“You’re a virgin who can’t drive.” With that one line in “Clueless,” delivered in saucy mean-girl style, Brittany Murphy entered the pop culture history books. Fourteen years later, the 32-year-old actress died after suffering an apparent full cardiac arrest on Sunday morning. But before her tragic passing, Murphy left a string of memorable performances on the big and small screen.
Murphy got her start in Hollywood with a series of guest appearances on TV shows while still in her teens. ” ’Murphy Brown’ was a really big deal for me. That was my second day in L.A.,” she told MTV News in 2006. And it wasn’t long before the actress secured the plum role of ugly duckling Tai Fraiser in “Clueless.”
“I’d never been in a film before, so it was really exciting,” she told us. “I was only 15, and I was really intimidated. I felt as though I was the freshman watching the seniors. The one person who bridged the gap was Alicia [Silverstone]. She always was very kind to me. She was the person I spent the most time with — her and her dog.”
Her turn as Tai, though, didn’t instantly launch her into leading roles. Murphy continued to play second or third fiddle to actresses like Reese Witherspoon and Kirsten Dunst. Starting in 1997, she began voicing the character of Luanne in the long-running Fox animated series “King of the Hill.” Then in 1999 she played an edgy supporting part in “Girl, Interrupted,” a film that garnered an Oscar for Angelina Jolie. Two years later Murphy shared some screen time with Michael Douglas in “Don’t Say a Word,” again delivering a one-liner that entered the pop culture lexicon.
“I had no idea that it would become ’You’re the girl from the “I’ll never tell” film!’ That was strange,” she told MTV.
By 2002, Murphy was poised to achieve the sort of success she’d been flirting with for years when she played Eminem’s love interest in the blockbuster “8 Mile.” Rumors swirled that she and Em had struck up a romance off-camera as well.
“Me and Brittany became friends,” Eminem said coyly to MTV at the time. “I’ll say that.”
Murphy did begin a relationship with her next co-star, Ashton Kutcher , with whom she starred in 2003’s “Just Married.” When MTV News paid a visit to the set, Kutcher paid Murphy some serious compliments.
“I learn something from that girl every day,” he said. “She just brings it, man. She’s really, really awesome. She makes me smile every day. She shows me something about my job every day. She’s the best, man. I’ll do anything with her, any movie, hands down.”
Murphy followed up “Just Married” with two more rom-coms, “Uptown Girls” (as Dakota Fanning’s babysitter) and “Little Black Book” (alongside Ron Livingston), though the actress revealed to us she originally had no intention of starring in the latter. “I really didn’t ever expect to make that picture,” she said. “It was a meeting. Then we did another meeting. I was able to give some notes, and three days later it was a completely different script than the one I had originally read. And it was unbelievable.”
Around that time, Murphy also began to take a possible music career seriously. In a 2003 conversation with MTV, she spoke about plans to hit the studio to record an album , though by the next year those plans had not yet materialized. Still, the actress showed off her singing chops in “Black Book” with a Carly Simon cover and told us she was continuing to write lyrics and hone her sound.
“I write in riddles and rhymes; I like old jazz, and I play a little bit of trumpet,” she said. “Who knows what my album will sound like?”
After trying to find the right project to work on together for years, Murphy hooked up with Robert Rodriguez for a small role as Shellie the barmaid in his adaptation of the graphic novel “Sin City.” “The Dead Girl” (2006) earned Murphy some of the best reviews of her career for the role of a prostitute named Krista who meets a premature end.
“I saw so much hope in Krista’s life,” Murphy said. “She was very optimistic and very loyal. She was bipolar and self-medicating, so the [ways] she tried to better herself went askew, to say the least. She was very exhausting for my little body. But that’s OK. It felt really good to get that stuff out.”
Murphy took her voice talent work from the TV to the cinema for 2006’s “Happy Feet.” Grossing over $380 million worldwide, the animated tale became by far the biggest film of her career. It also gave her an opportunity to flex her vocal cords, as she sang both Queen’s “Somebody to Love” and Earth, Wind and Fire’s “Boogie Wonderland.”
“Oddly enough, of all the characters I’ve played, Gloria is the most like me,” Murphy said. “And she’s a penguin!”
In recent years, Murphy found her way into less high-profile fare, like the straight-to-DVD disaster flick “MegaFault.” At the time of her death, she’d completed filming on the Dean Cain-starring “Abandoned” and another thriller called “Something Wicked.” In November she was reportedly fired from “The Caller,” though a representative for the star said she and the production mutually parted ways due to creative differences.