Photo Credit: PARAMOUNT/COURTESY NEAL PETERS COLLECTION
The '90s were a decade of impossibly perfect teenage girls: pampered California girls Shannon Doherty and Jennie Garth on Fox's hit series Beverly Hills, 90210, beautiful rebel Claire Danes on My So-Called Life, and smart-yet-sweet Katie Holmes on Dawson's Creek.
Then there was popular, designer-clad, catchphrase-coining Cher (Alicia Silverstone) in the 1995 film Clueless. Brittany Murphy, who died suddenly yesterday at the age of 32, broke the mold with her breakthrough performance (pictured, at left) as lovably imperfect Tai in Clueless -- opening the door to Murphy's future career playing compelling but damaged girls.
Just 18 years old when she shot Clueless, Murphy had a genuine, unmistakeable teenage awkwardness. Next to Barbie-like Silverstone, she was just a little chubbier, her hair a little frizzier, her features a little bigger. In her first scenes as Tai, wearing an oversized flannel shirt over a troll T-shirt, she looked like.... well, a real teenager. Like us. And throughout her ugly-duckling transformation, even when her character became unlikeable, we still liked Brittany Murphy. Tai was, as Cher put it, "adorably clueless." She was tough-talking and street-smart, but still giggly and vulnerable. She was that rare teenage girl in '90s film and TV whom you felt you actually knew.
As Murphy's versatile acting career evolved, she pursued stardom as a svelter, frequently blonder leading lady. But her most memorable roles were still the "damaged goods" -- girls who spent their lives under attack. In other words, characters you wanted to jump onscreen and hug. There was Daisy, the childish anexoric bullied by Angelina Jolie in 1999's Girl, Interrupted; Elisabeth, the mental patient interrogated by Michael Douglas in 2001's Don't Say a Word.; and Alex, the down-and-out Detroit girl who falls for Eminem in 2002's 8 Mile. Murphy made some romantic comedies, her biggest hit being Just Married opposite Ashton Kutcher. Still, it always seemed that she had yet to pinpoint her niche as an actress and, ideally, that her best movies were ahead of her.
Sadly, we'll never know what kind of actress Murphy might have become. But we know what kind of actress she was: one that could make us laugh, make us cringe, and always, make us relate.
Plus: Celebrity Passages: 2009 In Memoriam
Was Tai in Clueless your favorite Brittany Murphy role? Chime in below!