Brittany Murphy, who was pronounced dead at a Los Angeles hospital this morning, was a young Hollywood star who retained her profile despite failing to take the opportunities her early work gave her. The 32-year-old actress was famous, but not successful, and she was at the point where her career needed to be rebuilt. As it is she went into cardiac arrest at the home she shared with her husband, screenwriter Simon Monjack (Factory Girl), who dialed 911, and could not be revived.
Murphy never fit into the mould of the young Hollywood starlet. She did not look the part and it was telling that her breakthrough role, in 1995's Clueless, was as a Los Angeles high school student who has to be given a complete makeover; the movie business was intent on doing the same for her in real life.
Murphy was born in Atlanta and appeared on television from the age of 14. Clueless came out when she was 17 and she worked regularly afterwards. She played feisty best friends (2001's Summer Catch and Riding in Cars With Boys) and appeared more at ease with extreme roles she could lose herself in. She played a damaged mental patient in 1999's Girl, Interrupted and 2001's Don't Say a Word.
Her standout role was as Alex Latourno in 2002's 8 Mile (pictured). Curtis Hanson was one of the few A-list directors she worked with, and from her he drew a brittle, touching performance as a hard as nails Detroit resident so intent on getting out that she toyed with the affections of others.
But the film's success merely earnt her a succession of featherweight romantic comedies – 2003's Just Married and Uptown Girls, 2004's Little Black Book – of which only the former was successful. After that run of releases Murphy was surpassed by a new generation of hopefuls. She had one further impressive part, as the titular star of Karen Moncrieff's The Dead Girl in 2006, but her latter roles were patchy at best and she became the property of the tabloids with rumours of erratic behaviour, drug use and gaudy cosmetic surgery.
Given the circumstances of her passing – a heart attack at just 32-years-old – the tabloids will retain their hold over the coming weeks, but her best work should outlast the headlines.