Brittany Murphy first came to the attention of film audiences as Tai, one of Alicia Silverstone's airhead friends, in the 1995 comedy Clueless. Though convincing as a dim-bulb character, Murphy cuts dramatically against this grain off-camera, as a ferociously intelligent and ambitious young performer who had acting in her blood from early childhood. As a teenager and young adult, she gave expression to the scope of her talent and versatility with a series of engaging film and television roles.
Born in Atlanta on November 10, 1977, Murphy was raised by her single mother in Edison, New Jersey; she later indicated, in interviews, that her mom struggled financially - that they were forced to eat spaghetti night after night, and that on certain occasions, she had to beg her mother to buy clothes at KMart; this would later account for Murphy's marked social investment in homeless causes, as discussed in a February 2003 Glamour article.
A precocious child who began putting on shows when she was a toddler, Murphy was acting in regional theatre productions by the age of nine. Work in various commercials followed, and in 1990 she landed her first television appearance at the age of twelve, on the sitcom Blossom. She also secured a supporting role as Brenda Drexell, the fourteen-year-old daughter of Dabney Coleman's fifth grade teacher Otis Drexell, on the (mercifully) short-lived 1991 FOX sitcom Drexell's Class. The following year, Murphy took her first cinematic bow in the dysfunctional family drama Family Prayers.
Murphy's talent for portraying, dramatically, all degrees on the spectrum of behavioral dysfunction further came to light in three successive projects through 1999: the blackly comic Reese Witherspoon trailer trash odyssey Freeway (1996) (as a disfigured lesbian who befriends Witherspoon's Vanessa); a mental patient in Lloyd Kramer's made-for-TV David and Lisa (1998), and James Mangold's Girl, Interrupted (1999) (as yet another resident at a mental institution).
Meanwhile, on a less ambitious (albeit more whimsical) note, Murphy also became a fixtureon King of the Hill, Mike Judge's long-running contemporary cartoon of suburban life in the southern U.S., as Luanne Platter, the hair stylist niece who comes to live with Hank Hill's family. Murphy kept a full plate as the millennium wrapped. In addition to her work for Mangold in 1999,
she also explored the collective insanity of the beauty pageant world in Drop Dead Gorgeous, while on the small screen, she covered much darker thematic ground with the well-received Holocaust drama The Devil's Arithmetic (also 1999). In 2001, Murphy appeared in the Michael Douglas thriller Don't Say a Word, and alongside Drew Barrymore in Riding in Cars With Boys.
Cast opposite Eminem in director Curtis Hanson's 2002 drama 8 Mile, Murphy performed compellingly as an aspiring rap star's unapologetic muse; in 2004, Murphy headlined Nick Hurran's thoroughly disappointing rom-com Little Black Book. She also made a splash in Robert Rodriguez's innovative graphic novel adaptation Sin City, as the arrogant waitress who becomes the prize in a heated rivalry between Benicio del Toro and Clive Owen.
Murphy made appearances in four features in 2006. In Alex Keshishian's progressive romantic comedy Love and Other Disasters, she played a London-based American expatriate, employed at Vogue, who tries to fix up her gay roommate; in Ed Burns's sixth directorial outing, the Big Chill-like romantic comedy The Groomsmen, she played the expectant girlfriend of Burns's Paulie. She also portrayed a member of the ensemble in Karen Moncrieff's murder mystery The Dead Girl, about a group of seemingly disconnected individuals whose lives intersect as a girl's murderer comes to light, and one of the lead voices in George "Babe" Miller's Happy Feet, an animated penguin tale.
Murphy's appearance alongside Ashton Kutcher in Just Married was - to some degree - a case of art imitating life: offscreen, Murphy and Kutcher began to date as well (and became a hot tabloid item), though unlike their onscreen counterparts, they never wed.
In the several years that followed, Murphy remained active, both in front of and behind the camera; she lent her voice to the CG-animated George Miller comedy Happy Feet (2006), and starred in and produced a Robert Allan Ackerman directed comedy-drama, The Ramen Girl, that suggested tremendous promise (though it went straight to home video). Murphy also starred in a made-for-television movie on the Lifetime network, Nora Roberts' Tribute (2009). That marked the end of her career, however: the actress's life was tragically cut short when she died in December 2009 at the age of 32.