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Marilyn Monroe: Trail of a Shooting Star

The movies, the men, the life cut short. Fifty-five years after her death, she's never left our imagination

This remembrance of Marilyn Monroe is part of our AARP Icons series. Please share your thoughts and memories in our Icons Community forum.

On Aug. 5, 1962, the world was stunned when Marilyn Monroe died from a barbiturate overdose at age 36. Decades later, the blond bombshell with the feathery voice who starred in such classics as Gentlemen Prefer BlondesThe Seven Year Itch and Some Like It Hot continues to loom large in pop culture, portrayed by a revolving door of actresses — both big names and relative unknowns. As Elton John once sang in her honor: “Your candle burned out long before your legend ever did.”

  • Marilyn Monroe, 50 years past
    Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

    Discovered (1945)

    En español | Fifty years after her death, Marilyn Monroe remains the stuff of Hollywood dreams. It all began when young newlywed Norma Jeane Dougherty went to work building robotic planes on a Burbank, Calif., assembly line. A visiting photographer for Yank magazine snapped her for a cover, launching her into modeling, then movies, then immortality.

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  • Marilyn Monroe, 50 years past

    'Love Happy' (1949)

    The Marx Brothers' last movie, Love Happy, tanked. But everyone admitted there was a certain electricity about the curvy, unknown blonde who played a walk-on role. "Some men are following me," Marilyn purrs to Groucho. "Really?" says Groucho. "I can't understand why."

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  • Marilyn Monroe, 50 years past
    Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

    'All About Eve' (1950)

    Three of Hollywood's heaviest hitters had no idea the young actress playing the small role of Miss Caswell would soon eclipse them all. Marilyn was so nervous about appearing with Anne Baxter, Bette Davis and George Sanders that she became physically ill after the cameras stopped rolling.

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  • Marilyn Monroe, 50 years past
    Sunset Boulevard/Corbis

    Playboy spread (1953)

    Hugh Hefner knew a good thing when he saw it. Cashing in on Marilyn's rising stardom, he featured a four-year-old nude image of the then-struggling actress in the first issue of his new magazine. Playboy's initial run sold out.

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  • Marilyn Monroe, 50 years past
    Sunset Boulevard/Corbis

    'Gentlemen Prefer Blondes' (1953)

    Marilyn and costar Jane Russell could not have been more different — but Marilyn would never again team so successfully with a female costar (unless you count Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in Some Like It Hot). "Jane, who is deeply religious, tried to convert me," Marilyn recalled. "I tried to introduce her to Freud. Neither of us won."

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  • Marilyn Monroe, 50 years past
    Mondadori via Getty Images

    The slugger and the star (1954)

    They were smart, successful and came from two different worlds. When Marilyn and Yankee legend Joe DiMaggio wed, it caused a nationwide sensation. Alas, Joltin' Joe wasn't cut out to be a movie star's hubby. Just 274 days after she said "I do," Marilyn was asking, "Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?" Jane Russell claimed that Marilyn and Joe were on the verge of reconciliation when she died. He paid for her funeral and sent roses to her grave for the rest of his life.

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  • Marilyn Monroe, 50 years past
    Matty Zimmerman/AP Photo

    'The Seven Year Itch' (1955)

    Marilyn's most iconic movie scene may have been the last straw for a jealous Joe DiMaggio. Fans still position themselves over that subway grate. So can you: It's at the northwest corner of Lexington Avenue and 52nd Street in Manhattan. Your results may vary.

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  • Marilyn Monroe, 50 years past

    The writer and the waif (1956)

    They were smart, successful and came from two different worlds. Where did we hear that before? Playwright Arthur Miller was smitten with Marilyn's sensitivity; she was taken by his sincere belief in her intelligence. But like DiMaggio, Miller found the realities of being wed to a superstar chipping away at him. Although he wrote her last movie, The Misfits, by the time filming ended they were months from a divorce. Forty years after her death, Marilyn's bicycle still hung in Miller's Long Island garage.

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  • Marilyn Monroe, 50 years past
    Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

    'Bus Stop' (1956)

    Many scoffed when Marilyn took acting classes from famed teacher Lee Strasberg — but she gave a truly great performance in Bus Stop. Marilyn plays a less-than-talented saloon singer who falls in love with a cowboy. "I think that was the first time that I learned that intelligence and, yes, brilliance have nothing to do with education," director Joshua Logan recalled.

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  • Marilyn Monroe, 50 years past
    Popperfoto/Getty Images

    'The Prince and the Showgirl' (1957)

    When Marilyn arrived in England to costar with Laurence Olivier, the press was over the moon. The movie inspired the recent hit film, My Week With Marilyn, in which the central character sums it all up very nicely: Olivier was a great actor who wanted to be a film star, and Marilyn was a film star who wanted to be a great actress.

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  • Marilyn Monroe, 50 years past
    Courtesy Everett Collection

    'Some Like It Hot' (1959)

    In Billy Wilder's classic farce Tony Curtis' character goes ga-ga for ukelele-playing Marilyn, whose earnestness gives the film its heart. (By the way, if you don't already know the movie's killer last line, it's worth all 120 minutes just to get to it.)

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  • Marilyn Monroe, 50 years past
    Eve Arnold/Magnum Photos

    'The Misfits' (1961)

    She's a recently divorced woman; Clark Gable is the hard-edged cowboy she falls for. Both stars are in fine form, but they seem world-weary, and it's not just Arthur Miller's aching script and John Huston's dust-choked direction. Neither one would live to complete another film.

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  • Marilyn Monroe, 50 years past

    Happy Birthday, Mr. President … (1962)

    On May 19, 1962, Marilyn gave President John F. Kennedy an unexpected gift: the sexiest-ever rendition of "Happy Birthday," at New York's Madison Square Garden. Reportedy, Jackie was not pleased.

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  • Marilyn Monroe, 50 years past

    'Something's Got to Give' (1962)

    Marilyn completed several scenes for her planned George Cukor comedy, including that legendary nude swimming pool scene. But the true heartbreaker is a later segment, in which Marilyn, apparently older and wiser, returns to the pool. She looks around sadly, then chats with two children playing there. "Are you going to stay long?" one asks. "I don't know yet," she answers in that whisper, like a sultry summer breeze. "Would you like me to?" Yes, we answer. Yes, please stay. But we know she won't.

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  • Playing Marilyn Monroe
    Everett Collection/20thCentFox/Will Hart/NBC/Getty Images

    Those Who Immortalized Her On-Screen

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