Why Marilyn Inspires Mariah Carey

In a second extract from Mariah Carey’s autobiography, the singer reveals how she became a lifelong fan of Marilyn.

“One evening I had been walking aimlessly down the hall in one of the many houses we lived in. As I passed my mother’s dark little bedroom, I casually wandered in. I can’t remember whether I saw or heard her first, but I know something carried me into the room. The bedroom was lit only by the washed-out colours of the old TV facing the bed, where my mother was lying in silhouette, watching a special about the life and death of Marilyn Monroe.

I softly pushed open the bedroom door, walking in on the iconic scene from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes in which Marilyn sings ‘Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend.’ She was the most beautiful person I had ever seen.

I’d never heard the name Marilyn Monroe before that moment. But I was quickly hooked. Not your typical third-grade fare, perhaps, but my childhood was anything but typical. My mother very lovingly supported my fascination with Marilyn … I had a poster of Marilyn Monroe dressed as a sensuous showgirl, complete with a black beaded bustier, fishnets, and black patent-leather pumps. I gazed up at Marilyn before I went to sleep and first thing when I woke up.

Later my mother bought me Marilyn: A Biography, by Norman Mailer. Though I was way too young for the material, like Marilyn herself I read voraciously. I pored over the large, glossy pictures of her, studying all her different moods and looks. She was a shape-shifter – in some photos she was impossibly beautiful and glamorous, in others she seemed shattered and about to disappear … Not only was she curvy, she had a very particular sensuality, bordering on soulful.

I read a lot about Marilyn, conspiracy theories about her death and about her upbringing. The more I read, the more I connected with her and understood why I was drawn to her. She had a very difficult childhood, moving from one foster home to another. That was close to my story: being uprooted and unprotected, feeling like an outsider. I intimately understood her struggles with poverty and family. Ultimately, what I loved about Marilyn was her ability to come from nothing – to belong to no one – and evolve into a huge icon. I latched onto that. I believed in that.

I’ve heard Marilyn might’ve even been my mother’s inspiration for my name. The first four letters are the same: M-A-R-I. However, my father claimed that my name came from the Black Maria/Mariah … The story also goes that I was named after a hit 1950s show tune, ‘They Call the Wind Mariah,’ from Paint Your Wagon… Perhaps it’s a combination of all three: a 1950s starlet, a show tune, and a paddy wagon.

Of all the supposed inspirations for my name, the Marilyn Monroe connection resonates the most with me – self-created and controlled, confident and vulnerable, womanly and childlike, glamorous and humble, adored and alone. Marilyn is a source of inspiration for me, and Lawd have I needed that.”