Fifty years ago Sunday, Norma Jeane Mortenson--the actress, model and singer better known as Marilyn Monroe--died in Los Angeles of a drug overdose. She was just 36. Yahoo contributors were asked to share their memories of Monroe, whose tragic death, while unsurprising to those that closely followed her tumultuous career, was nonetheless shocking. Below, recollections of an American icon.
I still remember exactly where I was, as a little girl, hearing that radio announcement of Monroe's death. My parents, Marilyn's generation, struggled to contain their shock. When Marilyn Monroe died, President Kennedy and his brother Bobby were very much alive. Martin Luther King Jr. was too. The spate of assassinations now associated with the '60s had not yet come to pass. Marilyn was first to go, just three months after singing "Happy Birthday, Mr. President." Her death at age 36, the same age as Princess Diana, simply should not have happened. We still wonder. It's still unsettling, and there really is no closure. How and why did Marilyn die?
-- Laurie Jo Miller Farr
Her body didn't fit the mold of beauty back then. As a larger woman in a society where big isn't always beautiful, I take comfort in knowing that someone who wasn't considered perfect in her era is a symbol of beauty for so many now.
-- Threesia Goff
She created a legend that lived and breathed, a legend with a coy smile and bombshell hair, a legend that became a yardstick of womanhood in the five decades since her death. Marilyn Monroe was something more than simply an actress, something different. On screen, to see her gleam in the silvers and whites and blacks is to watch something that feels as though it was never quite real, as though she was someone you could never quite touch, that your fingers would float right through.
-- Isa-Lee Wolf
[Slideshow: Rarely-seen early photographs of Marilyn Monroe]
She was a legend alive: a sex symbol who seemed to project a certain vulnerability. Both a woman and a child. How appropriate that she would make her last screen appearance in a movie titled "The Misfits," playing a divorcee--a role she knew well from real life. I remember footage of her in a crush of paparazzi, yet she died alone.
-- Joyce V. Harrison
Marilyn Monroe made it okay to be powerful, glamorous and girlie. Whenever a draft blows my skirt out of place, I think about the tongue-in-cheek way that Marilyn handled it.
-- Maya Black
She was the first sexual, in-your-face femme fatale--appearing nude in Playboy before it became acceptable or popular to be overtly sexual. She was smart enough to play the now-stereotypical goofy, loveable ditz. She made her own decisions and didn't let others define who she was. She never blamed anyone for the circumstances of her life, and she accepted the limitations of a difficult childhood. "I'm very definitely a woman and I enjoy it," she once said. After Marilyn, it was suddenly OK for women to take the lead in the bedroom, seduce their husbands and enjoy sex. She was a feminist before feminism was invented.
-- Lyn Brooks
As a woman who has struggled with body image and beauty ideals her entire life, it always inspired me to see Marilyn Monroe's full figure hailed as one of the sexiest. Fifty years after her death, her real-woman beauty lives on. She gave women the ability to accept and love their curves.
-- Emilia Zs Rak
Marilyn Monroe takes dance lessons in Hollywood in 1949. (J.R. Eyerman—Time & Life Pictures/Getty)Click images to see more photos.
It's easy to forget in the sparkle and dazzle that was Marilyn Monroe, she was a young girl who spent the majority of her formative years in foster homes and was a victim of sexual abuse. My mother was also a childhood victim of sexual abuse. Like Monroe, my mother was very beautiful, intelligent, often shy and timid, at times incapable of functioning in social settings. Both vacillated between being scrappers and fighters to being recluses who retreated to their beds, closed the doors and succumbed to the world of prescription barbiturates. After sharing my mother's hospice experience with her, I can say with absolute certainty that Norma Jeane never walked away from those traumas that formed her early years. They haunted her until the day she slipped into the drug-clouded mist of death.
-- Jody Bresch
For those of us who were born after Marilyn Monroe died, our first introduction to her legend most likely came indirectly. Mine came from Madonna's "Material Girl" video. I knew right away that it was inspired by Marilyn, but I don't know how I knew that. After the video, I became interested in the starlet, and checked out Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. I loved Madonna, but she had nothing on Marilyn.
-- Kristen Dyrr
[Also see: Marilyn Monroe: A life in pictures]
Half a century has passed, but Marilyn Monroe's screen presence still lingers in our midst. Her life of fame, glamour, mystery, and tragedy continues to captivate people from all walks of life. From Madonna to Anna Nicole Smith, Anna Kournikova to Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan to Elle Fanning, countless celebrities have been tabbed Monroesque. I see all kinds of Marilyns on the streets, in schools and bars. That's how much of an icon she was, and has become.
-- Rianne Hill Soriano
Chronically late, often in conflict with directors, in disastrous marriages and relationships, Marilyn Monroe nonetheless personified an image of glamour that few if any stars of today can match: an unforgettable icon of sexuality and an everlasting symbol of femininity.
-- Werner Haas
Marilyn Monroe was at her glamorous best when she performed 10 USO shows in four days for U.S. soldiers, airmen, Marines and sailors during the Korean War in early 1954. I was with a group of Navy guys who happened to be at Daegu Air Force Base when we heard Marilyn was going to be there that night. We convinced our transport pilot to find something wrong with our R4D transport so we could delay the return flight to our ship in Tokyo Bay. For all us homesick guys, it was a great evening. Marilyn singing "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" is a memory I still cherish.
-- Ted Sherman