I honestly thought long and hard about whether or not to write about her. Because seriously, was almost exactly eleven months younger than I, and my limit my Celebrating the Living list to people who are older than I am. (This will probably change in December 2021, when I turn forty-five, and I will probably start allowing people who are within five years of my age.) But I see less reason to do that for this column, as Brittany Murphy will never have lived more than 32 years, and that would remain true if she’d been born in November 1976 instead of November 1977; dead is dead, really, and she meets the other requirement for this column, which is having died at least five years ago.
While Clueless, for which I primarily know her, was not her first movie, it was fairly close to being her first movie. She was the only one of the three who was really high school-aged at the time. Alicia Silverstone was close, but she is older than I am, and I was old to be a high school senior in 1995, the year the movie came out. And Stacey Dash is a full ten years older than I am! But Murphy and Silverstone were both about the right age, and while Murphy wasn’t really stealing scenes from Silverstone, she’s still an absolute delight in the movie.
Enough so that I really wish she’d been in more movies that I had any interest in seeing. I don’t even really care for Girl, Interrupted, for several reasons. She does really good work in it, but still. She apparently became very good friends with Winona Ryder while making it, and they remained friends until Murphy’s death. In fact, I mostly hear good things about her; everyone seems to have liked her. She seems to have been a charming, talented young woman who could have had a great career.
There’s a certain amount of conflict about what killed her; she had pneumonia, and it’s considered possible that the drugs she took—both prescription and over-the-counter—weakened her system. But her mother is apparently now saying the toxic mold in her house killed both Murphy and her husband. Her father is saying it was heavy metal poisoning and says he discovered that the levels in her system were ten times normal. Either way, she died too young.
And of course people don’t talk much about some of her work, probably because they don’t realize that Tai of Clueless and Luann of King of the Hill were the same woman. But they were. I haven’t watched King of the Hill in years, and Luann was never really my favourite character, but Murphy still did good work at it. She doesn’t seem to have treated the work the way, say, Chris Rock does—Luann was a fully developed voice that was appropriate for a character who wasn’t Murphy. Who, while born in Georgia, was clearly not the Texan Luann. She treated it as work, which is the highest compliment I have for celebrity voiceover.