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Sad life and death of a showbiz widower

Within hours of the death of his Hollywood actress wife Brittany Murphy, her British husband of three years, Simon Monjack, a little-known screenwriter, told one of Tinseltown's proliferation of showbusiness websites: "My world was destroyed yesterday."

The extent to which an all-consuming grief went on to hasten the death of the 39-year-old Briton will perhaps never be known, but shortly before 10pm on Sunday his mother-in-law Sharon entered the bedroom of his sprawling home in the Hollywood Hills and found him unconscious.

Paramedics could do nothing to revive Mr Monjack and he was pronounced dead. Sergeant Louie Lozano said there were no suspicious circumstances and added that the preliminary cause of death was a suspected heart attack.

It was the final drama of an improbable and tortured life which began in Buckinghamshire's affluent stockbroker belt and ended with a man best-known as the portly consort of a pretty Hollywood actress and a scandal-prone also-ran in the ruthless world of movies whose dealings had - rightly or wrongly - earned him the nickname 'Con-Jack'.

For Sharon Murphy, whose daughter was the result of her short-lived marriage to an Italian mobster, Sunday night was full of unbearably grim repetition. On December 20, 2009, she entered the same bedroom in the house to find Brittany unconscious in the en-suite shower room, lying in a pool of her own vomit.

An inquest found that Brittany (32), who joined the rota of Hollywood's leading ladies after her appearance in the 1995 hit Clueless, died from a cardiac arrest brought on by pneumonia.

Investigators found large quantities of prescription drugs belonging to her, but her husband insisted they were mostly out-of-date medications.

The coroner's verdict that the actress, whose film appearances had grossed £62m for Hollywood's studios, had died accidentally did little to diminish what followed.

Rumours were rife in cyberspace that Mr Monjack was implicated in his wife's death. He angrily denied the claims and there was never any evidence that the death of the actress was the result of anything other than her constitution, weakened by a dependency on medications and an apparent eating disorder.

But Mr Monjack, by his own admission, had enough question marks over his past to sustain the suspicion that he was a silver-tongued chancer. His 'Con-Jack' nickname came from a series of financial scrapes, including his eviction from four homes; a lawsuit by Coutts, the Queen's bank, successfully suing him for £326,000, and a divorce settlement dating back to 2001 that was only settled in 2009.

Mr Monjack answered the allegations with the classic weapons of the wronged rogue - candid admission and a claim that he was the victim of a shadowy elite.

Raised in London, Mr Monjack hailed from the upper echelons of the English middle class.

As a filmmaker, he was not without talent. He directed an advert for Nike's shoe range featuring the basketball player Michael Jordan. In 2006 he appeared to be on the threshold of a major breakthrough, announcing that he had secured funding to make The White Hotel, an adaptation of the acclaimed novel by DM Thomas.

After initially offering the lead role to Nicola Kidman, Meryl Streep and Barbara Streisand, the film's backers announced they had secured the services of another star - Brittany Murphy. While the project ultimately foundered, romance blossomed.

Amid claims, fiercely contested, that he was facing deportation from America because of visa irregularities, the couple married in 2007 at a private Jewish ceremony in their home.

Miss Murphy said in a magazine interview: "We first met when I was 17. We checked in with each other throughout the years and remained friends. The easiest decision I ever had in my life was getting married. He's flown around the world to make sure we spend every single night together."

Not all friends of the actress shared her joy. George Hickenlooper, the director of Factory Girl, a biopic about Andy Warhol's muse Edie Sedgwick, said he had tried to warn Miss Murphy off her relationship with the Briton after the two men fell out over Mr Monjack's claim to have written an earlier script for the film.

It was amid such warfare that Mr Monjack entered what turned out to be the final months of his life, feeling obliged to launch his own PR counter-offensive at a time when others might have expected him to maintain the silence of a grief-stricken widower.

Shortly before his own death, he invited a camera crew from a celebrity website to film a tour of his home. As reports began to emerge that the Briton had died of a drug overdose as much as a broken heart, an interview filmed with Mr Monjack earlier this month was posted on the internet.

He told the cameraman: "We have got to the point in this culture where facts and fiction no longer matter.

"It is what you can get the average person to read. I think I had better stop there."