Murphy kick-started her film career with her standout turn as the fashion-challenged transfer student from the East Coast whom Beverly Hills teen Cher (Alicia Silverstone) takes under her wing. Murphy proved her comic mettle in the instant classic high school comedy, but the film's success did not translate into overnight movie stardom for Murphy, who returned to television with a string of guest appearances and supporting roles in low budget features. In New York in 1997, Murphy won a fair share of critical praise for her role opposite Anthony LaPaglia in the award-winning Broadway revival of Arthur Miller's A View From the Bridge. In a display of real versatility, Murphy followed up her Broadway run by lending her trademark raspy voice to the character of sweet (but dim) Texas beautician Luanne on the Mike Judge and Greg Daniels long-running animated series, "King of the Hill" (1997-2009). Murphy's first major dramatic screen performance came the following year in "David and Lisa" (ABC, 1998), a TV movie produced under the "Oprah Winfrey Presents" banner.
Murphy next co-starred as an aspiring beauty pageant contestant in the mock documentary "Drop Dead Gorgeous" (1999) but offered a more memorable performance in James Mangold's adaptation of "Girl, Interrupted" (1999), starring as a suicidal teen fixated on rotisserie chicken. She followed up with skilled performances as vastly different characters, including a turn as a discharged naval officer suspected of being a lesbian in Showtime's anthology drama, "Common Ground" (Showtime, 2000), a performance as a charming barfly in Alan Rudolph's "Trixie" (2000), and a virginal teen targeted by a serial killer in the direct-to-video slasher picture, "Cherry Falls" (2000). Murphy's supporting role as the loveable town floozy in "Summer Catch" (2001) was one of the disappointing film's few high points, while she held her own in a challenging role as a disturbed young woman who holds a valuable secret in her damaged mind in the thriller "Don't Say a Word" (2001), in which her memorably creepy line "I'll never tell" featured in the ad campaign, boosted Murphy's profile at the box office.
Following an excellent featured role as a waitress in Edward Burns' romantic comedy "Sidewalks of New York" (2001), Murphy scored as another female sidekick, perfectly complementing Drew Barrymore in the inspiring comedy-drama "Riding in Cars With Boys" (2001). Her film career having endured its share of fits and starts, Murphy finally enjoyed a steady run of high profile roles beginning with Curtis Hanson's "8 Mile" (2002), loosely based upon the difficult early years of rapper Eminem, in which Murphy supported as a streetwise girlfriend who champions his talent. In another gritty drama, Murphy starred with Jason Schwartzman and Mickey Rourke in "Spun" (2002), Jonas Akerlund's grim, weekend-in-the-life-of amphetamine addicts indie. In a 180-degree genre shift, Murphy was cast along real-life boyfriend Ashton Kutcher in the cloying romantic comedy, "Just Married" (2003). However, while the film had strong box office appeal, the couple's relationship fizzled shortly after its release. Adding salt to Murphy's wounds, Kutcher fell in love with future wife Demi Moore only months later.
Meanwhile, Murphy was still holding down her regular voice-over role on "King of the Hill" even as her feature film image was slowly evolving from wild child character actress to sophisticated starlet. In her first outing as a full-blown leading lady, Murphy starred in the light comedy "Uptown Girls" (2003) as a rock star's hard-partying daughter who is forced to grow up when she becomes the caretaker of a wealthy, willful and ignored little girl (Dakota Fanning). That family-friendly success led to another headlining role for Murphy in "Little Black Book" (2004), in which she appeared as a talk show producer who makes some disturbing discoveries about her commitment-phobic boyfriend's romantic past after snooping into his PDA. She added an admirable, highly watchable spark to the otherwise leaden affair, while off-screen, her love life was in turmoil again when she called off her year-long engagement to talent manager Jeff Kwatinetz. Murphy returned to edgier indie fare with Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller's visually arresting adaptation of Miller's noir comic books, "Sin City" (2005). As Shellie, a strip club waitress with a soft spot for the wrong guys, Murphy's character helped tie the various story arcs together by appearing in multiple sequences; most notably in "The Big Fat Kill" where her character is terrorized by the corrupt Jackie Boy (Benicio del Toro) before being saved by the tough but noble Dwight (Clive Owen).
Edward Burns recruited Murphy again for his little-seen buddy comedy "The Groomsmen" in 2006, and the actress averted her own trip to the alter that year when she called off her engagement to film crewman Joe Macaluso. However she rebounded with the biggest box office success of her career then to date, "Happy Feet" (2007), lending her distinctive voice to the popular penguin tale that won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature. The actress known for easily switching gears from commercial comedy to dark indie dramas followed up with the title role in "The Dead Girl" (2007), a nominee for an Independent Spirit Award for Best Film that traced the lives of seemingly unrelated people who are connected through a murder. Murphy married British writer Simon Monjack the same year, and appeared in one more family film, "Neverwas" (2007), a direct-to-video release about an aging children's author who is so delusional he believes he has become one of his fictional characters.
In 2009, Murphy starred in "The Ramen Girl" (2009), a direct-to-video feature about an American girl who moves to Tokyo and after enduring heartbreak, dedicates herself to learning the Japanese art of cooking ramen. In a return to the small screen, Murphy starred in two made-for-TV movies; Nora Roberts-based "Tribute" (Lifetime, 2009) and the Sci Fi Channel disaster flick "Megafault" (2009). Just weeks after Murphy's starring role in the supernatural thriller "Deadline" (2009) was released direct to DVD, Murphy was found dead. On Dec. 20, 2009, an ambulance was called to the Beverly Hills home of Murphy and husband Monjack after the actress collapsed. She was declared dead from cardiac arrest later at Cedars-Sinai hospital, though fans anxiously awaited results of her autopsy and toxicology reports for more answers as to why the 32-year-old's heart failed. In the months leading up her death, Murphy had reportedly been fired from the horror film "The Caller" (2010), while the production crew of a second horror film, "Something Wicked" (2010), suspected drug use after observing the actress dazed and unprofessional. Others were concerned over the actress' recent and severe loss of weight. In February 2010, the Los Angeles County Coroner's office released cause of death, citing community-acquired pneumonia as the primary cause, but that iron deficiency anemia and prescription drugs/"multiple drug intoxication" had also played a role.
Cast (Feature Film)
Producer (Feature Film)
Had title role in a regional theater production of the musical "Really Rosie"
At age 13, moved to Los Angeles
Primetime TV debut as Frank's sister in an episode of "Murphy Brown" (CBS)
TV series debut as a regular playing Dabney Coleman's daughter on "Drexel's Class" (Fox)
Briefly performed with the singing group Blessed With Soul, along with Haylie Johnson and Eric Balfour
Had regular role of Molly on the ABC sitcom "Almost Home"
Film debut in "Family Prayers"
Played recurring part of Sarah, a friend of the twins, in "Sister, Sister" (ABC)
Acted on an episode of the Fox drama "Party of Five"
Breakthrough screen role as the loopy Tai, friend and protege of Alicia Silverstone's Cher, in "Clueless"
Featured in the CBS TV-movie "Double Jeopardy"
Acted in the Little Red Riding Hood update "Freeway" (aired on HBO)
Co-starred with Anthony LaPaglia and Allison Janney in the Broadway revival of Arthur Miller's "A View From the Bridge"
Provided the voice of Luanne on the animated series "King of the Hill" (Fox)
Featured in "The Prophecy II: Ashtown" and "Drive" (debuted on HBO in lieu of theatrical release)
Appeared opposite Ray Liotta in "Phoenix"; film premiered on HBO before receiving a theatrical release; also featured Anthony LaPaglia
Co-starred with Lukas Haas in the TV remake of "David and Lisa," a broadcast produced under the "Oprah Winfrey Presents" banner
Acted in the little-seen independents "Zach and Reba" and "Bongwater"
Featured as one of the contests in a beauty pageant in the film comedy "Drop Dead Gorgeous"
Co-starred as a mental hospital patient in "Girl, Interrupted"
Featured as a charming barfly in "Trixie" and a virginal teen stalked by a killer in "Cherry Falls"
Played a naval officer discharged after she is found in a gay bar in the 1950s-set segement of the gay-themed Showtime TV-movie "Common Ground"
Was part of the ensemble cast of the romantic comedy "Sidewalks of New York"
Starred as a young woman whose disturbed mind holds a secret in "Don't Say a Word"
Played Drew Barrymore's best friend in the biopic "Riding in Cars With Boys"
Cast in "8 Mile," loosely based on rap singer Eminem's life story, directed by Curtis Hanson
Co-starred as a nanny to a bratty eight-year-old in "Uptown Girls"
Starred opposite Ashton Kutcher as a newlywed couple in "Just Married"
Played Mickey Rourke's amphetamine-addled girlfriend in Jonas Ackerlund's black comedy "Spun"
Featured in the romantic comedy "Little Black Book"
Starred in "Sin City" the adaptation of comic book icon Frank Miller's uber-noir series of grapic novels; co-directed by Miller and Robert Rodriguez
Lent her voice to the Australian-produced computer-animated film, "Happy Feet"
Cast in the Lifetime TV movie, "Tribute," as the main character, Cilla