Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2009

Brittany Murphy

An actress more famous in death than in life, Murphy, 32, became a year-end tabloid and Twitter sensation when she was found unconscious in her West Hollywood home on Dec. 20 and died before police could get her to the hospital; autopsy results have not been released. A natural entertainer who as a kid convinced her mother to move them from Edison, N.J., to Los Angeles, Murphy soon landed the role of the tough, gauche girl who gets a makeover from Alicia Silverstone in the 1995 hit Clueless. While not becoming the star she dreamed of, she did strong work in 8 Mile, Uptown Girls and Girl, Interrupted and kept busy working on other movies and scores of TV shows, though her recent career was marked by trouble: she was fired from one movie, and so seemingly addled while shooting another that a new character had to be hastily written in to pick up Murphy's slack.

She was a hot property, though, in the specialized field of voice work for cartoons. Her most endearing, enduring roles were ones she was never seen in: Gloria, the hero penguin's girl friend, in Happy Feet and, for 12 glorious years, Luanne Platter on the Fox cartoon series King of the Hill. A dizzy blond with a knack for disastrous relationships, Luanne busted out of stereotype thanks to the deep-throated Texas texture Murphy provided for the character, and her vocal ability to switch in a trice from humor to pathos as Luanne's inane enthusiasms would explode into fortissimo fears. Luanne will be a shining legacy for an actress with a comic gift and a tragic fate.

Richard Corliss