Marilyn Monroe’s Addictions Strained Her Friendship With Ella Fitzgerald

There’s no doubt that Marilyn Monroe lived a complicated and tragic life. But even though she struggled, she could be a wonderful friend. One of the close friendships she formed along the way was with legendary singer Ella Fitzgerald. But although the two women had a special connection, Monroe had a problem that came between them. And in the end, it cost her much more than their friendship. 

(L-R) Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe turned to each other, laughing
(L-R) Ella Fitzgerald and Marilyn Monroe | Getty Images

Marilyn Monroe’s difficult life

BuzzFeed reports that Monroe’s life was difficult from the start. Her mother’s mental illness kept her confined to psychiatric hospitals, so Monroe spent most of her childhood in foster care. By the age of nine, she was sent to live in an orphanage. To get away from the orphanage, she married her first husband when she was only 16 years old. The marriage lasted for five years, ending as Monroe’s Hollywood career was beginning. 

But if stardom was supposed to be her happy ending, it did not work out that way. Monroe’s demons followed her, and she struggled with drug and alcohol abuse. She had a chaotic romantic life and married and divorced two more times. Her third divorce resulted in her being committed to a psychiatric ward, due to insomnia and emotional exhaustion. Because of her mother’s history of mental illness, being hospitalized was one of her biggest fears. Although her second ex-husband, Joe DiMaggio, quickly rescued her, the experience was traumatic. 

Ella Fitzgerald became an important friend

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Fitzgerald was another luminary of the day who grew up in difficult circumstances. According to NPR, Fitzgerald’s mother died when she was 15, leaving her with an abusive stepfather and an aunt. Eventually, she was dancing in the streets of Harlem for tips. Although she loved the active music scene there, she got involved with criminal activity, working as a numbers runner for the mob and a lookout for a local bordello. Eventually, she was arrested and sent to boarding school.

Unlike Monroe, Fitzgerald seemed to find stability as she grew into adulthood, in large part because of her deep talent, perfect pitch, and love for music. She became a respected performer, gaining admiration and nicknames such as the Queen of Jazz. 

Whether it was because she identified with Fitzgerald’s difficult childhood, or simply because she admired her talent, Monroe decided that she wanted to get to know the singer. She made it a point to meet her, and the two were soon close friends. 

Once a famous nightclub refused to book Fitzgerald, as it was uncommon to have a Black singer booked at a high-caliber club. To help her friend, Monroe called the club and promised that if they would hire Fitzgerald, she would sit in the first row at every concert, drawing a larger crowd. 

The problem that came between them

Biography reports that the two friends were very close. Monroe looked up to Fitzgerald a great deal, once saying that she was, “my very favorite person, and I love her as a person as well as a singer, I think she’s the greatest.”

However, there was an issue that stood between them. Fitzgerald was opposed to drug and alcohol use. Not only did she not use them herself, but she didn’t even like to sing songs that referred to drugs. Monroe, on the other hand, turned to drugs and alcohol more and more as the years went by. Her dependence continued to grow until she died of a drug overdose when she was only 36.

Despite their special friendship, Fitzgerald was not able to accept what Monroe was doing to herself. Their closeness was just one of the many losses her addiction would cause.