Posts Tagged ‘Drug Abuse’

Overdose Caused Marilyn Monroe’s Death – Suicide Still a Doubt

Tuesday, August 16th, 2016

 

#Overdose #Suicide #MarilynMonroe

John J. Hohn, Writer and reviewer

John J. Hohn, Writer and reviewer

This is the second installment of an interview with Author Gary Vitacco-Robles. In earlier posts, we reviewed Volume I and Volume II of his definitive biography, Icon: The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe. In this installment, the author responds to our questions about the star, her psychological profile and her legacy among those who remember her today.

When asked, most people remember the more sensational images and episodes from Marilyn Monroe’s life. There is her famous nude photo taken in 1949 for which she was paid $50 that appeared in 1951 in the Golden Dreams calendar – tame by current standards. She was Norma Jeane Baker when it was taken but published in 1951 after she had gained recognition as a rising star. Original negatives of the shot go for six million and higher at auctions today. Back in the 1050’s, photos feminine nudity were euphemistically marketed as photographic studies. Marilyn broke through the hypocrisy with her exultant, fully nude photograph that Hugh Hefner used as a centerfold for his inaugural issue of Playboy.

Among those who were of voting age at the time, the scandal over her alleged affairs with John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy come quickly to mind.

Although it was staged without public viewing in mind, her rendition of “Happy Birthday” at the birthday party for President John F. Kennedy made an indelible imprint on many.

Finally, movie file aficionados still ponder how one so beautiful, famous and wealthy could die at her own hand. Drug over dose deaths have regrettably become commonplace. Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Winehouse, Prince, and Michael Jackson – among the more famous.

Putting the weight behind of his research behind his thoughts on Marilyn Monroe’s death, Gary Vitacco-Robles responded to our direct question about the matter in a recent interview.

Do you agree with the judgement that Marilyn’s death was an accidental overdose?

Gary Vitacco-Robles = Author and Biographer

Gary Vitacco-Robles = Author and Biographer

The level of barbiturates metabolized in Marilyn’s liver suggests that she consumed about 45 Nembutal and nearly 20 chloral hydrate. This large dose of two medications suggests an intentional overdose and her awareness that it would kill her. There is, of course, the possibility that the overdose was accidental. Marilyn experienced severe mood fluctuations consistent with a Bipolar Disorder diagnosis. The disorder is marked by episodes of mania or hypomania and episodes of depression. At times, an episode can be mixed, having symptoms of both mania and depression.

We know Marilyn was irritable on her last day, she was struggling with insomnia the entire spring and summer; her insomnia was chronic since the mid-fifties. Marilyn’s erratic presentation on the set of Something’s Got To Give, her inability to concentrate, her memory disturbances, her paranoia, all can be linked to her mood disorder. Keep in mind, she wasn’t being treated with a mood stabilizing drug. Most of what was prescribed for her were sedative drugs, and lithium, an early mood stabilizer, was experimental at the time.

We didn’t know as much as we do now about Bipolar Disorder at this time in history, and didn’t clearly understand that it was on a continuum; we clearly knew of the manic psychosis state on the continuum of the disorder. And we also didn’t know about the brain chemistry related to severe depression; depression was believed to be a reaction to stressors and an inability to cope effectively. Hypomania can also involve impulsivity, racing and irrational thoughts.

Marilyn Monroe Iconic Publicity photo for The Seven Year Itch

Marilyn Monroe Iconic Publicity photo for The Seven Year Itch

I believe Marilyn might have been in a hypomanic or mixed episode in the end. Studies of near fatal suicide attempts that required medical intervention reveal that in about 25% of the cases, the person did not have suicidal thoughts or impulses five minutes before the attempt. About 70% report none an hour beforehand. Marilyn’s Bipolar Disorder certainly placed her at a higher risk for an impulsive suicide; the massive amounts of drugs prescribed by her internist, Hyman Engelberg, also placed her at high risk. From the spring of 1962 until her death, I was able to track over 700 units of medications. He concurrently prescribed Nembutal and Chloral Hydrate, contraindicated drugs, if taken together, can result in death.

Another high risk factor, is her Borderline Personality Disorder. This little understood disorder can manifest impulsive behavior such as the person taking her life to reduce emotional pain. In a Borderline crisis, a person might attempt suicide to express emotional pain and to cry for help or even set up a suicide attempt in order to be rescued.

Ralph Greenson (Marilyn’s psychiatrist, was clearly overwhelmed in his role, experienced counter-transference and abandoned all professional boundaries. His controversial treatment techniques were highly ineffective, and in fact, exacerbated Marilyn’s condition. His efforts very likely had an opposite effect than intended. Of course, Borderline Personality Disorder was introduced into the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Psychiatric Disorders nearly 20 years after Marilyn’s death, but it was described and studied since the late 1930s, and Greenson’s letters and recorded observations demonstrate that he noted Marilyn’s symptoms of the disorder.

The praise, adulation and affection for Marilyn never really got through to Norma Jeane. What prevented Norma Jeane from accepting Marilyn as her creation and recognizing the praise that was offered was for Norma Jeane as the artist who created Marilyn Monroe, just as, say, Lucille Ball could with her immortal Lucy?

Marilyn’s traumatic background impacted her by creating feelings of inferiority, shame, and worthlessness. This is the insidious nature of childhood neglect, physical and sexual abuse. She constantly looked for external validation and had very little ego strength. She was extremely resilient but nonetheless emotionally damaged, deeply and profoundly

Icon" The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe - Volume I Book Cover

Icon” The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe – Volume I Book Cover

damaged, and the treatment she received, though state of the art for its day, was ineffective, perhaps even harmful. She wrote of feeling “subhuman”, as if she was “not existing” or unworthy of existing, and she constantly searched for feedback that reinforced this negative and self-defeating belief about herself.

It was challenging for Marilyn to believe she was worthy of the adulation; at times she felt as though the fame and success was happening to or focused on someone else. Marilyn also wrote of feeling this way about Miller genuinely loving her.  Her journals show she feared he would learn that she was unworthy and he would fall out of love with her.

Around the time she prepared her debut performance at the Actor’s Studio, she had a revealing dream that not only demonstrated her insecurity about acting, but also her insecurity as a worthy person. The dream depicts that her talent was a mirage, that she was empty inside, filled with sawdust, and everyone would eventually know she was unworthy. She would eventually disappoint everyone and they would reject her. This lack of identity and feeling empty is common in Borderline Personality Disorder, common among those with severe early childhood abuse and neglect histories.

Most don’t think Marilyn’s appearance at the birthday party for President John F. Kennedy was a credit to her. As time has passed, most think she demeaned herself? What is your opinion?

I don’t believe the footage had ever been intended for release to the general public. It was a private party for a particular crowd with many in-jokes; it was the entertainment field’s love-in for their liberal president, the first since FDR. The birthday gala wasn’t a televised event for the networks. It was only until later that the footage appeared in documentaries. It seems an appropriate performance for that particular crowd on that particular night. The audience was comprised of liberal, progressive Democrats making donations to the party.

Icon: The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe, Volume II - Cover

Icon: The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe, Volume II – Cover

I believe the organizers of the event commanded the quintessential Monroe persona for the performance, and she delivered what was intended. This was a political fundraiser, each admission cost between $500 and $1000, and she was the pièce de résistance. Her Jean Louis gown was nearly a recreation of the many diaphanous illusionary gowns the designer had made for Marlene Dietrich. We may think of the dress as somewhat scandalous, but Dietrich had been wearing very similar ones in concerts throughout the 1950s.

Every vocal nuance and physical gesture was premeditated, as we know from the rehearsal, so the organizers, director and producer were fully aware of what Marilyn’s performance was intended to be. Now, how much was generated by her and how much was directed, is a mystery. Photos show her in conversation with those organizing the event. I suspect that it was completely scripted and staged and not spontaneous. The only departure from the script may have been the dress which surprised the organizers who allegedly believed Marilyn would wear a high-neck black gown. Marilyn reportedly made the change in secret.

Marilyn was performing a characterization, a parody of her film persona. It seems contrary to the image she wished to convey as a serious actress at that point in her career, but I don’t think she realized the performance would become viral and iconic. Keep in mind the raw footage of the event reveals the crowd going wild. We hear the vocal roar . . . the crowd is loud and responsive throughout the performance. We hear a collective laugh at “Mr. President” in the Happy Birthday song. The audience applauds wildly during the “Thanks, Mr. President” song with acknowledgement of his achievements. Photos of the president’s box with Marilyn in the foreground demonstrate joy on the faces of the Kennedy family members in attendance, especially Ethel Kennedy. Other writers have noted that Jacqueline Kennedy was conspicuously absent. And the President, appearing immediately after Marilyn’s performance, seemed pleased and amused.

If people can remember the evening was the equivalent of an office party for those attending, the context puts Marilyn’s appearance in perspective.

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Marilyn Monroe – Causes of Tragic Suicide

Sunday, August 7th, 2016

#sexualabuse #MarilynMonroe #sexsymbol #suicide

John J. Hohn, Writer and reviewer

John J. Hohn, Writer and reviewer

Marilyn Monroe is arguably the most well-known celebrity of all time in the entertainment industry. Her achievements as an actress have earned her recognition and honors throughout the world. The popularity of her films, thanks to the availability of DVD versions and streaming services, ranks high against the many legends of the movie industry. The surge in the number of readers visiting this site in response to the reviews of the two volume definitive biography, Icon: The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe by Gary Vitacco-Robles attests to a sustained high level of interest in the star. Given the reaction to the reviews, we are pleased Author Vitacco-Robles has consented to answering a questions questions for our readers. What follows is the first of four installments of an interview with the author.

Why do you think Marilyn Monroe is so well remembered? Why does she stand out from so many others who were clearly very talented, beautiful and dedicated?

My thesis about Marilyn is that she is a psychological, cultural, and spiritual phenomenon. Her childhood situation and its impact on her attachment challenges, her family history of mental illness, and death by suicide makes her a salient subject to educate the public about childhood abuse & neglect and mental health issues. Culturally, Marilyn impacted us in the 1950s and 60s and endures as an icon; subsequent to her death, each decade and each generation reinterprets her life.

Gary Vitacco-Robles = Author and Biographer

Gary Vitacco-Robles = Author and Biographer

Spiritually, Marilyn engenders empathy and compassion in those born in the generations following her death who project their own subjective interpretations onto her extraordinary life. She recognized this quality in herself and once said, “People don’t see me; instead they see a mirror. Marilyn continues to symbolize the American dream. She rose from poverty, worked hard, and succeeded against the odds, never losing sight of her humble beginnings and relating to those who also struggled. She was honest about her limitations; studied acting at the height of her fame; and had a deliciously appealing self-deprecating humor.

Marilyn’s legion of predominantly male biographers was seduced by her physical beauty and complex nature, but completely overlooked what I had seen as so obvious. She was a resilient survivor of abuse and mental illness who became a goddess, a legend, and an icon. She inspires young people today, and her tragic death does not mar this image. By revealing her vulnerability and humanity, Marilyn endures as a beloved American treasure. Part of her enduring appeal may be the empathy her pain and life experiences evoke in each of us. ‘I knew I belonged to the public and to the world,’ Marilyn wrote, aware of the emotional chord she struck in her audience, ‘not because I was talented or even beautiful, but because I had never belonged to anything or anyone else.’”

Marilyn Monroe, Actress

Marilyn Monroe, Actress

Marilyn was a rare constellation of circumstances that makes her so intriguing to each subsequent generation. She was a unique personality with a specific background and psyche drawn to a career that brought her to the public’s awareness. She emerged at a watershed time in American history, the post-war era, on the brink of a sexual revolution, when roles were rigid.

Marilyn was the underdog, American’s parentless “orphan”. Mid-twentieth century media was different. Despite her great gift of managing the media and promoting herself in her early years, Marilyn knew how and when to withdraw. During the Arthur Miller years, the peak of her success and fame, she fled to New Year and Connecticut and lived a rather private life.

There are infinite possibilities for a similar constellation of factors for another personality to resonate so deeply to the public, however, I cannot identify a current example.

You have refrained, quite admirably, from expressing your own judgements about the people who came and went in Marilyn Monroe’s life. Surely you have opinions about those who were most supportive to her and those who made her life more difficult. Would you care to be more specific now? What’s your opinion of Dr. Ralph Greenson, for example? Lee Strasberg? Paula Strasberg? Any others? 

People are rarely all good or all bad, and even in unhealthy relationships marked by abuse, there can still be loving feelings. The two are not always mutually exclusive. As a therapist, I can be objective and see various perspectives; however, at some point, one can identify egregious acts. Also, writing about individuals who are long deceased is challenging; they are no longer present to interview. I diligently worked to unearth various versions of events and presented each, usually concluding what is most likely or least likely, or presenting what facts remain and allow the reader to draw a conclusion.

Icon: The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe, Volume II - Cover

Icon: The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe, Volume II – Cover

Greenson was over his head in working with Marilyn. Although well-intentioned, he could also be grandiose and self-serving. Marilyn was also a most challenging patient, but he needed supervision, and he turned to his office male, Dr. Milton Wexler, who was himself investigated for slapping a female patient with Borderline Personality Disorder. This act makes me question the supervision Wexler provided; Wexler admitted his behavior.  It was Wexler who encouraged Greenson to virtually adopt Marilyn into his family. Greenson fostered dependency and failed to empower Marilyn. He assessed her as damaged, fragile, and needy. He wanted to rescue to her, parent her, protect her. In the end, he knew he had failed and felt very guilty. His daughter said he had never lost a patient to suicide and never really recovered.

Lee and Paula Strasbergs were opportunists, but I also believe they loved Marilyn. Marilyn could be vulnerable and elicited both rescue and protective impulses in others. At times, Marilyn surrendered her power and autonomy to others and projected onto them her fantasy of protector. There is an interactive feedback loop in these dynamics on the part of both Marilyn and others. The Strasbergs also recognized a talent in Marilyn and believed they were helping her achieve her goal. They were gurus. Marilyn, insecure and believing them to be experts, became dependent upon them; Lee needed a gifted student to succeed as Stella Adler had found in Marlon Brando. He took some credit for assisting Marilyn achieve her dramatic success in Bus Stop. Marilyn’s celebrity, in turn, promoted Strasberg’s Actor’s Studio, and she participated in fundraisers until her death. I often wish Arthur Miller would have supported an ongoing created relationship between Marilyn and Milton Greene.

In ICON, I explored Marilyn’s many supportive relationships often overlooked. Until her death, she maintained a close relationship with the mother and sister of Fred Karger, her vocal coach in 1948 and the first man with whom she certainly had a sexual relationship following her divorce. There are many others: Norman and Hedda Rosten; Ralph Roberts; Rupert Allan; Allan Snyder; Xenia Checkov, the widow of an acting coach; Sam and Anne Shaw and their children; Inez Melson, her mother’s legal guardian.

Tour work with childhood victims of emotional abandonment and abuse clearly provided an overlap with your interest in Ms. Monroe. Can you expand on that for readers, please?

For thirty years, I have worked with children in the child welfare system who have survived trauma (sexual and physical abuse and neglect) as well as adults with chronic and persistent mental illness. My fellow clinicians who work in the mental health field might see ICON as the longest biopsychosocial assessment summary in history.

Icon" The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe - Volume I Book Cover

Icon” The Life, Times and Films of Marilyn Monroe – Volume I Book Cover

My first position as a therapist was in a program specializing in trauma-informed treatment of youth and families who had survived physical/sexual abuse and neglect and children with sexual behavior problems. I became licensed as Mental Health Counselor in Florida in 1997 and became a Nationally Certified Counselor in 1998.

I intended this research and writing project to serve as a diversion from my clinical work as a licensed mental health counselor and program manager of an outpatient clinic, however, I selected a remarkable subject who only brought me closer to my work.

Marilyn Monroe began her life as Norma Jeane Baker and survived a childhood marked by complex trauma; she was raised in foster homes and an orphanage as a result of her mother’s psychiatric instability and her father’s abandonment.  She battled major depression and bipolar disorder during a time when she had limited treatment options. She survived domestic violence and suffered from endometriosis which resulted in chronic pain and the inability to have children. Marilyn was also the first public figure to openly discuss childhood sexual abuse during a time in history when the topic was minimized, if not denied by the culture at large.

Marilyn also appears to have experienced the symptoms consistent with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and Borderline Personality Disorder. Marilyn is an illustration of many of the children & adults I have served over the years. My professional expertise and experience allowed a perspective missing in former biographies of Marilyn. I believe it is impossible to accurately depict this woman without the context of her mood, personality, anxiety and substance use disorders. Today we have an abundance of information about early brain development, early childhood social and emotional well-being, and behavioral health issues that allow us to better understand Marilyn and her unique constellation of issues which resulted in the trajectory of her life and early death.

As mentioned earlier, this article is the first in four installments. Please watch this site for related posting of our interview with Author Vitacco-Robles.

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