Marilyn Monroe's Death Explored in New Netflix Doc: Why Were the Circumstances Covered Up?

The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe: The Unheard Tapes features never-before-heard interviews with those close to the star who call into question much of what we've been told about the night she died

marilyn monroe and robert kennedy
From left: Robert F. Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, and John F. Kennedy. Photo: Cefcil Stoughton/The Life Picture Collection/Getty

What happened the night Marilyn Monroe died?

In the early morning hours of August 5, 1962, when the Hollywood icon was found dead in bed at her Brentwood, California home with her hand on her telephone, her shocking death immediately raised red flags.

The Los Angeles Police Department called her death "possibly accidental." The Los Angeles Coroner's Office ruled it a "probable suicide."

Others thought the cause of her death was more sinister.

Given Monroe's ties to the White House, the Kennedys, the mob and others, questions swirled — and continue to swirl — about her final days. Was Monroe murdered or did she die by her own hand, as authorities believed? Was there a cover-up?

These are among the scintillating questions tackled in Netflix's new documentary, The Mystery of Marilyn Monroe: The Unheard Tapes, which is now available to stream on the platform.

Based on investigative journalist Anthony Summers' updated bestseller, Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe, the documentary features never-before-heard recordings of interviews with those who knew her well.

"What I learned was information that changed completely what we thought we knew about her mysterious death," Summers says in the documentary. "And suggests that the circumstances of her dying were covered up."

Marilyn Monroe Netflix Doc
Anthony Summers. Netflix

Famous voices from Monroe's past, including Jane Russell, who co-starred with her in Gentleman Prefer Blondes; John Huston, who directed her in The Asphalt Jungle, and in her last completed film, The Misfits; and hairdresser-to-the-stars Sydney Guilaroff, are heard on tape sharing their memories of the sex symbol who rose to fame despite her troubled beginnings as "a waif," as Monroe often referred to herself.

But it's the interviews with figures who are less known that highlight some of the biggest bombshells Summers unearthed — including whether she actually died in her bed at home, who she saw in her last hours, and if her time of death was hours earlier than officially reported.

"The final acts of the film are incredibly exciting," director Emma Cooper tells PEOPLE. "That timeline that Tony [Summers] walks us through gets me every time. It's an investigation where everything we thought we knew is not really correct."

Marilyn Monroe Netflix Doc
Marilyn Monroe. Netflix

Monroe may have died much earlier than 3:50 a.m. on Aug. 5, 1962, when her doctor pronounced her dead, sources told Summers.

In the documentary, viewers will hear interviews with ambulance company owner Walt Schaefer, who confirms that on the evening of Friday, Aug. 4, 1962, Monroe was rushed to a local hospital, barely alive.

Writer John Sherlock revealed to Summers that her psychiatrist, Dr. Ralph Greenson, told him Monroe died in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, and that her body was brought back to her house.

"When you realize that she maybe had been taken out of bed, taken to a hospital and then put back into that bed naked," says Cooper, "I find it truly heartbreaking."

From moment Monroe's body was reportedly returned to her home until she was pronounced dead by her doctor, aggressive steps were purportedly taken to remove any sign of the Kennedy brothers, who both had relationships with her, Summers says.

"If you then say to me, 'Why were those circumstances covered up?' I would say that what the evidence suggests is that it was covered up because of her connection with the Kennedy brothers."

Nuclear Secrets

Both John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy cut ties with Monroe that summer, when the possibility of nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union was heating up. She was said to have talked one of the brothers about the amorality of nuclear weapons.

The fear was that the Kennedys said something in their private conversations about nuclear weapons with Monroe that she could have mentioned to some of her left-leaning friends.

"Because she was in touch with people who were regarded as communists, all of whom were talking to Fidel Castro's people," Summers says in the film.

Marilyn Monroe Netflix Doc

Bugs in the Bedroom

Another jaw-dropping moment comes when famed private investigator to the stars Fred Otash matter-of-factly tells Summers that yes, Monroe's bedroom was bugged — something Monroe fans had long heard whispers about but didn't know for sure.

Otash says he was hired by Jimmy Hoffa, the Teamsters Union leader who'd been famously linked to the mob and who was being investigated at the time by RFK, to dig up dirt on the brothers.

"What Hoffa wanted was for me to develop a derogatory profile on Jack and Bobby Kennedy and their relationships with Marilyn Monroe," he can be heard saying in the film.

Monroe's Legacy

Besides giving a broad sweep of Monroe's glamorous but complicated life and shedding light on her last moments and what happened in the aftermath of her death, Cooper says she wanted to do right by her famous documentary subject.

"At the beginning of the process, when I went to L.A., I visited her grave," she says. "I went to sort of say, 'I'm going to try and speak your voice, your truth. I hope I represent you in a way that you would've wanted to be represented in 2022, and in fact, during your life.'"

Marilyn Monroe Netflix Doc
Marilyn Monroe. Netflix

For longtime Monroe fans and the new generation who will fall in love with her, Cooper says she wants them "to see that she was incredibly talented."

"She was incredibly focused. She worked incredibly hard. She was a multidimensional, wonderful, amazing human being," says the director.

When Cooper began on the project, another of Monroe's biographers told her to "'get ready because you'll become completely consumed by Marilyn. Everybody who tries to tell her story does,'" she recalls.

"I was like, 'I won't, of course. I won't. And then a few years later, I'm here with a tattoo of her on my arm. She's a huge part of my life now. I adore her."

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