Excerpt: 'The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe,' by J. Randy Taraborrelli

Without anyone left in her world able to lift her from her darkest periods, she would spend the majority of her time alone ... Thinking -- which was, of course, exactly what kept her in such despair. Therefore, it would often be in small moments like this one -- time spent with a starstruck stranger rendered speechless in her presence -- that she would be reminded of who she was, and of what was expected of her.

She pushes away from the wall she's been leaning against and approaches the young man. Once standing before him, she bends forward, holds his ears between her palms, and kisses the top of his head. "Thank you," she says in a soft voice. "Now I need to get ready."

As he slips out of the room, he notices her moving to a large mirror, sighing loudly. She begins laughing as he pulls the knob--and then, when the door clicks shut: silence, again. This strange behavior leaves him thinking what everyone else backstage that night has been: What is going on in there? Not just in that dressing room, but inside that beautiful head of hers.

"Marilyn had practiced so hard for that performance," explained her friend Susan Strasberg, "far too much if you ask me. It was too important to her. All she had to do was sing 'Happy Birthday.' Most performers could have done that with their eyes closed."

Marilyn, of course, was not "most performers." In fact, she wasn't even most "people." Rather, she was a woman waging a specific battle fought by many in the world on a daily basis: mental illness.

Her mood swings and unpredictable behavior were usually viewed by her public as mere eccentricities incidental to who Marilyn Monroe was as a woman. Yet the difficult emotional tug-of-war she endured for much of her life, ignored by almost everyone, may have been her most defining characteristic.

'The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe': Prologue

On this night, however, why would Marilyn, globally recognized as a major celebrity, think that she was being made fun of? While she had often wrongly believed in the past that the worst was being thought and said about her, on this evening she happened to be right. They were making fun of her.

By this time in her history, gallons of newspaper ink had been used to describe to the world just who Marilyn Monroe was -- that was nothing new. However, in the weeks leading up to this performance at Madison Square Garden in New York City, much of that ink was used to explain that she was, above all, irresponsible. She had been chronically late or completely absent for the making of her most recent film -- a production from which she would ultimately be fired. The world knew about it and didn't care. After all, she was Marilyn Monroe. In the public's collective reasoning, she had carte blanche. Those who had been fans for at least the last decade viewed her mounting unpredictability as a necessary evil -- just one of the things that made Marilyn ... Marilyn.

However, the truth was that her increasingly troubling behavior was much more than just a star's idiosyncrasy, to be joked about over cocktails. It was a sign that something was terribly wrong with her.

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