Book review: The Final Years of Marilyn Monroe by Keith Badman

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The last two years of Marilyn Monroe’s tragic life go a long way to explaining her shocking death at the age of only 36.

Wild spending, chronic drug addiction, naked frolicking in a swimming pool on the set of a film that never saw the light of day, a sexual assignation with President John F Kennedy and an infamous orgy of abuse at Frank Sinatra’s country lodge were just some of the bizarre events in her final months.

In his extraordinary book, Badman takes on the role of forensic detective and uses long-lost and previously unseen personal records to uncover what he claims are the real facts about the movie icon’s final days.

It’s a relentless and detailed quest for the truth in which we learn, among other things, precisely how she died and the ensuing cover-up, details of her rekindled romance with second husband Joe DiMaggio and the depth of her involvement with John and Bobby Kennedy.

Badman says that because of the ‘ineptitude’ of much previous research and the lies of people who never even met her, much of what we believe about Monroe is ‘utter nonsense,’ not least the assumption that she committed suicide.

Confronted about various lurid rumours not long before she died, Monroe replied simply: ‘Consider the source...’

Monroe’s life was dogged by her family’s history of mental illness, her fears for her own sanity and the instability that led to drug and alcohol dependency from the age of 20.

Sleeping tablets and tranquillisers seriously affected her personality, manifesting in violent outbursts and behaviour that was both eccentric and bizarre. Alcohol too became ‘a solvent for her internal tensions and demons’.

By 1961, the year before her death, her life was chaotic even by her own standards.

Work on the doomed film, Something’s Got to Give, in which she was to star alongside Dean Martin, was frequently interrupted by Monroe’s non-appearances, ill-health, her accusations about other cast members and her strange fear of the cameras.

The final straw for the producers came in May 1962, three months before her death, when Monroe chose to attend JFK’s birthday gala in New York rather than work on the film set.

Monroe was determined to attend and, fuelled by alcohol, her famous rendition of ‘Happy Birthday Mr President’ turned into what she regarded as one of the most triumphant moments of her career when she breathed sexual innuendo into the most innocent of refrains.

The star’s relationship with the president and his brother Bobby has been the source of endless speculation over the years and Badman here claims that her one and only sexual encounter with JFK in March 1962 was a spectacular failure due to his well-documented back problems.

As for Attorney General Bobby, their friendship, says Badman, was purely platonic mainly because the younger Kennedy was morally strict and Monroe did not like him ‘physically’.

One of the most notorious sequences of her final, sad days was a weekend at Frank Sinatra’s Cal-Neva Lodge on the shore of Lake Tahoe where a drunken Monroe was humiliated and sexually molested by a group of men and had to be rescued by Sinatra himself.

The end when it came, on the night of August 4 1962, was as tragic and bizarre as one would expect.

Badman says that after accidentally but lethally mixing two types of sleeping tablets at her home in Los Angeles, Monroe feebly called out for help to her housekeeper who was glued to a TV episode of Perry Mason.

The housekeeper never heard her and a frantic call from Monroe to Rat Pack friend Peter Lawson was not acted on until it was too late.

The official verdict was ‘probable suicide’ but Badman claims that all the evidence points to accidental death.

Monroe’s publicist Rupert Allan always maintained that Monroe simply could not have intended to kill herself that night.

‘She was too vain to have allowed herself to lie in a coffin with a dark patch in that blonde hair,’ he said.

So could this be the final chapter on the death of Marilyn Monroe?

Probably not...

(JR Books, hardback, £20)