Fame: Michael Jackson and Marilyn Monroe

There is an eerie parallel between the premature death of Michael Jackson, brilliantly talented but fragile and warped by fame, and that of Marilyn Monroe in 1962?

We don’t know the full cause of Michael Jackson’s death. Drugs and sycophants loom large, and accounts point to a lonely person exploited, pressued, finally broken by relentless over-exposed, the bubble existence of celebrity fame.

“A career is wonderful, but you can’t curl up with it on a cold night,” Marilyn Monroe said back in the 1960s when she, like Jackson, epitomized the bubble existence. “Dogs never bite me. Just humans.”

On August 5, 1962, she too died suddenly of cardiac arrest. She too was achingly young, just 36 years old, beautiful, talented, bursting with personality and vulnerability. The autopsy found eight milligram percent of chloral hydrate and 4.5 milligram percent of Nembutal in her system, and blamed her death on “acute barbiturate poisoning,” resulting from accidental overdose.

Marilyn Monroe too had compiled a brilliant career, with a sting of fabulous movies — from comedies like Some Like it Hot and The Seven Year Itch to dramas like The Misfits. Oscar awards and nominations went to Jack Lemmon, Billy Wilder, John Huston, and others for these films; not Marilyn. Instead, the 1960s-version paparazzi savored her multiple marriages, including to Yankee slugger Joe DiMaggio and playwrite Arthur Miller, and her rumored affairs with John and Robert Kennedy. (Click here to hear her sing Happy Birthday to JKF.) Sex symbol? Fun, but it got old. “A sex symbol becomes a thing,” she said toward the end. “I just hate to be a thing.”

It wore on her, the exposure, the exploitaiton, the pressure. How exactly it killed her remains mystery. Her death spawned webs of conspiracy theories. Accidental overdose? Too simple for the ghoulish. Suicide? Murder? By the Kennedy’s? J. Edgar Hoover? The Mob? More interesting. Books and magazine articles galore followed. More exploitation.

So with her. So with him. Who dares to say that American celebrity culture is not lethal? Just ask Princess Di about the British version.