Murphy was found unconscious in her shower, sick with
pneumonia, four different drugs in her system. The
actress’ death in 2009 was sudden and mysterious and
ugly, but posthumous magazine covers showed her looking
glamorous, her struggles hidden.
story gnawed at Amber Tamblyn. She’d never met Murphy
but felt an odd kinship to her. So she sat down at her
kitchen table and wrote a poem about the late star.
Country says good things/about the body," it read.
"They print the best photos;/the least bones, the
began Tamblyn’s poetic exploration into the muddy
waters of fame, objectification and mortality. She began
researching the tragic circumstances surrounding the
deaths of other actresses — Sharon Tate, Marilyn
Monroe, Dana Plato — and writing about each one. The
result is "Dark Sparkler" (Harper Perennial;
128 pages, $17.99 paper), her third book of poetry.
— known for her roles in the "Sisterhood of the
Traveling Pants" movies as well as television’s
"Joan of Arcadia" and "Two and a Half
Men" — has been writing poetry since she was
little, when her dad, Russ (he played the leader of the
Jets in the film version of "West Side Story")
started bringing home artists he’d met in Topanga
was the antithesis of acting, because it was something
physical that I made — that I was solely responsible
for — that I could give to other people," says
Tamblyn, 31, sitting in the living room of the apartment
she shares with her husband, the actor David Cross.
There is a picture of them at the Magic Castle on the
bookshelf, next to dozens of volumes of Shakespeare and
a copy of "Touch Me: The Poems of Suzanne
sips tea she’d brewed, nestled on her couch underneath
a poster of "The Last Movie." Her godfather
was Dennis Hopper, and she’s always been surrounded by
acting. But when she began working on "Dark
Sparkler," she started questioning her true
feelings about the profession. She’d started acting as
a child, appearing on "General Hospital" from
age 11 to 17.
stuff I was writing was very close to home because I was
exploring my own sense of who I was," Tamblyn says.
"I was debating: Did I want to go to college? Did I
want to act anymore? Did I even have a choice in the
saw herself in the actresses she was writing about and
for a spell began experimenting with some of the same
"coping mechanisms" they did too.
was like, ‘Seconal? What are these drugs that people
would take?’ I got my hands on everything I possibly
could," she says. But it left her feeling numb. She
couldn’t write anymore. She wrote haunting emails to
her friend, the poet Mindy Nettifee, some of which
appear in the epilogue of "Dark Sparkler."
think I could very possibly be heading toward a
full-scale breakdown in the next few months," she
wrote to Nettifee in January 2009. "Can I just go
the way of Brittany Murphy and say [forget] it, do drugs
until I drop and call it a day?"
would have these long, disturbing phone calls about the
work and where her head was, and it became clear to me
that this was a mental health situation," Nettifee
recalled by phone. "But I never once believed that
what she was expressing was an actual, concrete wish to
die. I definitely felt like she was on a precarious
edge, but I felt like what she needed in that moment was
to be told that it was OK."
Nettifee and Tamblyn’s husband supported her, she
says: "They understood that I was hitting the sweet
spot of my own darkness. I was finding out what the real
conversation was that I was trying to have — which was
not really to research other actresses but to research
Tamblyn’s loved ones eventually urged her to take time
off from the book. So in 2011 she stopped working on
"Dark Sparkler" and ceased acting. She’d
been through a rough period. Her dad had just been
diagnosed with prostate cancer. Her longtime agent
dropped her. She’d even bombed at a big audition for
"August: Osage County," forgetting her lines
and then hyperventilating in the elevator afterward.
Fixating on death wasn’t making anything better.
was the hardest thing I ever did in my life," she
said of the break. "But ultimately, the book led to
a shedding of skin. It was a death; Age 11-25 was dying,
and I needed to let that part of me go."
about all of this hasn’t been easy. About a month
after the meeting in Venice, she e-mailed from her
apartment in New York saying how rough her book tour had
many people asking me, ‘Did you want to die? Did you
think about suicide?’" she wrote. "... Yeah.
This book is just the gift that keeps on giving (me
she lays herself bare in the pages of "Dark
Sparkler," those closest to Tamblyn say she rarely
talks about her struggles so intimately in daily life.
not someone you meet at a cocktail party who immediately
tells you her deepest, darkest secrets," says
America Ferrera, Tamblyn’s "Sisterhood"
co-star. "Which is why this is special. Like, ‘I’m
going to pull back this little part of my facade and
show this thing I might be terrified of people seeing
and put it out there because I think somebody will
relate to it.’"
with Ferrera, Tamblyn is working with Blake Lively and
Alexis Bledel on the script for a third
"Sisterhood" film, which they will executive
produce. She’s also set to appear on three episodes of
"Inside Amy Schumer" this season and is
editing her directorial debut — an adaptation of Janet
Fitch’s novel "Paint It Black." But after
finishing "Dark Sparkler," she’s not sure
that acting is where her heart is anymore.
think the days of me being an auditioning, sad person
who is like, ‘I know I’m really talented, but I don’t
know how to put that to use’ — that’s over,"
she said. "That’s sad, and that’s scary, giving
your power over to somebody else."