Marilyn Monroe Autopsy — how does she look now?

Yes, this is a photo of Marilyn Monroe’s body after it had been autopsied.  The skin is blotchy because blood settled on that side of her face as she lay dead in her bed.  Also her neck looks funny because they made a deep incision through the back of her head from just below her ears — straight across.  They do this because then they can peel the scalp forward all the way down to her eyebrows.  They then saw off the skullcap and remove the brain to examine it for a possible cause of death.  After they are done, they put the skullcap back in place – sometimes they secure it with staples — and then they pull the skin back.  More photos here Das photia .

You can rest easy because after this was all done, Marilyn’s hair and makeup were done and even though she didn’t look great, she looked like Marilyn.  They laid her to rest at Pierce Brothers Westwood Memorial Cemetery which can be found behind a building on the northern corner of Wilshire Blvd and Glendon in Los Angeles.

The trouble with autopsied bodies is that they don’t preserve well since the embalmer uses the body’s natural circulatory system to saturate the body in every nick and cranny with embalming fluid and preservatives.  When a body is autopsied, the natural circulatory system is disturbed because all the organs are taken out — any embalming fluid pumped into a vein just pools in the body cavity.  The embalmer had to embalm all the body parts separately and that really doesn’t work very well.

A perfectly embalmed body lasts a really long time — Marilyn probably doesn’t look too good right now — but you never know.

Lee Harvey Oswald was an autopsy case and when they exhumed his body in the early 1970s, there wasn’t much left of him but icky goo and bones.  Even his head had come unattached from his body.

When Anna Nicole Smith died, they were in a hurry to get her body shipped out of the morgue in the Bahamas because even though she was embalmed and in a cold storage, she was starting to get pretty gross.   She’d been autopsied and then embalmed —  and they just don’t keep.  An embalmed body in cold storage, however, can last for years and years — but who can afford that?

Marilyn is in an above-ground  vault, and Los Angeles climate is kind of a dry desert air so maybe Marilyn looks like a dried mummy or maybe she’s just bones or maybe she’s pretty disgusting and gooey — you never know.

Abraham Lincoln was embalmed really well with very old-fashioned fluids and preservatives, but when he was exhumed in 1906 — nearly 40 years after his death — he looked exactly the same as the day he was buried.  Of course he was heavily embalmed so that his body would withstand the month-long trip across the United States to be viewed by hundreds of thousands of people.   Today the fluids and techniques are much more sophisticated so your Aunt Millie or Uncle Marty might look as good today as they did when they were planted in the 1980s.

If you are embalmed properly and thoroughly, and you are buried on high-dry ground or above ground in a well-ventilated crypt, you could look really good even 50 or 100 years from now.  Cemeteries all across the USA are full of people who look just like they did when they were buried decades ago. Mostly their noses turn black and they get a little mold growing on them, but you’d recognize them if you knew them.  The truth, however, is that most people start to look really bad after a few years.    Try not to think about it.

PS —   The coroner’s report about Marilyn Monroe that floats around online sounds bogus to me, but in case it’s real, the report reads that an “unembalmed body” was brought to the coroner.    Everybody is brought to the coroner umembalmed — well, almost everybody.  Rarely a coroner will receive an embalmed body if the autopsy had to be held off for a time — like shipped in from another country — or if the body is an exhumation for the purpose of uncovering  a crime after the fact.  Keep in mind that not all bodies are embalmed before they are buried, but Marilyn was embalmed.

5 thoughts on “Marilyn Monroe Autopsy — how does she look now?”

  1. Thank you for this information about Marilyn. I would like to know how you know that her brain was removed during the autopsy,or is this just standard practice in an autopsy?, and so you are making that assumption. There was a strange fact I read that there was a swollen lump on the back of her neck, so after the autopsy, when they were making her presentable, an incision was made and the lump and a piece of hair removed (which still exists somewhere). This doesn’t really fit with the idea that there already was a huge incision on the back of her head.
    My other question is that she was in a hermetically sealed bronze casket, so the dryness and air of the California climate would never have reached her anyway, but I would like to know how being sealed up so tightly with no way for her body to desiccate, would affect her body’s preservation.
    It is just as well that both her heart and perhaps her brain are long since destroyed, as what is left is just her body. She once was asked what she would like written on her tombstone, when she was in a plane when the engine stopped for a moment: “Here lies Marilyn Monroe — 38-23-36″, so that’s about right.

  2. The medical examiner makes an incision from the back of one ear (slightly lower) to the left ear, and then the skin is peeled away forward and reveals the skull. A stryker saw is used to cut off the top of the skull and the brain is removed. You just don’t plop it out. It has to be done carefully with the palm of the hand reaching in and under to gently coax the brain away from the dura (the shiny stuff that sticks the brain to the lining of the skull) and the optic nerves are severed and then the spinal chord — and the brain is taken out for examination. If she’d had a stroke, it would show when the brain was cut into thin slices. If she had any kind of oxygen starvation or sudden illness there would be congestion the brain. There are a lot of things the ME will look for and most of them are just plain sight examinations. Sometimes the cause of death or an abnromality is evident even before the brain is actually removed from the skull. Sometimes the skull is drilled and blood piurs out which usually indicates a massive bleed or a blow to the head that did not leave an outside mark. This is what happened to Natasha Richardson. She had no signs of a head injury but her head was filled witgh blood. The skin is pulled very far forward — sometimes as far as the eyebrows — like peeling off a mask. Then the skull is put back in place with staples or it’s just covered back over with the skin. which is then sutured closed and sealed by the mortician so nothing leaks out. The brain is rarely put back in. It is often put in a bag with all the other organs that have been removed and put in a bag that is sent along with the body to a mortician who makes the whole thing nice and presentable. The fact that an autopsied body has two incisions — the entire torso and the head is a probem. The torso is easily covered with clothing but the back of the head is either cosmetically hidden with the hair and/or a very sift deep pillow is used so that the head sinks into the pillow and that creepy thing is not visible. Most embalmers do a really good job, but an autopsied body is very hard to embalm properly and it does not stay viewable for anywhere near as long as an intact body that has been embalmed. This has to do with the entire circulatory system having been cut away during the autopsy. Preservatives pumped into the carotid vein simply pool in the chest cavity where all of the blood vessels have been severed. So they emabalm each body part sperately which doesn’t really work all that well. As far as sealed caskets go — forget it. Anyone who is buried above ground now is never allowed to shut the door without breaking that seal. Organisms in the body — certain bacteria that thrive where there is NO oxygen are the critters who make all the gases and bloating and fluids and gook — seals are always broken ( no matter what abybody tells you) because a sealed casket in a marble vault can EXPLODE! It has happened and not only a few times. It has happend a lot of times and in Europe one woman was killed by a flying peice of marble when a crypt exploded. When everyone leaves the service, the lid is cracked a bit and a small piece of wood, the diameter of a ruler or a paint stirrer is placed there to allow the body to mummify and dry out. No way do they want “grave juice” leaking out of the walls. It happens all the time and almost all mausoleums look for this when they open in the morning. A body in a sealed casket will blat and burst and ooze — it’s disgusting — but I don’t know what they did in Marilyn’s day. Sometimes I doubt that she’s even there. My best guess is that she is a skeleton and were you to open her grave there would be a sour smell. It’s been 50 years — she might still be gooey and stinky — you never know. If there was a lump of hair that was taken or discarded it would have had to be that the ME did a sloppy job — it would be okay had she been fat — but I don’t know anything about a pieces of her scalp being hidden anywhere. Remember — a SEALED casket is dangerous so now they put vent plugs on the caskets but that will not stop the cryot from leaking and oozing and maybe even blowing up. In the old days they used to have guys who drove pipes into the ground and into caskets to vent gases — it’s disgusting.

  3. Thank you very much for your reply and the information about brain removal. I was aware of this problem with exploding caskets and crypts from reading various funeral home newsletters. I suspect that the casket and crypt wasn’t vented because the problem only began to be rectified as a matter of course quite a while after 1962. There isn’t much information available on the technicalities of her interment, although it would be filed away somewhere, perhaps in the records of the Westwood Memorial Cemetery. I suppose because she would have had virtually no organs left within her, she has stood a better chance of being well preserved, but as you say, anaerobic bacteria may have reduced her to bones. I guess we won’t know for centuries until someone opens her crypt. I kind of agree with you, that she isn’t even there if her heart and brain were never there, because that means the source of her great sense of humour and personality and the love she felt were never there.

  4. I gave Marilyn’s autopsy report to a doctor to interpret and he said some interesting things:
    1. her body must have been x-rayed to have the comment that the clavicle, ribs, vertebrae and pelvic bones show fracture lines, meaning I suppose that she must have been beaten as a child.
    2.She hadn’t eaten that day or longer or drunk water for a long while either.
    3.There was severe congestion in her lungs, which supports that she had respiratory infections while making her last film, Something’s Got to Give, which caused her to be chronically absent from the set.
    4.The well known point that there was no residue of pills in her stomach, which has been the basis for the murder theory – but is there another explanation for this?
    What do you think of these points? and why do you think the autopsy report is bogus?
    I will copy and paste it here:
    Marilyn’s Autopsy
    Coroner Thomas Noguchi conducted the operation. He was assisted by Eddy Day. Noguchi’s findings were as follows.??External examination: The unembalmed body is that of a 36-year-old well-developed, well-nourished Caucasian female weighing 117 pounds and measuring 65-1/2 inches in length. The scalp is covered with bleached blond hair. The eyes are blue. The fixed lividitv is noted in the face, neck, chest, upper portions of arms and the right side of the abdomen. The faint lividity which disappears upon pressure is noted in the back and posterior aspect of the arms and legs. A slight ecchymotic area is noted in the left hip and left side of lower back. The breast shows no significant lesion. There is a horizontal 3-inch long surgical scar in the right upper quadrant of the abdomen. A suprapubic surgical scar measuring 5 inches in length is noted. The conjunctivae are markedly congested; however, no ecehymosis or petechiae are noted. The nose shows no evidence of fracture. The external auditory canals are not remarkable:. No evidence of trauma is noted in the scalp, forehead, cheeks, lips or chin. The neck shows no evidence of trauma. Examination of the hands and nails shows no defects. The lower extremities show no evidence of trauma.
    Body cavity: The usual Y-shaped incision is made to open the thoracic and abdominal cavities. The pleural and abdominal cavities contain no excess of fluid or blood. The mediastinum shows no shifting or widening. The diaphragm is within normal limits. The lower edge of the liver is within the costal margin. The organs are in normal position and relationship. ??Cardiovascular system: The heart weighs 300 grams. The pericardial cavity contains no excess of fluid. The epicardium and pericardium are smooth and glistening. The left ventricular wall measures 1.1 cm. and the right 0.2 cm. The papillary muscles are not hypertrophic. The chordae tendineac are not thickened or shortened. The valves have the usual number of leaflets which are thin and pliable. The tricuspid valve measures 10 cm., the pulmonary valve 6.5 cm., mitral valve 9.5 cm. and aortic valve 7 cm in circumference. There is no septal defect. The foramen ovale is closed. The coronary arteries arise from their usual location and are distributed in normal fashion. Multiple sections of the anterior descending branch of the left coronary artery with a 5 mm. interial demonstrate a patent lumen throughout. The circumflex branch and the right coronary artery also demonstrate a patent lumen. The pulmonary artery contains no thrombus. The aorta has a bright yellow smooth intima. ??Respiratory system: The right lung weighs 465 grams and the left 420 grams. Both lungs are moderately congested with some edema. The surface is dark and red with mottling. The posterior portion of the lungs show severe congestion. The tracheobronchial tree contains no aspirated material or blood. Multiple sections of the lungs show congestion and edematous fluid exuding from the cut surface. No consolidation or suppuration is noted. The mucosa of the larynx is grayish white. ??Liver and biliary system: The liver weighs 1890 grams. The surface is dark brown and smooth. There are marked adhesions through the omentum and abdominal wall in the lower portion of the liver as the gallbladder has been removed. The common duct is widely patent. No calculus or obstructive material is found. Multiple sections of the liver show slight accentuation of the lobular pattern; however, no hemorrhage or tumor is found. ??Hemic and lymphatic system: The spleen weighs 190 grams. The surface is dark red and smooth. Section shows dark red homogeneous firm cut surface. The Malpighian bodies are not clearly identified. There is no evidence of lymphadenopathy. The bone marrow is dark red in color. Endocrine system: The adrenal glands have the usual architectural cortex and medulla. The thyroid glands are of normal size, color and consistency. Urinary system: The kidneys together weigh 350 grams. Their capsules can be stripped without difficulty. Dissection shows a moderately congested parenchyma. The cortical surface is smooth. The pelves and ureters are not dilated or stenosed. The urinary bladder contains approximately 150 cc. of clear straw-colored fluid. The mucosa is not altered. ??Genital system: The external genitalia shows no gross abnormality. Distribution of the pubic hair is of female pattern. The uterus is of the usual size. Multiple sections of the uterus show the usual thickness of the uterine wall without tumor nodules. The endometrium is grayish yellow, measuring up to 0.2 cm in thickness. No polyp or tumor is found. The cervix is clear, showing no nabothian cysts. The tubes are intact. The right ovary demonstrates recent corpus luteum haemorrhagicum. The left ovary shows corpora lutea and albicantia. A vaginal smear is taken. Digestive system: The esophagus has a longitudinal folding mucosa. The stomach is almost completely empty. The contents is brownish mucoid fluid. The volume is estimated to be no more than 20 cc. No residue of the pills is noted. A smear made from the gastric contents and examined under the polarized microscope shows no refractile crystals. The mucosa shows marked congestion and submucosal petechial hemorrhage diffusely. The duodenum shows no ulcer. The contents of the duodenum is also examined under polarized microscope and shows no refractile crystals. The remainder of the small intestine shows no gross abnormality. The appendix is absent. The colon shows marked congestion and purplish discoloration. The pancreas has a tan lobular architecture. Multiple sections shows a patent duct. ??Skeletomuscular system: The clavicle, ribs, vertebrae and pelvic bones show fracture lines. All bones of the extremities are examined by palpation showing no evidence of fracture. ??Head and central nervous system: The brain weighs 1440 grams. Upon reflection of the scalp there is no evidence of contusion or hemorrhage. The temporal muscles are intact. Upon removal of the dura mater the cerebrospinal fluid is clear. The superficial vessels are slightly congested. The convolutions of the brain are not flattened. the contour of the brain is not distorted. No blood is found in the epidural, subdural or subarachnoid spaces. Multiple sections of the brain show the usual symmetrical ventricles and basal ganglia. Examination of the cerebellum and brain stem shows no gross abnormality. Following removal of the dura mater from the base of the skull and calvarium no skull fracture is demonstrated. ??Liver temperature taken at 10:30 A.M. registered 89 F ??Specimen: Unembalmed blood is taken for alcohol and barbiturate examination. Liver, kidney, stomach and contents, urine and intestine are saved for further toxicological study. A vaginal smear is made. ??T NOGUCHI, M.D. DEPUTY MEDICAL EXAMINER 8-13-62

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