July 28, 2010 -- The eerily similar deaths of Brittany Murphy and her husband Simon Monjack, a mere six months apart, are "unusual" but not mold-related, says Los Angeles County assistant chief coroner Ed Winter.
Rumors flew early this week after a TMZ report suggested that toxic mold in the celebrity couple's house was to blame for their twin cases of severe anemia and fatal pneumonia. But though the house may have mold, autopsies show it "was not a factor in their death," Winter says.
Nonetheless, Winter says the house has been reported to the Department of Public Health, as a precaution considering that two people died of respiratory illness in the same residence within a few months of each other.
"It is unusual to have two people die of similar circumstances with pneumonia. We've been looking at it and saying, 'Something isn't right.' I'm not saying you can't get pneumonia from mold, but we did all the tests on it -- mold did not come up in the toxicology reports," he says.
There had been suspicions of mold in the house last fall due to a persistent leak, but a full house inspection ordered by Monjack in October came back mold-free.
"Simon told Sharon and Brittany that there was no mold danger and that they could remain in the house," family spokesperson Roger Neal says.
"In fact, Simon Monjack insisted on hiring an attorney and filed a lawsuit against the builder and subcontractors" due to the inferior products used in building that may have caused the leak, Neal says.
Having not seen the report herself last fall, Sharon Murphy is currently having that report interpreted for her to verify that it was negative for mold, Neal says, and she will be amenable to any further investigations by the state.
Twin Deaths Possibly Linked to Lifestyle, Travel
Brittany Murphy's sudden death last December spurred rumors of anorexia, thyroid problems, even an accidental or suicidal overdose of the many prescription medications found in the house.
The coroner's conclusion was that her death was caused by a combination of acute pneumonia, severe iron deficiency in the form of anemia, and multiple drug intoxication. The drugs involved were legal, both over-the-counter and prescription, Winter says.
Months later, on May 23, Murphy's husband was found dead in the couple's bedroom. The preliminary results of his autopsy, released Wednesday, dispelled rumors of drug overdose and heart attack that had surrounded Monjack's sudden death, but created new buzz because his death was so similar to hers.
Both died from acute pneumonia and severe anemia, Winter says, though Monjack's death did not involve drug intoxication as Murphy's did.
Pneumonia usually strikes the very young or the very old, according to Dr. Clifford Bassett, a fellow of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology and director of Allergy and Asthma Care of New York, so why did these two young people suffer from similar sudden illnesses?
Though mold has been ruled out by the toxicology reports, the situation is still "unusual," Winter says, and he speculates that it could have to do with the poor health and habits of the couple.
"At the time of their death, both of them were in very poor health. I don't think they ate correctly or took care of themselves. They didn't seek medical attention," Winter says.
In the months before Murphy died, she, her mother and Monjack were all in Puerto Rico, which Winter says adds another question mark to the investigation:
"Simon and Sharon came down with what they claimed were flu-like symptoms [while there], but they came back and got well with over-the-counter medicines, but when Brittany got sick, she didn't see a doctor and tried to self-medicate," Winter says.
Neal confirmed that the threesome was in Puerto Rico when Murphy was shooting a film, but couldn't confirm the dates or the illnesses.
Pneumonia Nothing to Sniff At
Many people don't realize how serious and life-threatening pneumonia can be, says Bassett. "It's not as uncommon as people think. If you notice the warning signs… chills, high fever, chest pain, severe cough, night sweats, and breathing difficulties, the best action is to seek medical attention and get the proper treatment."
Bassett also says that when people are chronically ill, the body can stop producing enough red blood cells, resulting in "anemia of chronic illness."
"Acute pneumonia can come on fairly quickly. The bottom line is we're very aggressive when people have this. It needs to be treated promptly," he says.